About Bren

I'm a self-identified butch lesbian geek Masshole with a passion for comic books, action figures, queer issues, flannel, and pretty ladies. Oh, and comments. I love me some comments (hint, hint).

Gender Identity: Denied

If you have a Facebook profile and think about gender often enough to be reading this blog, then you’ve probably heard about the shiny new “custom” gender feature that Zuckerberg  ‘n Friends rolled out recently. Much like everything Facebook has ever done, this development is somewhat of a mixed bag. Let’s take a gander.

On one hand, it’s pretty fantastic that words like “cisgender,” “genderqueer,” and “trans*” have been introduced to the whole wide world via such an influential social network. It’s inspired important conversations about the gender spectrum, a whole lot of huffing and puffing on Fox News, and (I imagine) millions of Google searches. At its core, I think Facebook’s move is a good one for queer and trans* visibility. Unfortunately, on the other hand, the Powers that Be (Collecting Your Profile Data to Sell to Advertisers) don’t seem to believe that my gender identity – butch – exists.

Now, I’m not sure which edition of Webster’s Dictionary Facebook consulted for this project, but last time I checked, “custom” did not mean “choose from this pre-determined list of options.” In fact, I’m fairly certain that it means basically the opposite of that. So I was more than a little miffed when I tried to type “butch” into my little gender box and found that it wouldn’t save. I didn’t make the list, folks. And all you wonderful self-identified femmes? Got some bad news for ya: You also do not really exist. But hey, at least you have plenty of company here in Imaginary Gender Land.

Please note that there are at least 10 variations of “cisgender” on Facebook’s official gender list. Thank goodness, because cis folks have for so long suffered from a lack of representation!

Facebook has claimed that it developed its list of 50 gender identities by consulting with LGBT advocacy groups, and I do believe them. I can’t, however, help being disappointed in any such group that would neglect to include butch and femme – two identities with deep roots in queer history and civil rights battles – in that list. It makes me wonder if, as is often sighed across bar room tables and butch-femme message boards, we really are dying breeds. Is it just not hip to be us anymore? Or am I overthinking this whole thing?

(Warning for remainder of post: Here There Be Feels)

I feel like I must mention that my navel-gazing reaction to Facebook Genderpalooza 2014 may be a result of my ongoing funk (in the mood sense; I like to think that I smell rather nice). I’ve been struggling with anxiety and depression since, well, before I really allowed myself to claim those words. With the support of some very dear people in my life, I entered therapy back in the fall and have been on anti-depressants since November; both have resulted in some improvements, but nothing close to miraculous. But Rome wasn’t psychoanalyzed in a day, right?

In addition to all that head stuff, my queer community – something that I leaned on perhaps a bit too heavily – has become a lot smaller. Most of the organizations I was once involved with have dispersed since last summer, including ButchBoi Life, the social and support group that I co-founded for masculine queer women. It sounds a bit melodramatic, but the loss of these networks has been really devastating. I feel increasingly isolated from my community and cut off from resources that I once took for granted. I rarely speak with, let alone hang out with, other butches now, and that makes me very lonely. In a way, I’ve returned to the level of desperation I was at before ButchBoi Life existed, when I was so very starved for interactions with people that walked in my same worn boots and reflected back to me my own reality as a butch dyke.

The combination of this queer social isolation and health problems both mental and physical have created the Perfect Storm of moping around, woe-is-me-ing. I’ve been neglecting things I was once passionate about (clearly, blogging being one of those things). And let’s be honest: the Northeast’s transformation into a Jack London-inspired frozen tundra for the past three months hasn’t exactly alleviated my desire to spend every day in bed, rolled up in a blanket burrito and staring at my ceiling.

(End of feels)

Well, that’s about enough head shrinking from me for now. Anywho, if you want to see “butch” and “femme” join Facebook’s list of Genders You Are Allowed to Be, you can let them know what’s up at the Facebook Diversity page. Tell ‘em Bren sent you. And if you like processing gender stuff and getting caught in the rain, leave your thoughts on this whole social media hullabaloo in the comments.

Empty Mirrors: The Importance of Queering Body Positivity

My body and I have an uneasy truce. Over the years, we’ve had many disagreements. Sometimes, these disagreements are over something as banal as I want to go for a run, but my body wants to stay in bed for an extra hour. Or maybe I want to lift a very heavy object and look tough, but my body thinks that’s silly and refuses to comply. Other times, it’s more serious. I want my body to be taller, but it’s done growing. Or I want my chest to be flatter, my abs toned, my arm muscles defined, my hips small and square. My body is defiant in its curves and softness and sometimes, I think it’s being feminine just to spite me. Indeed, there are even times when I downright despise my body, and I’m sure it feels the same way about me.

The truce comes from the acknowledgement that this is the body I have. Barring the existence of reincarnation (please, let me come back as a pampered housecat), it’s the only one I’ll ever have, and my mind is the only mind it will ever have, so we both better learn how to get along. The truce also comes from the fact that we are both outlaws in a world which tells us every day that we should not exist.

Now, I am not talking about the world of blatant, undeniable homophobia. That world of Westboro Baptists and Pat Robertsons and Anita Bryants and DOMAs is rapidly losing its strength. I’m talking about the world where people who look like me simply are not a part of the picture, both literally and figuratively. I’m talking about the world where only queer people who fit a certain aesthetic, a certain body type, are visible. I’m talking about our collective queer body diversity image problem.

In my search for this diversity, I’ve long ago given up on mainstream media. Yes, there have been some significant strides toward visibility made in recent years, what with all the queerfolk popping up in shows like Glee, Pretty Little Liars, and Degrassi. And that’s super! I’m sincerely stoked to see more characters on TV that lonely babydykes in Middle America can look to for hope. But wouldn’t it be extra super if any of these characters didn’t look like your garden variety heteronormative “hot” girls? Wouldn’t it be utterly fantastic if there was just one queer female in the picture box that didn’t have to first pass the rigid Male Gaze Approval Process?

That process, by the way, is: 1.) Do straight guys want to bang your female character? 2.) If yes, congrats! Your female character is allowed to exist. If not, then sorry – maybe if your female character is real lucky, she can be a throwaway punch line. (And man, have I ever seen my share of fat masculine female characters utilized as walking flannel-clad jokes. OVER. IT.)

I suppose since I don’t expect too much from mainstream media, I am rarely disappointed by it. The disappointment – which sometimes feels uncomfortably close to betrayal – comes from queer media. You may have noticed that, in recent years, there’s been a surge of new blogs, tumblrs and fashion sites dedicated to celebrating masculine-of-center, often female-bodied queerfolk. I can even think of at least five clothing companies off the top of my head that are targeted toward this very audience. I think all of this is absolutely amazing, especially when I remember that none of these resources were available when I was first coming into my butch identity. Let’s just say I sure could have used the fashion tips back then.

However, my joy at seeing so many more images of butch and MOC people has become increasingly bittersweet. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that the vast majority of models used in these photo shoots share certain physical characteristics: Thin. Flat-chested. Small-hipped. Straight-haired. Able-bodied. White. It’s almost as if the queer beauty aesthetic is indiscernible from the straight beauty aesthetic. But how could that be? Or, more to the point – how could we have let that happen?

Please note that I am not saying that these are not bodies that should be celebrated, because that is certainly not the case. But they should be celebrated in equal quantities with fat bodies, brown bodies, bodies with disabilities, and bodies with large chests, wide hips, and big, unapologetic asses. Because when one body type is depicted with a much greater frequency than others, then that body type – intentionally or unintentionally – becomes the norm, the standard, the ideal. In turn, anyone who doesn’t fit that ideal becomes an Other. Most of us have felt like an Other before out there in the wide, heteronormative world. We don’t want to feel that sting again among our own tribe.

It’s difficult to explain that my hunger to see more images of people who look like me isn’t born from some latent narcissism, but from a sort of desperation to confirm my own existence. There’s a quote from Adrienne Rich (who knew a thing or two about queer visibility) that expresses this sentiment beautifully:

”When those who have the power to name and to socially construct reality choose not to see you or hear you … when someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked in the mirror and saw nothing. It takes some strength of soul – and not just individual strength, but collective understanding – to resist this void, this non-being, into which you are thrust, and to stand up, demanding to be seen and heard.”

Human beings do need to see themselves reflected in the world around them. Besides making us feel a whole lot less lonely, this reflection also tells us, “You’re ok. You are fine just the way you are, because look at all the other people out there who are like you.” Hell, we queers should be the pioneers of a body acceptance revolution, because we all know what it feels like to live outside the box. There can be a thousand different butch style blogs out there, but if the parameters they’ve set for queer female masculinity don’t leave any room for female body parts of various sizes, then half (or maybe more) of the readership is shut out. In other words, you’re doing inclusivity wrong. How do we teach all masculine queer women/FAB people to love their bodies, if we only show masculine queer bodies without visible breasts or hips? The message is: You better find a way to hide those parts if you want to be taken seriously.

On a slight tangent, it’s also important to note the class difference in butch style back in the day vs. the “dapper dandy” look that is popular now. Old-school butch style was very working class – loose jeans, work boots, flannel shirts, plain white T-shirts. Today’s butch style is much more “upper-class white dude on a yacht” – skinny jeans, prep shorts, slim fit dress shirts, bow ties, boat shoes. When exactly did we decide that we wanted to look exactly like the people with the most power in this world? And what does that say about our shifting priorities?

Speaking of the old days, my small personal Queer History library tells me that there was a time when large, sturdy butch bodies were appreciated – even idolized. Now the pendulum has swung the other way. Why does visibility always end up being a zero sum game? Our femme sisters are miles ahead of us butches when it comes to finding balance here. When I look at femme-themed tumblrs, for example, I see a whole world of body sizes, shapes, and colors. In fact, femmes are very much leaders in the fat acceptance movement and have been for years. Why don’t I see my fellow butches following suit?

I’d love to see more size acceptance work done in masculine queer communities, because when the celebration of curves only occurs in feminine communities, it reinforces the notion that curves equal feminine. That is exceedingly isolating for curvy butches and masculine queers like me. In other words, if queer media has decided that masculine means an absence of curves, then does my curvy body fail at masculinity? Who gets to judge? On a very personal level, it’s taken me a long time to realize that I didn’t buy a binder because I wanted one, but because I thought I was SUPPOSED to want one. Why did I think that? All of these questions can be rolled up into one even more difficult question: Do I hate my female body because it doesn’t fit me, or because it doesn’t fit what I’ve been told is the norm?

Because I cannot have a queer community-related thought without sharing said thought with my entire queer community, I recently had a conversation with fellow blogger and tweeter eL about navigating the word as a plus-sized butch. In eL’s own words:

“As an adult, I have always been between size 14 and 20 in women’s pant sizes.  This leaves strong limitations for buying men’s clothes. I am more of an hourglass shape, leaning a bit toward pear. Because of this, my hips are too large for many clothing items geared towards men. I often struggle to find men’s shirts that fit me, due to having a short torso and large hips. My broad chest has never been an issue and I am actually somewhat on the smaller cup size up top, proportionally.

That being said, I have never seen myself or anyone who looks quite like me/my body represented in queer media. Around 10 years ago, I identified as a queer femme and still, at that time, didn’t quite feel like I fit in. I was a short haired femme, which, at the time, I didn’t see represented. Also, I wasn’t a heavily made up femme. I was definitely never the femmiest femme that femmed, though I did enjoy a good skirt from time to time.

As a queer butch, I struggle to find clothing that makes me feel as comfortable on the outside as I know I am on the inside (in my own body). I tend to end up buying women’s jeans, due to the large difference between my waist size and my hip size. I can usually fit into men’s shirts, provided that they are not too long for my torso. I don’t often wear button-up shirts, due to the fact that if I can get them to fit my hips, they end up being way too big in the chest. Or, if it fits in the chest, it hugs my hips tightly.

I do feel that the ‘butch ideal’ presented in media and in blogs is that of a thinner, androgynous butch, who can easily fit into men’s clothing. While my face and haircut may be more on the androgynous side, my hips and curves are most definitely not.”

Obviously, I’m not the only one with a lot to say about body diversity in queer media, or rather, the lack thereof. I’d love to hear some thoughts from all of you out there in the digital ethers. Do you think we have a body diversity problem on our hands (and on our sites)? If so, what can we do about it, besides write overly-long blog rants? I bet you have some ideas.

The Impotence of Rage in Post-Post-Racial America

“This is America and I can say what I want.”

I stare intensely down at my salad, as if the perfect retort were hidden somewhere under the leaves and blue cheese dressing. My mother’s voice is stubborn, laced with a proud defiance that one more often hears from the lips of rebellious teenagers. It’s also a bit too loud for the polite restaurant setting, and I shift uncomfortably in my seat, embarrassment seeping in. I think she recognizes it. I think this is why we end up having so many heated conversations in restaurants – she knows it’ll keep me in check.

“You really don’t understand why a white person saying that word is different than a black person saying it?” I ask her, fighting to keep my voice down. My dad watches with interest, but says nothing. “Maybe I should buy you a set of U.S. history books for Christmas this year.”

That last sarcastic bit was the wrong thing to say, and I know it immediately. Nothing shifts my mother into Defensive Victim Mode Level 10 like suggesting she’s uneducated. It doesn’t matter if it’s true. In this case, it actually is true, as evidenced by the fact that until that meal, she didn’t even know there were any SCOTUS decisions made that week, let alone a decision that took the teeth out of a landmark civil rights act that was born just four years after her.

The only news she had been following was Paula Deen-related, since that’s what her coworkers and the tabloids in the work break room were interested in. I point out that the deep-fried Deen controversy and the VRA decision are two different examples of the same problem: America is racist and super defensive about it. (Sort of like my mother, but I don’t voice that particular comparison out loud). “You need to be aware of what’s going on in this country,” I say. “You need to have at least some knowledge of current events.”

“Oh, well I’m sorry I’m so stupid,” she spits, in a not-at-all-sorry tone. “I’m too busy killing myself at work to read the news.” I catch the eye of my father, who works two jobs, yet still finds time to at least be aware of world events. I launch into a brief explanation of the Voting Rights Act, hoping she’ll find it boring enough to calm her down. When I’m finished, Dad is smiling.

“This is why I like talking about politics whenever you come home,” he says. “You’re informed.” My mother looks like she wants to leap across the table and throttle him.

“Anyway,” I say quickly, “Paula Deen’s career is over, as it should be.” I know this will please/pacify my mother, as she hates Paula Deen. Not because of her horrendous racial slurs and systematic workplace discrimination based on skin color, mind you, but because she finds her voice and makeup choices annoying. Mom straightens up and starts listing all the ways the Barefoot Contessa has a better show anyway (“she doesn’t act crazy and never has her tits out like that Giada”), and I wearily return to my meal, feeling defeated. I’m not sure what winning would have looked like.

***

My mother is a prime specimen of the Northern Racist, a breed that doesn’t get nearly as much attention as its more famous cousin, the Southern Racist. When We the People discuss racial strife in this country, the images that are shown in cable documentaries and American History classes are predictable: crosses burning on Georgia lawns, an Alabama church destroyed by bombs, mobs violently protesting desegregation outside of Ole Miss. When I was a child, I thought that racists lived in the South, and wasn’t I lucky to born an enlightened New Englander? I thought these things in my all-white classrooms, in my all-white school, in my all-white small town, surrounded by my all-white friends. I clearly didn’t think hard enough. It wasn’t until I was 18 and a freshman in college that I met and befriended people whose skin tone didn’t match mine. At least by then, I had an inkling of how fucked up that was.

Northern Racism doesn’t often look the racism that we learn about in school (except for when it really does). Northern Racism looks like the Boston area, where places like Roxbury and Dorchester and Mattapan just happen to have the most people of color and the least access to reliable public resources (see: education, transportation, nutrition, employment, etc.). Northern Racism looks like other places in the Boston area, too, like the Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Brookline, and Cambridge, where the vast majority of the population just happens to be white and extremely well off. Funny coincidence, eh?

It’s important to note that Northern Racism, especially in the Boston area, often comes dressed in liberal clothing. The average resident of Newton or Hingham or Concord votes Democrat, and probably proudly sports an Obama/Biden sticker on the back of their Prius. And yet, every time a low-income housing complex is proposed in the midst of these liberal bastions, controversy erupts. Northern Racism isn’t racist at all, you see — as long as “those people” don’t move in next door. It’s sure easy to pretend racism doesn’t exist when there’s nobody around to be racist toward, isn’t it? Northern Racism has it all figured out.

Whenever I drive through Springfield, MA with my parents — which happens a few times a year, as it’s where the Peter Pan bus from Boston arrives and where both my parents work — my mother will inevitably begin to wax nostalgic about her childhood there “in the good old days.” The product of Italian and Irish immigrant families, she was raised in 1960s-1970s Catholic schools alongside the products of other Italian and Irish immigrant families. The streets of her youth were filled with shops and diners run by people who looked like her, talked like her, and had last names like hers. Today, those streets are home to people who don’t, and that makes my mother angry. “This place has sure gone downhill,” she’ll say. “These people ruined it.” I’ll press her to explain who “these people” are, even though I know exactly what she means — the mostly Puerto Rican, mostly Spanish-speaking folks who make up a significant portion of Springfield’s population. “These people,” she’ll repeat, annoyed at the tone of my voice. “They have no respect for anything.” Northern Racism refuses to speak its own name.

***

Rage is an emotion with varying degrees of power. It’s a flame that has the potential to become a forest fire, spreading ferociously and licking at the heels of injustice until the populace has no choice but to notice. Rage can also remain small, manifesting as an exhaustingly slow internal burn, devouring wicks of hope and leaving behind desperate piles of ash where no one can see. Rage can empower, or rage can consume. In either case, rage is born from the realization that something has happened that is deeply, unforgivably, criminally wrong. Rage is George Zimmerman: a free, living, breathing man, reunited with the gun he used to murder a child who had the misfortune of being born the wrong color in the wrong society. Rage is the realization that, as John Oliver put it, “we could get a verdict like this, not because the system is broken down, but because the system worked exactly as it’s designed.” When Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States in 2008, the media crowed that we had entered “post-racial America.” Welcome to post-post-racial America.

My rage feels impotent. I bang the keys violently to post angry manifestos to Facebook, Twitter, and this blog. I rant to my friends, repeating phrases like” I can’t fucking get over it” as if they were incantations. I read every news story and opinion piece on the verdict that I can find. I wish, in my sincerest of hearts, that Zimmerman will never know peace for the rest of his days. I wish that no matter where he goes, he’ll be treated like a pariah, a monster, a murderer. I know that, ultimately, none of this rage amounts to anything more than sound and fury.

I don’t talk to my mother about the verdict. I doubt that she’s even heard about it, or if she did, cared enough to commit it to memory. She doesn’t want to change the way she thinks, because she doesn’t believe there’s anything wrong with it. Or, maybe, she knows deep down that it is wrong, but admitting so means bringing something ugly to the surface and confronting it. That’s too frightening a prospect, so she sinks back into the comfort of her life and lets that disturbing thought evaporate into the ether of suburbia. My mother is White America personified.

I know that talking to my mother will just create more internal rage – and worse, shame. Shame that racism is a part of my bloodline. Shame that I, as a white person, have benefited in so many ways from a system that devalues black and brown bodies to the point of genocide – ways that can be so subtle as to go unnoticed, like an undiscovered tumor. Ways that I wasn’t aware of for the majority of my life. After all, one of the classic characteristics of privilege is not knowing you have it.

Less than three weeks ago, the LGBT community celebrated a major victory when the SCOTUS sent DOMA and Prop 8 packing. But for queer people of color – and really, anybody who gives half a damn about injustice – it was a bittersweet moment, arriving coupled with the VRA decision. Can we really cheer a court that uplifts one minority with its right hand, while devastating another with its left? Can we white queer people, in the afterglow of a battle won, rest comfortably on our laurels and still stand to look in the mirror? I hope we cannot.

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” A great man spoke these words 30 years before the birth of Trayvon Martin. I’m sure Dr. King dreamed that the passing decades would give way to a much better nation for all people, but our reality is what we must deal with. Our rage must be harnessed and used to energize ourselves and others, not to foster despair; to build outward, not to destroy inward. How do we do that? I wish I really knew. I wish I could find concrete answers, because the abstract is so frustrating. I spend too much time reading comic books, where doing what’s right is as simple as saving people from burning buildings and punching bad guys in the face. In the real world, it’s harder to know in which direction to punch, or even what the bad guys look like. Because sometimes, they look like you. Sometimes, they look like me.

Here are some things I do know we can do. I can do. Learn how to be a better ally. Hint: this is not accomplished by proudly announcing “I am an ally” to anyone within hearing distance, like a toddler who successfully used the potty and is awaiting a reward. In fact, being an ally is about 90% listening and only 10% talking – and never talking over or instead of a member of the marginalized group you claim to care about. This is something that should be noted by white people, male people, straight people, cis people, affluent people – anybody who has power when somebody else does not. Use your privilege against the very system that creates it. Call out racism, bigotry, and discrimination where you see them. Don’t give a crap if it upsets people. Rock the boat that has carried you over the rough waters, where others cling to life preservers. Make the comfortable uncomfortable. Have awkward phone conversations with your mother.

And, in the most productive ways possible, keep raging.

From Boston to New York and Back Again, With Love

It is April 22, 2013 and the Brooklyn Bridge is silhouetted against a blazing orange backdrop as the sun sinks into the horizon and New York slips further away. I’ve been up since 4:00 AM, traveling with the sunrise to cover a technology conference at the Javits Center, and my exhaustion is finally making itself known. I sink into my seat on this high-speed train as it barrels forward toward home, toward my own city, where I know this same setting sun is now being reflected with overwhelming brilliance in the mirrored exterior of the John Hancock Tower.

It has been a mere 13 hours since I left Boston, but I am desperate to get back. Leaving that morning felt wrong, somehow, with only a week having passed by since a jagged hole had been torn – ripped open with abrupt, unspeakable violence – in the very heart of the city. Part of it was a strange guilt, as if I were abandoning an old friend in her moment of need. Another part of it was fear – a quiet, but persistent dread creeping along the nooks and crannies of my mind that believed something else could happen and that I would be hundreds of miles away from my loved ones when it did. Logically, I knew it was over, in the sense that the people who unleashed such madness one week ago were no longer a threat. But, also logically, I knew that it was never really over.

It is April 20, 1999 and I am a painfully awkward 14-year-old with very few friends in my small, stifling Catholic middle school in my small, stifling Western Massachusetts town. It won’t be long until I start high school, and I’m already fairly convinced that things are only going to get worse. (I am unfortunately very right; things will get progressively worse until I graduate and run 100 miles away towards my new life in Boston, at which point things will immediately start to get better.) There is a girl in my class who is beautiful and smiles in a way that makes something in my stomach hurt. I desperately want to get closer to her, but even I don’t yet understand what that means. It will be some years still before I do.

On the television, there are grainy black and white images of two boys, only a few years older than I am, frozen for all time in a smoky high school cafeteria. My adolescent brain is having a difficult time processing this image and the dozens of other images of chaos, terror, and loss in a place I have never been to, but could easily be exactly where I am. Two conclusions, however, are emerging with increasing clarity. 1.) High school is going to suck and 2.) We are never safe, no matter where we are. I will silently hope that I am wrong on both counts. I am not.

It is September 11, 2001 and I am sitting in my guidance counselor’s office, trying to switch out of a class that I have just started, but already hate for some reason. I am 16-years-old and I hate a lot of things, most especially myself. My guidance counselor has been listening to the radio and tells me that a plane has hit one of the World Trade Center towers in New York. We both agree what a terrible accident it is, and then go on to discuss my schedule. When I return to my first period class, the TV is on and my classmates are unnaturally quiet. On the screen, a second plane crashes into a second tower and everything feels very cold. The camera switches to a shot of the burning Pentagon and one thought crosses my still-forming, self-obsessed teenage mind: We are under attack.

Some of my classmates try to call their parents or family members in New York. The cell towers are overwhelmed by this point and the calls don’t go through. I don’t try to call anyone. I just stare at the screen like one under the influence of hypnosis, unable to look away from the burning buildings. Nobody says anything, or they say everything, but none of it matters. The day’s classes go on as scheduled, or maybe they don’t. I honestly can’t remember the rest of the day beyond that TV screen.

It is April 15, 2013 and I am once again stuck working on Marathon Monday. I’m at least working from home this year, which makes me slightly less bitter (but only slightly). The Marathon was more exciting when I lived in Brookline right off of Beacon St., and I could watch from my window as the runners sped by and the crowds cheered and the BC students played drunken bean bag toss on the sidewalk. In my residential Somerville neighborhood, it’s as quiet as any other Monday. I read the names of the winners on Boston.com and then ignore the marathon for the rest of the day, preoccupied with setting up interviews for an upcoming article and taking a generous amount of Facebook and OKCupid breaks.

At 3:00 PM, one of my coworkers posts a confused Facebook status about an explosion in Copley. My first thought is that it was probably a manhole explosion, as one had taken place in Fenway earlier this year. I turn on the TV and see the smoke pluming out of Boylston. Then I open up Gawker and see the first still photo, and the first blood.

The texts start flying back and forth. I learn that there has also been a fire and an explosion at the JFK Library, where one of my closest friends and roommates works. She learns about the bombings in Copley as she stands outside, watching the entrance of that beautiful building burn. The fire started just a few minutes after the bombing, but investigations will find no link between the two incidents. I will be highly skeptical.

My roommates will remain scattered around the city in the coming hours, either trapped at work or glued to screens elsewhere. I watch the video of the explosion for the first time and feel a punch to my gut that makes breathing difficult. I pull my cat, who purrs at the sudden attention, close to me and wish somebody would come home.

As it has done in the past and will most likely do in the future, my mind struggles to process the nightmare in front of me. There’s the cute little candy store that everyone was so excited to see open, and in front of it are bodies. There’s the LensCrafters where I bought a pair of glasses with my own money and my own insurance for the first time, and its windows are completely blown out. CNN is pointing cameras at a place I have passed through almost every day for the last 10 years. The President is talking about Boston’s resilience. This time, screens provide no real barrier between me and suffocating horror. These images are too personal, too intimate, too…my home. My streets. My people. My life.

I don’t sleep more than a few hours a night for the next four days. On Tuesday, I work from home again, unable to stand the idea of getting on the T. I try to convince myself to keep the dinner plans I had made with friends, but I make it as far as the bus stop before I panic and go home. I’m not ready. On Wednesday and Thursday, I go into the office. I regret it each day. The silence is heavy, broken only by occasional hushed conversations, all about the bombing. My desk is across from a coworker who was at the finish line when it happened and ran for her life, escaping without physical injury. She doesn’t come in all week.

My roommate and I go to a memorial service Thursday night, and we both feel a little bit better when it’s over. It’s nice to walk around the neighborhood before returning to the TV, which has been on non-stop since Monday afternoon. Three hours later, an MIT officer is dead and a manhunt has begun. I force myself to go to bed at 12:30. Before I get a chance to sleep, I hear two loud bangs and a chorus of sirens nearby. I’m in front of the TV again in a flash and will remain there until 3:30 AM, when exhaustion finally wins out.

I awake at 7:00 AM to texts asking if I’m OK and begging me not to go outside. The city is in lockdown. I’m sent an address — the home of the bombers — and Google Maps tells me they live a mere nine minutes away. I return to my post in front of the TV with my bleary-eyed roommates. We stay away from windows. The day passes slowly, excruciatingly. I can’t concentrate on anything else and fail to file an article due that day. My editor tells me not to worry about it. The sirens near us are a constant now and are soon joined by a helicopter circling overhead. Everything feels like a movie and at the same time, crushingly real.

Finally, at 9:00 PM, it’s over. We all utter exclamations of relief and pull out ice cream and wine. The air seems less heavy, though not as light as air should be. On the TV, people are pouring into the streets, cheering and applauding and belting out the national anthem, but I stay inside, not ready for noise and crowds yet. Tomorrow, the rebuilding will begin. Tomorrow, there will be grins and hugs on the street and a brass band rollicking through Harvard Square. Tomorrow, I will clearly see the love and unity and strength that have carried us through darkness, and will carry us through again. But tonight, I am simply thankful that the city – my city – will finally sleep well.

It is April 22, 2013 and my train pulls into South Station at 10:45 PM. I walk through the station I’ve crossed so many times, onto the Red Line that I ride every day, and whiz past the Boston skyline on my way across the Charles. The Pru is lit up with a simple message: “One.” I feel my heart swell and forgive myself for a moment of shameless schmaltz. There is only one place that has ever really felt like home. One place where I found myself and my chosen family and a life I can be proud of. One place that I will always be happy to seen again. Boston, you’re the one.

This Butch Reviews the RodeoH Boxer

If you’ve been paying any attention to the world of queer sex accessories for the past year (and, I mean, who hasn’t?), you’ve no doubt heard a lot of buzz about a little company that goes by the name of RodeoH. I first read about this scrappy up-and-comer (pun fully intended) on Autostraddle – which, consequently, has a great new interview this week with the company’s founder.

For the uninitiated, RodeoH’s whole shtick is comfy, colorful undies that look totally hot and, oh yeah, are also harnesses. That’s right, bois and grrrls: gone are the days of awkwardly adjusting 50 different straps mid-sex or chafing your sensitive spots against huge metal buckles and rings. RodeoH makes strapping on as easy as pulling up your drawers!

rodeoh

Not to sound too much like a late-night Skinemax infomercial, but you guys, I was seriously excited to get my hands and other bits on a pair of these. Unfortunately, I had to wait a while for the boxer design to come out, because I personally couldn’t get down with the panty or brief cuts. But maybe you can! Diversity is good and sexxxy, so you do you (while also doing an enthusiastically consenting partner).

My main concern when ordering my RodeoH boxer was that it would be too loose to give me the kind of control needed to be, well, effective. A floppy cock is not an ideal cock, after all. The website suggests that you order a size smaller than you wear in normal undies, so since I wear a size 38, I ordered their 33-35 boxer. That worked very well for me; it wasn’t so tight that it cut off circulation below the waist (which would have been a real boner killer), but it was tight enough to keep me standing firmly at attention.

I paired my boxer with the Mark O2 by Tantrus, which is a great cock that shares its name with one of Iron Man’s armors. Though most review sites I’ve seen recommend using a smaller cock than that, I’ve always been of the “go big or go home” mindset. I wouldn’t go any bigger than that, however, since it seemed like my Mark O2 was toeing the line of how much weight the boxer could support.

The RodeoH feels a little different while in use than your traditional harness, because the O-ring sits higher on the crotch than most other designs. You may need to adjust your technique accordingly, but trust me, it’s a very easy adjustment. Be warned that if you use a cock with a wide or thick base, you’ll most likely end up with some bruising in your pelvic region the next day (totally worth it).

The RodeoH is as easy to take off as it is to get on (seriously, I’m so happy to be rid of all those straps), and it can go right in the laundry with all your other, less advanced undies. Functional and discreet! ALSO (and this is a big “also” for me), it’s perfect for pack and play. I found that wearing it under a pair of regular boxers is pretty damn effective and doesn’t give you that infamous “pitching a tent” look. The material is stretchy enough that you can actually turn your cock down so the shaft is against your leg and only the base sticks out. When it’s time for the “play” portion of the evening, just move that sucker back up and you’re golden. Boom.

I only have one very personal gripe with the RodeoH boxer. Because of the aforementioned higher O-ring, it’s pretty difficult to get off while wearing it. There just isn’t much friction happening in the area where friction is most needed. Rumor has it that RodeoH is working on a design with extra room for a small bullet vibe, so mayhaps that will be a solution to this problem.

All in all, I would give the RodeoH boxer an 8.5 out of 10*. This is an extremely cool product that is friendly to all sorts of different queer body types and gender expressions. It’s also very affordable and comes in lotsa colors, so I may just need to start stocking up.

Have any of you out there in Cyberland had experience with RodeoH’s products? Don’t be shy, now – I’d love to hear all about your adventures right below in the comments section/sextion!

*Please note that those numbers don’t actually mean anything; I thought this review needed to seem more legit and numbers (especially numbers with decimal points) always add an air of importance.

The Heaviest Door

I firmly believe that the weight of any given door is directly proportional to how much you’re dreading what’s on the other side. Perhaps it’s some evolutionary advance, where instincts kick in to tell us “Don’t open that; there’s something awful in there” and our bodies do their darndest to keep us out. Muscles weaken, arms become limp and powerless as overcooked spaghetti as we strain to pull or push against towering slabs of wood or metal. But even if our bodies do know best, we are, after all, humans, and far too arrogant to ever listen.

A person encounters many types of heavy doors throughout the course of their life. Classroom doors, courtroom doors, office doors, hospital doors, funeral home doors, the doors of vaguely creepy distant relatives or angry significant others (when you know you’re in the wrong). In my experience, the heaviest door of all often leads into a public restroom.

I know I’m not the only one who suddenly finds her upper body strength depleted when faced with the emotionless humanoid silhouettes plastered across these entrances. Anybody whose physical presentation doesn’t 100% mesh with the tiny, constraining, impossible-to-breath-within borders of Society’s Acceptable Gender Standards experiences this conundrum on a daily basis. “Should I choose Door Number One and maybe get yelled at?” we ask ourselves. “Should I choose Door Number Two and maybe get beat up? Or should I just start searching Etsy for a cute vintage chamber pot to carry around with me?”

It is, of course, completely ridiculous that one of the most basic needs of all living things should inspire within us such existential questions. I mean, we’ve all read “Everyone Poops.” This shouldn’t be so hard. And it wouldn’t have to be if not for the ceaseless patrols of people who I refer to as Sentinels of the Shitter. These tireless protectors of lavatories, powder rooms, and water closets everywhere have one sworn duty: Keeping gender fucking weirdos like me out at all costs. Until my dying day, I will never understand the deep investment so many people seem to have in whom precisely is pissing in the locked stall next to them.

During a recent business trip to Chicago, I had the misfortunate of encountering one of these self-important crusaders outside of a McCormick Place restroom. I was just ending my third day of covering a particularly exhausting trade show and after hours of sucking up to PR people, begging strangers for interviews, and navigating through a sea of slow-moving middle-aged men, all I wanted to do was make a quick pit stop and catch the shuttle back to my hotel. My trip up until that point had gone smoothly enough. I didn’t get pulled aside for a “random screening” at the airport; even when I inexplicably set off the metal detector, I was jovially groped by a friendly female TSA agent. My seatmate on the plane didn’t stare or even look uncomfortable.  And best of all, I hadn’t been yelled at in a bathroom once.

So perhaps I was feeling a bit too cocky when I strode up to the women’s room, mostly deserted by then except for one member of the janitorial staff standing in the doorway. I’m sorry, did I say standing? I meant blocking the doorway like a goddamn defensive linebacker in the 4th quarter. (Sidebar: I had to look up “offensive linebacker” to make sure I had the right term, as my interests are much more Puppy Bowl than Super Bowl.) I stopped abruptly in my tracks as she narrowed her eyes ever so slightly. Opening my mouth to say “Excuse me,” I was cut off when she pointed at the men’s room behind me and spat out, “Right there. Men’s room.” It was an order, not a suggestion. Her stance and words were so commanding that I half-expected her to suddenly sprout a Gandalf-esque beard and bellow, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”

I hesitated for a moment, wondering if I should just hold it until I was back in my safe, gender-neutral hotel room. Finally, I stammered out, “I, uh, I need the women’s room.” For a moment she just stood there, staring at me as if I said I needed a one-way ticket to Mars. Then, without a word, she walked away, her eyes now locked on some space far off in the distance. I rushed myself in and out of the restroom as quickly as physically possible, as I had a sudden overwhelming need to be away from people, all people, and the only way to accomplish that was by getting back to the hotel.

As much as I should be used to incidents like that, whenever they happen they still completely throw me off. Maybe they just don’t happen often enough for the necessary numbness to set in. I still remember the first time I accidentally passed as a man and how shaken I was by it. Years later, I’ve been called “Sir” or “man” or “bro” so many times, had male pronouns forced onto me by so many strangers that I’m now actually more shocked when someone immediately knows that I’m female. Hell, even the cashiers at my Friendly Neighborhood Progressive Queer Café still think my name is “Brendan,” “Brian,” or, in a bizarre new twist, “Mack.”

I suppose that outside of restrooms – and the occasional, equally stressful changing room – I don’t make much of an effort to prove my femaleness. After all, it makes no difference to me what sex the cashier or bus driver or random person walking their dog thinks I am. But when it comes time to take care of business, I am suddenly the girliest girl to ever have girled. I stick my chest out like a rooster and my voice magically shoots up several octaves.

While most women commiserate about those infamously long bathroom lines, I am always relieved to see them, because that time waiting in line allows me to lessen any shock value my presence might otherwise inspire. It’s a chance to very deliberately place myself in a crowd of women  (“I’m definitely not some confused dude wandering into the wrong room, no ma’am!”), make some eye contact (“I see you standing there being a female, just like me, sister!”),  or, if I’m feeling really brave, small talk (“Gotta love these lines, am I right, ladies? Also, yogurt, tampons, chocolate, and household cleaning products!”).

The worst possible bathroom for me is a mostly – but not entirely – empty one. That’s when I’m most often assumed to be an idiot, a pervert, or a predator. That’s when I’m most often righteously informed by visibly frightened women that “THIS IS THE LADIES’ ROOM.” That’s when I feel that awful emotional cocktail of anger, shame, and guilt: Anger at people not minding their own business, shame at being publically humiliated, and guilt for scaring a stranger.

I know many gender outliers of my particular flavor whose solutions to this eternal dilemma are either “use the men’s room” or “become Bladder Ninjas, capable of holding it for lengths of time not previously observed in nature.” If those methods work for them, then more power to ‘em, but I can’t see either working for me. If women’s rooms make me nervous, men’s rooms give me full-blown panic attacks. I find the danger in there far greater, not to mention the amount of bodily fluids that missed their marks. As for never using a public bathroom at all, well, let’s just say that I’m probably still carrying some residual emotional scarring from a particularly bad day in First Grade when I attempted to hold it during a test and failed spectacularly.

I suppose I could try to paint my refusal to be bullied out of a public space as some sort of bold political statement, instead of just me being too stubborn to change my restroom routine. I could pretend it’s a middle finger to oppression and bigotry and the heteronormative cissexist powers that be. Maybe it is that, a little bit. Maybe simply existing in front of the whole wide world can be, for all of us, an act of civil disobedience. Maybe revolutions can be born on tile floors and inside graffiti-smeared stalls. Or maybe I’ve just been pushing against this one door for so long that it seems a shame to stop now.

Update on Butch Voices Boston Community Conversation

Is it really, truly, honestly almost February? Sweet gay Jesus, where does the time go?? Life has been a flurry of planning, partying, and general queerness lately, so my sincerest apologies for being such an absentee blogger. I promise I will put up an actual respectable post on here soon, but for the moment, I want to give you all an update on the Butch Voices Boston Community Conversation on February 16th.

First off, slots are filling up fast! The room caps at 50, so get on the guest list ASAP! Here’s the event on Facebook, but please also RSVP all official-like by sending an email with your name and contact information with “Boston” in the subject line to: registration@BUTCHVoices.com.

Secondly, BIG NEWS ZOMG: We now have an OFFICIAL Boston Community Conversation after-party! Join us for a mixer and dance party at One Night Stand, Boston’s newest – and hottest – queer club night. (The first ever One Night Stand was a massive success last month, hurrah!) If you’ll be in town and want to check out the action, make sure to sign up ahead of time on the VIP list for half-priced cover. Just tell ‘em ButchBoi Life sent ya.

And last but not least, I hope to see many of your smiling faces on the 16th, dear readers! This is the first ever event like this in Boston, so let’s make it a great one, team.

2012 in Review: Thanks for the Memories

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 42,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 10 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

42,000 views?? Holy smokes! I’d like to extend a big, butch thanks to all for a banner year, dear readers. See you all in 2013 – let’s make it the best yet!

Dyke Events to Watch Out For: One Night Stand and BUTCH Voices Hits Boston

Happy Friday, dear readers – and Happy Hanukkah to all you lovely Jewish queers out there! I’m coming at ya today with not one, but TWO major announcements about upcoming events that I’m helping to organize. It is the season of giving, after all, and I’m about to give you a couple very good reasons to be in Boston this winter.

First off, following on the successful heels of our first butch-femme mixer, ButchBoi Life and MadFemmePride are joining forces once again to bring you a night of mingling, games, flirting, dancing, and the commitment-free debauchery that we are so skilled at: One Night Stand. A collaboration with DJ Jodi Entertainment, Studio A Entertainment, DJ Moxie, DJ Double D, Super Squirrel, Zurma Productions and Kristen Porter (of Dyke Night fame), One Night Stand will be at Who’s On First (19 Yawkey Way, Boston) on Saturday, January 19th from 8:00 PM to 2:00 AM. The evening begins with our butch-femme mixer from 8:00-9:00, then we’ll segue right into the epic dance party. The best part, besides the fact that yours truly will be there to greet you? It’s cheap! Sign up for the One Night Stand VIP list to receive a half-price cover at the door – and please be sure to check off ButchBoi Life in the “I heard about this event from” section.

In February, BUTCH Voices, ButchBoi Life, and the Boston University Queer Activists Collective are totally stoked to bring you BUTCH Voices Community Conversation: Boston edition on Saturday, February 16th from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM in The Center for Gender, Sexuality and Activism at Boston University (775 Commonwealth Ave., Boston). A sure-to-be-amazing day of discussion panels and community building, the conference is free to attend; however, space is limited, so PLEASE RSVP by sending an email with your name, contact information, and “Boston” in the subject line to: registration@BUTCHVoices.com. We want to cover a wide range of topics that day and are still taking suggestions, so if there’s something that you think should be part of the conversation, leave it here in the comments or on the FB event page. If you’re in Boston and are interested in helping moderate sessions that day, that would also be pretty sweet and I’ll probably give you a hug/high five/fist bump to say thanks (depending on your preferred method of bro-ing out, of course).

So, in summary: Lots of great stuff on the horizon in 2013, I am insanely busy and insanely excited, and also you should probably move to Boston.

“Sir” for the Holidays

There is nothing unique about what I’m about to say. I am not the first queer person to have an awkward relationship with her heterosexual parents. I am not the first masculine-of-center female person to be misgendered by strangers. And I am certainly not the first human person to dread going home for the holidays. I’ve heard stories much like the ones I’m sharing here time and time again, from community members near and far, in all the soul-bearing corners of the internet or painfully hip coffee shops or shabby Women’s Center living rooms where such conversations are born.

These stories are always delivered in that half-confessional, half-exaggerated eye roll sort of tone that serves well to turn painful things into good jokes. We queers are masters of that particular brand of humor. “My great aunt is going to ask me if I have a boyfriend yet. It’s a holiday tradition.” “I wish I could wear my new tie to Christmas dinner, but my mother would declare World War Three.” “The priest looks at me funny during Midnight Mass. Maybe I’ll give him a wink this year.” “Thank Gay Jesus for spiked eggnog.”

The mystery of the whole season is why we – or at least, I – keep going home for the holidays, despite the fact that “home” is now less “place where I grew up” and more “interrogation room decorated with tinsel.” Part of the reason is that, despite being a devout atheist, I love (secular) Christmas and will probably one day turn into a butch version of Clark Griswold, risking life and limb to staple 25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights to my roof. I also love Thanksgiving because, I mean, food is my favorite.

The other part is that very famous and inaccurate “definition of insanity” – that is, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Maybe this year, there won’t be any fighting about my haircut. Maybe this year, my mother won’t start crying about never having grandkids. Maybe this year, I can finally wear that awesome tie. Somewhere deep in my brain, there is an unfinished Norman Rockwell painting of familial holiday bliss and I am, apparently, determined to get it framed.

Thankfully, I have over the years perfected my method for handling seasonal strife at my parents’ house (the key is to distract my mother right off the bat by asking about the latest drama in her workplace, thus ensuring that the conversation will have nothing to do with me for the remainder of that day; repeat for as many consecutive days as necessary). The real challenges are those in-public moments of awkwardness and, well, “Sir”-ing.

I’ve gotten so used to being mistakenly called Sir, Mr., Brother, Man, or any other testosterone-based honorific that I am actually more surprised when strangers get my gender right. Not that I enjoy being called “Ma’am” (which makes me feel like a spinster), or “Miss” (which makes me feel like school girl), but hey, at least those people are paying attention and are not completely unable to process the notion that one can be simultaneously masculine and female without rupturing the time-space continuum.

While my daily misgenderings are par for the course for me, they are a source of supreme humiliation for my mother. I’ll never forget one particularly torturous dinner out when the waiter, an older mustachioed man, referred to me as “Sir” for the duration of the two hour meal. This awkwardness was compounded by his compulsion to end every single sentence with either “Sir” or “Ma’am.” A solitary “Sir” could perhaps go unnoticed, but after the 20th one, neither my mother nor I could pretend we didn’t hear. My father, who is half-deaf, was blissfully unaware of this entire situation and enjoyed his meal while my mother’s face tried on every possible hue of red and I seriously considered escaping through the kitchen.

A few years ago, my parents decided that cooking a big meal was too much work for just the three of us, so we began having Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant. There are a few advantages to that plan for me. One: blowout arguments are discouraged in public settings. Two: No clean up. And three: While my parents have a dry house, the restaurant has a full bar. (Hello, pumpkin martini.) There is one big disadvantage: See above horror story. And so for me, Thanksgiving quickly replaced Christmas as Most Stressful Holiday Involving Family.

I started this past Thanksgiving dinner with a panic attack appetizer after discovering the restaurant’s tradition of giving each female diner a rose after dinner. Besides being sexist, antiquated, and just plain weird, this policy put me on edge because I knew that the peace (or lack thereof) of our drive home would be determined by whether or not I got one – that is, whether or not my mother was publicly embarrassed by her giant butch dyke offspring. Thus, I sat there sweating and wondering desperately if I would receive a rose that evening, like the weirdest Bachelor episode ever.

I was calmed somewhat by our waitress, who in her infinite grace and wisdom did not use a single honorific during the meal. She was also quite cute and thought I was funny (or at least, was paid handsomely enough to pretend to think I was funny). Nothing soothes frazzled nerves quite like a pretty girl laughing at your jokes.

The meal went by smoothly and gluttonously enough, and soon it was time to face the flowers. I had cobbled together a plan between bites of pie, but I would have to time it just right. While my parents were putting on their coats and the hostess, giver of roses, had her back turned, I slipped past them all and triumphantly held the door open.

Success! I had foiled the hostess’ insidious, gender-normative plans while simultaneously appearing to be well-mannered. My mother was none the wiser, as she had also missed the opportunity to be flowered, despite her extremely obvious womanhood, and my father was just happy that the biggest debate on the way home involved what to do with the leftovers. And so there was peace on that Thanksgiving evening. A temporary peace, as Christmas dinner looms larger on the calendar, but peace nonetheless.

Let’s all just take it one holiday at a time.