Through the Gray: Depression and Anxiety in a Butch Body

Here’s to every sunken couch in every wood-paneled office

Where you sit staring at a face paid handsomely to care about you

Counting down 50 minutes in your head

50 minutes to fill with all the thoughts you avoid during the week’s other 10,080 minutes

50 minutes to force a smile and a nod and a “Yes, maybe this did all start with my parents”

Here’s to every morning you’ve found yourself staring at the subway tracks

Laid out stark as an exclamation point before a barreling train

And you think how easy it would be, it would be so easy

So easy

Here’s to every visit home when you’ve wanted to claw the faces off a family picture

Taken a lifetime ago, before you existed as yourself

Before the death of the “normal” daughter your parents always wanted, who never actually lived at all

Here’s to every waiter that mistakenly calls you “Sir”

As your own mother can’t stand to look at you over her filet mignon

Here’s to every time you hid in a women’s room stall

Waiting for the last person to leave

So you can slip out without scaring anyone today

Here’s to every late night you caught a stranger staring at you on the train

His eyes a boiling cauldron of hate, confusion, and disgust

And when he gets off at your stop, you wonder if this is when it finally happens

And if it is, do you even know how to really fight

And if you don’t, will your mother bury you in your favorite suit or her favorite dress

Here’s to every pill bottle clutched like a life preserver

And every pale orange oval that will take the edge off existence

And make you feel a little less of everything

A little less sad, a little less worried, a little less scared, a little less lonely

But also a little less excited, a little less hopeful, a little less joyful, a little less horny, a little less awake, a little less present, a little less real

Here’s to everyone living with just a little less color in the world

Let’s find each other’s hands through the gray

 

 

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.

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.

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.

“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.

A New Beginning for Buzz Cuts and Bustiers

“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” – T.S. Eliot

I struggled so long and so mightily over how to start this post that I finally had to turn the steering wheel over to an old friend who is much more eloquent than I will ever be. Thank you, Thomas.

As you all might have noticed (or at least, those of you who are still checking in here, bless your loyal hearts), it’s been over two months since the last post. The best way to explain this chasm, the only way that seems to sum it up adequately in my mind, is to say that those posts two months back came from a different world – a world which no longer exists – than today’s post.

If you follow me on Twitter (again, bless your loyal queer little hearts), you probably already know this, but to get everyone up to speed: I am now a single butch. In fact, this right here is the first post ever on Buzz Cuts and Bustiers to be written by said single butch. This is significant for a number of reasons:

  1. My life now, at the summer’s end, is radically different than what it was at the summer’s beginning.
  2. How I write about said life will no doubt be different (maybe less radically so) than how I once wrote about it.
  3. I’ve never been single while writing in this blog, and so this is a new and scary thing, but also maybe an exciting thing.

I know how much the queer community (and, really, most communities) love juicy gossip, so it is with a twinge of guilt that I must inform you that I will not be writing about the details surrounding the expiration of my relationship. Some things are too private to even write about here, a space where we talk frankly about things like strap-ons and oral and boobs. Yes, I do have lines, even if they are drawn in strange places.

So what exactly have I been up to these past two months, besides being an absentee parent to this blog? The most accurate word is: rebuilding. The destruction of one way of existing often calls for a lot of clean up before a new way of existing can be built in its place. Social lives and personal schedules and long-term plans all have to be redesigned and reconstructed. Above all that, most of my rebuilding has focused around my mental health. I’ve been living with anxiety and increasingly inconvenient panic attacks for a year now, and a good deal (but not all) of that was the direct result of the relationship I was in. Today, the panic attacks are far less frequent, mostly replaced by a less crippling but still maddeningly persistent undercurrent of anxiety. Small victories, I suppose?

The biggest step I’ve taken on this road to reconstruction is seeking professional help. I’ve had a psych evaluation (which sounds much scarier than it actually was) at Fenway Health and I’m currently wait-listed to be placed with an appropriate therapist. As of last week, I’m nearing the top of that very long list (queer-centric therapy is in high demand ’round these parts), so I’ll hopefully be seeing someone within the next few weeks. Please be so kind as to cross all available digits for me, dear readers.

Getting into therapy is a really big deal for me. It’s something that I’ve known, in the back of my mind, that I should be pursuing for years. I’ve avoided it for so long out of a mixture of pride, stubbornness, and denial. I was raised with the (extremely false and unhealthy) belief that therapy is for “crazy” people. In my mind, that has long translated to: “I am not ‘crazy,’ therefore I don’t need to be hogging resources that people with ‘real’ problems need,” and/or “If I go to therapy, people will think I’m ‘crazy.'” These thought processes are deeply stupid for a number of reasons, including:

  1. “Crazy” is a false construct that only over-simplifies a wide range of highly-individual mental health needs.
  2. My mental health needs are just as (if not more) important than my physical, dental, and visual health needs, all of which I’m glad to have monitored by a professional.
  3. Almost everyone I know is or has been in therapy at some point.

I’ve had some conversations with friends over whether my reluctance to admit that I need professional help is a “butch thing” or just a “Bren thing.” I think it may be a mixture of both. I get so wrapped up in taking care of friends, family, and partners that I more often than not neglect my own needs. When someone I care about requires support, that takes precedent. “I can take care of myself.” “I’m fine.” “Don’t worry about me.” “I’m tough.” I think many other butches will admit to operating the same way. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it could even be a noble thing! – but all good things in moderation. In my case, I was so focused on helping someone else keep their mental and emotional house in order that I didn’t notice how badly my own foundations were crumbling before it was very near too late. I hope to never make that mistake again.

In addition to therapy, I’ve also been working on making my new life as full – and hopefully as happy – as possible. I’ve been continuing to write about queer fashion and community events for Diffuse 5 and to work with my co-founder to keep ButchBoi Life a vibrant and growing community. I still volunteer at Out to Brunch every month and spend time with/find inspiration from my queer elders. To make my life even gayer, I’ve started attending a queer open mic and a queer book club. It’s pretty damn awesome to meet so many fellow queer writers, poets, and literary nerds, I must say.

I’m also actively exploring the Wide World of Binders and my options for dealing with those “I hate my chest; make it go away” days. It’s been hit and miss, but I think I’m getting closer to finding the right binder for me. I’m sure you’ll hear all about it when I do.

Last but not least, I got my third tattoo, something that I’ve wanted to do for a while. It’s a tribute to Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” which you all know I have many deep Feelings about.


So, to summarize this naval-gazing fest (it’s a lot for a Monday, I know): I’m back, and maybe better than ever. Or, at least, I think I will be with time. Stay tuned and we’ll find out together.