Archive for July, 2008

Babygrrl’s First California Earthquake

Do they not make cute bibs that say that?

So, welcome to California indeed.

  • I have watched a Laker’s game at a bar and cheered.
  • I have been lost on freeways that don’t always make sense.
  • I’ve had In n Out burgers, apparently a rite of passage.
  • I’ve been to several beaches, some dirtier than others.
  • I’ve bought stuff on credit at the corner bodega.
  • I’ve walked home at 3AM from the bar on my turf.
  • I’ve been able to give directions.
  • I know the bus and train systems.

And now, my final rite of passage…

the fucking earthquake.

I’ve felt tremors before on the island but not this.

I was on the phone and in a matter of fact voice (I always amaze myself with how calm I am in crisis) informed my friend that I thought it was an earthquake. It took my brain a few minutes to place what was happening as the shaking got more intense. I stood in the doorway (which I have since learned is no better than any other place in the house) on the phone with increasing unease and increasing fear as I hear crackling and watched the yard ripple, everything in my house shake, the cats in the neighborhood going crazy. I stood in the doorway as I tried to discredit what I was feeling. It is an old house after all and sometimes it wiggles just from heavy footfall or neighbor kids running up the stairs. It slowed, then stopped, then shook again.

Finally I turned the tv on to catch the news and saw the seismographic reading and freaked out.  I saw the damage (relatively minor) to some structures, I heard all the predictions, all the expert advice, and was generally a puppet in the hands of the media.  For all my analytical brilliance if they had told me to get duct tape and saran wrap to stay safe I would have run to the hardware store then… oh wait.

My bedroom is upstairs and I spent a scared and sleepless night.

I’ve been in hurricanes and those I can handle.  You have time to prepare, you have time to brace yourself and deal with the fact that nature is powerful beyond belief.  This earthquake shit comes at you out of nowhere and all of a sudden I don’t feel safe.  Hurricanes, floods, blizzards are all manageable and you can get away from the worst of it to one extent or another.  There’s no way to get away from the shaking.  There’s no higher ground (well unless you’re worried about tsunamis then yeah that’s important),  there’s no shelter if your property isn’t safe enough to resist the natural event, there’s no time to get your bag together in case you have to run.  Suddenly the earth is shaking and there’s no getting away.  In a world where I’ve been feeling increasingly unsafe in other daily ways this just was not okay with me.

So, I stayed up all night trying to get right.  And when I did fall asleep I woke up startled coz I felt a wiggle.  I thought it was my imagination but I got online (cause the internetz is never wrong) and there were a series of smaller quakes which I don’t know if they were felt here widely or if my hypervigilance combined with the internetz but it still scared me into staying awake a few more hours, watching dark night shift into dawn and longing for roots.

The other thing this quake brought up for me was my lack of connections here.  I don’t really have People here and that doesn’t feel so safe either.  I had a few friends who, although not geographically present made sure I felt supported.  But really, this shook me up more than I would have expected, pun optional.  This sense of instability and unease has stayed with me, and I’m not sure how to move out of this space.

As much as this place feels like home, yesterday reminded me that it isn’t and that I’m alone here.

My bestie and I are composing a list of items to go in my earthquake preparedness kit.  While I am absolutely calm and together in the crisis, any crisis, when it passes and the dust settles I tend to get a bit, er… um, not so calm? So of course, last night, in my many hours of sleeplessness one of the things I became concerned with was my lack of an earthquake preparedness kit.  Right.  And then the logistics of it: where do I keep it? Do I carry it with me 24/7, as well as my 7 day water supply?  So far we’ve decided I must have lipstick in it, mascara as well, and he suggested a confetti gun as a way of signaling rescue workers while remaining festive.  I’m also thinking of incorporating a party horn thingie as well as the whistle they suggest.  (They being the serious news anchors speaking in grave tones about preparing for The Big One)  He also has ideas on creating a glitter gun for this, because well, if I’m going to be trapped in rubble I might as well be fabulous.

It may be par for the course for people who have been through them dozens of times but I am still not on solid ground.  My roots are doing battle with my wings right now.

Black Lesbian Assaulted by Long Beach Police

I think the video speaks for itself.

I wish I could rant about this and spew the venom this incident brings up for me, but words fall short.

Craving the darkness: thoughts on straddling borderlands

Missing “home” is usually shorthand for a number of assumptions:

1. Home is singular, static, permanent

2. What is missed: usually people, food, a favorite shop, the smell in the air, the energy of the place

“Home” to me is a fluid concept.  The curse and the blessing of my early enculturation, my colonial roots, equally at home on either island, manhattan or boriken, not quite at home in one without the other.  Shifting between the epitome of urban, metropolitan, teeming, and the pristine pulchritude of beaches called virgin in the gringo’s travel brochure.  Just as I am equally at ease with either tongue, English or Spanish, but one never fully complete without the other.  Some things you just can’t say in English.  Some things take too long to express in Spanish.

When I have my cravings for what I usually call “home” that moving target that resists roots, fosters wings, and dreams return to, what I miss the most is unexpected.

I miss the dark.

I miss darkness so fiercely it makes my skin crawl if I think about it too much.

I miss unyielding, unrelenting, unapologetic dark draped nights.  I miss walking out my door at night and stepping into darkness so absolute I can barely find my hand in front of my face.  I miss looking up and falling into thousands (millions?) of stars.  I miss the brilliance of a half moon illuminating stark black.

Here the sky is never fully dark.  Urban living (and a delectable touch of smog) gives the sky a sometimes beautiful, sometimes eerie yellow cast.  I marvel when I catch sight of an errant star, straining against the residual urban blaze to shine down on me.

And yet I fall in love daily with the violent blue skies, so blue it hurts my eyes, so blue I hold up a flower as an offering to the sky to see the contrasting spaces of blue between brilliant petals.

I miss rain.

On gloomy days I ache for the release of a summer’s storm.  I miss the sound of rain pounding on rooftops, miss the puddles, miss the explosion of color and light following a righteous storm.  I miss the compelling wetness, dancing in between drops, moist rivulets running down my brown skin.  I miss the birds dipping into puddles, preening and guzzling.  I miss the anticipation of rain, the buildup leading to the gradual satisfaction of pouring rain.

And, when I allow myself to think about it, I miss my mar caribe.  I miss the way it caresses me and holds me, so different from the pacific’s cool hold on my soul.  And yet now I know that I will never be free of the pacific, never be far from it.  I know that it is in my blood now and that, just as the atlantic, brighton beach in a blizzard, icy waves pounding uncertain shore, el mar caribe soothing warm lapping at my bronze flesh, witness to years of dreams, joys, pain, now my heart has also tasted pacific salt: cold shock of the oregon coast and stubborn insistence to make myself welcome, southern california beauty, kissed by the waves sevenfold welcoming me and claiming me.  Home expands as a concept within me.
“The past and present wilt–I have fill’d them, emptied them.
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.” Walt Whitman (Song of Myself, #51)

and furthermore:

“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”  Walt Whitman (Song of Myself, #51)

My multitudes straddle fronteras, cross unexplored borderlands, nestle into unexpected pockets of ‘home.’

Mi patria es solo una, but home I build as I go.  An odd amalgam of caribbean breezes, socal cumbia, nyc beats, parisian decadence, chesapeake stillness, rushing boise river murmurs, california expanses of birds of paradise, and those pretty purple flowers whose name I don’t even want to know.  I’d rather name them myself as they tumble down to carpet the ground I walk on, sweeten the air as I pass.  Hope flowers.  Esperanzas.  Suenos.  Ilusiones.  Alma vida corazon.  I name them as I walk beauty on beauty.

With so much radiance and light around me, it’s the stillness and darkness that I crave.

Talk to Santa Claus…

because!

my story was accepted for publication in Best Lesbian Erotica 2009 from Cleis Press, edited by Tristan Taormino.

It will be hitting the shelves around Thanksgiving, just in time for holiday naughtiness!

Stone?

Every now and then a grrl runs into a Stone Butch, and since this is not MY social identity I’ll define it cautiously: a Butch whose sexual boundaries around being touched range from non-penetrative genital contact to no contact at all. The term ‘feminizing’ contact is sometimes used which is extremely problematic for me because if I am touching a person who is masculine identified, it doesn’t matter where, with what, how deep, I am touching them, they continue to be a masculine identified person to me. Pillow princes are great fun.

And then there are Stone Femmes, femmes whose sexual boundaries are complimentary to Stone Butches, femmes whose boundaries include not touching butches in ways that include genital contact and/or penetration.

These labels are pretty useful in the dating game. It gets a lot of the compatibility conversation out of the way. I am NOT a Stone Femme and I cannot be involved with someone who is Stone without pushing boundaries. So, it’s good to know and have language around that.

But, my question is, where’s MY label?? I heart labels. I want another one! I usually rely on the Queer to get the point across but, well, I’m no Queerer than a Stone Femme necessarily just a different flavor of Queer. It seems like the labels are harder to apply to Femmes considering the fact that sexual passivity is so often correlated with the gender expression. I mean I could say I’m a hard packin’ femme but that’s not my primary expression, just an added perk. I don’t like to define myself in negatives: ie ‘not a pillow princess’ (all the time) or ‘not a Stone Femme.’ And it’s not the same to have to ask the questions or bring up the subject, which then brings S-E-X into the forefront rather than have a label that provides shorthand.

Why are there no affirmative labels for those of us who have “yes please” boundaries, rather than “no thanks” boundaries. Any suggestions?

Old School, Old Fashioned?

Yes, back to pondering butch femme interactions.

As a single femme I have the opportunity to go on dates, get to know people, kick game and whatnot.  As a single high femme I am often appalled at the lack of finesse, manners, protocol, courtesies, call it what you want, from some femme lovin’ butches and transmen.  I was talking/ranting with a friend who just witnessed some butch asshattery this past weekend and pondering my own interactions that just lead me to question, wtf?

One of my friend’s complaints was the equation of old school manners and protocol with old fashioned, and that brought up an excellent question: what are we replacing them with?  So, if getting a car door for me, high femme, is old fashioned, then it’s replaced with inaction on the butch’s part?   Is that the end of it?

If the common courtesies that are part of the dance are no longer applicable, the appreciation of femininity is passe, then what now? I don’t hold with old fashioned static ideas of butch femme roles, I don’t believe femme equals passive or subservient, nor do I believe in heternormativity that is sometimes attached to “old fashioned.”  But, I like the dance.  The steps may be queerer but it’s still a dance that has protocol as foundation, the basic steps which are then enhanced, discarded, replaced if need be. This protocol does not come from a place that assumes that I, high femme, am somehow rendered incapable of opening a door because of my heels and makeup, they come with the dance and they are rooted in appreciation and respect.

The other thing that I find absolutely infuriating is when butches claim to covet high femmes and yet they don’t show us respect and appreciation.  Suddenly “high maintenance” is an accusation rather than a reality, and it also ignores the fact that butches can also be very “high maintenance” just in different ways.  Butches who claim to like high femmes and complain about lipstick kisses are absolutely aggravating to me.  If you like the beautiful grrl with the pretty makeup then you have to understand that:

at some point makeup will get on your body or your clothes if you are LUCKY.  If you are lucky enough to be with a grrl who wants to kiss you, then be proud of it, revel in it.  She is blessing you.  Don’t complain about the lipstick, whether you love it or hate it, focus on the kiss and appreciate that.

it takes time to look the way we do.  Don’t. Fucking. Rush. Us.  And don’t complain passive aggressively about it.  As a high femme I plan ahead.  I know I take a while to be ready so I manage my time to allow for that.  If it’s a spontaneous outing, I will probably still want to touch up or change.  The energy it takes to deal with the butch’s bitching just makes it take longer.  If you like the way we present, then deal with the preparation that goes into getting there.  Even better, enjoy it, the preparations can be part of the dance.  Admire us.  I had a lover who was aroused by watching me put on my makeup and I thought it was the most wonderful thing ever, even if it took a little longer to get ready.

don’t make asinine comments about how our shoes look uncomfortable.  They may be, but you are supposed to notice how sexy we look rather than worrying about the podiatrist or chiropractor.  And for extra points, if a date will involve lots of walking, give us a heads up.  I know I appreciate it so that I can wear my walking heels.  If you don’t give us a heads up, then the femme sets the pace when we are walking.  Chances are a high femme will wait until her feet are bleeding to complain about her shoes so let us lead and spare us.

Folks please, just because you are a butch doesn’t mean you are exempt from fashion.  A little effort goes a long way.  You think it’s so wonderful when you pick us up and we are dressed up in our pretty dresses, flawless hair and makeup and sexy shoes.  Guess what? We like it when a butch puts the effort in as well.  Honor your sense of style but do put in the effort to look good for her and to look like you care, not like you rolled out of bed in your clothes and directly to the date.  Unless you are a total ass, dressing up and looking sharp significantly increases your odds of getting a second date.

making jokes at a Femme’s expense= not funny.  If you appreciate femme, act like it.  The frat boy butch thing is so not sexy.  Really!  And really, making jokes at any person’s expense is just generally in poor taste.  If you have to tear someone else down to build yourself up, and if you have to do that to be funny, then I suggest you work on your repertoire.

And finally, as femmes, we don’t have to put up with poor behavior.  We don’t have to settle, we don’t have to accept it, and it’s okay to call it out when we see it.  It doesn’t mean we have to be rude about it but it’s okay to say, “I really appreciate having the door opened for me.”  It’s okay to have standards, it’s okay to be seen as aggressive, in fact it’s hawt!  Don’t let insecure people tell you otherwise.

I love butches, bois, boys, transguys, female bodies/socialized transmasculine people.  LOVE!  And I don’t just mean in an “I wanna hook up with them” way.  I genuinely enjoy their company, I enjoy the dynamic of butch femme whether it be a friend or someone I’m dating or just sharing space and time with.  I love butches.  I will go out of my way to be an ally to butches, to debunk the stupid stereotypes about grunting fratboy stupidity.  While as a queer I also sometimes date people who don’t id as any of the above, other gender expressions do not complement me in the ways that butches, bois, boys, transdudes, and transmaculine people do.  I can partner only with them when it comes down to capital R Relationships.  It really makes me feel disappointed and confused when I see femme lovin’ butches behaving in ways that seem to reinforce negative stereotypes and that don’t feel like they are affirming of femmes.

Whether you are trying to get under my skirt or not, as a butch who dates femmes I expect you to honor me and my gender identity just as I strive to honor yours.  Whether you are trying to get under my skirt or not, I am your sister.  Show me the respect I deserve, and demand.  I will do the same for you.

I am not asking for anything I am unwilling to give in return.  I will honor and cherish your identity as a butch, I will learn new steps with you, I will teach you mine, and will respect you.  The dance takes two.  Step up.

Thoughts on my Modeling Career

As an angry brown queer high femme switch grrl *breath* I am a role model. I didn’t sign up for the job, the pay is not all that great to be honest, but be that as it may, it’s my blessing.

There are many ways in which this plays out in my life, some more rewarding than others.

One way in which my job burdens me, tires me out, and, as jobs can do, oppresses me, is as a Queer High Femme. I have struggled with my identity as Femme, and if you don’t know what that means and you are reading this post, I invite you to do some research because we are magical creatures. I struggle with the privilege that being perceived as a cisgendered heteronormative feminine female brings and with the invisibility that it inevitably imposes on me with, a curse that weighs heavy. As a Femme, I am hyperconscious of the stereotypes, the misogyny and the ways in which my femininity will be read, how I participate in gendered interactions and how they appear given my gender presentation.

This weekend I was made conscious of this by my interactions with a Butch and a babybutch who was watching us hawk-eyed. The babybutch is 19 and was clearly fascinated by the Butch and I. The Butch who is transgendered and uses male pronouns was managing the grill while I cooked some stuff up inside. Already this is gendered and not so queer on the surface. He asks me for a beer and I run in and get it. This just doesn’t look good. He says please and thank you, which in our usual interactions is not as important. We have history, we have service, we have communication. And, if he said ‘bitch get me a beer’ I wouldn’t blink. Or I might. And it might turn into ‘get it yourself boy.’ But either way, it’s all good. But, because we had an audience we are both careful. I help him, hand him shit, get him stuff before he asks for it. And then it gets queerer. He gets me stuff, he jumps up to get me a chair, he checks in to make sure I am okay, anticipates my needs. Interesting show isn’t it?

Later when the baby butch was acting the fool, trying to be a player, trying to get my attention, the Butch was kneeling at my feet being petted. The baby got schooled and told how she wishes she were so lucky, but she’s busy being a player and doesn’t know her proper place. So, in ways subtle and unsubtle, the Butch and I were showing our moves, what the dance looks like. Showing that respect and consent were involved. Showing that the dynamic is more complicated than heteronormative patterns that reinforce the binary, reinforce the valuing of masculinity over femininity.

And while it is a blessing to be a fierce femme, a queer high femme, a conscious angry grrl, and be SEEN, be able to provide that modeling and support… it constrains me and oppresses me. I don’t want to think about what my interactions look like to a 19 year old. I want to get the Butch a beer because I. Fucking. Feel. Like. It. I want agency. And on the one hand, yes, that’s very queer. On the other hand, it all depends on the lens you look at it through. And, what to me feels comfortable, non-normative, queer, and right, looks not so queer. By being so aware of how interactions look, by trying to ensure that do not mimic oppressive structures, I am participating in my own oppression, I am letting my interactions be determined by the resistance and modeling rather than by what is comfortable and okay to me.

At my last job, I always took my position as a Role Model as a sacred duty. Whether I was in a middle school or at camp with high school youth, I discussed my social identity as a queer openly, comfortably, and affirmatively. And, more often than not, this led to other people, adults as well as youth, being able to express their own social identities comfortably in the group. I’m hoping it also helped break down some of those barriers that keep us from being seen, that keep othering us. I thought it was critically important for me to allow myself to be seen, to provide the model of a different sort of queer, the more invisible kind who is still unashamed, affirmative, comfortable and open. This was a source of conflict at my work, but that’s a whole nutha story and a whole nutha mess of homophobia.

Another way in which I am a role model is more specific to my role as a SOFFA (Significant Other, Friends, Family and Allies) to the trans community. Back to the Butch. He identifies with male pronouns. Hearing him addressed by female pronouns is uncomfortable for me. And yet, I know the amount of energy it would take to correct every single person would just be exhausting and disheartening. I know that when it matters he has the conversation with people, I know that people don’t always “get it,” and I know that for some people it isn’t natural and they slip. Sometimes I go beyond the modeling and actually break it down for someone and put on my educator hat for a while to have the gender conversation. Other times though, I simply proceed as usual. And sometimes I get to see that pay off. I am not calling anyone out, not putting the focus on the Butch, just being, just leading by example, one that conveniently is completely effortless and natural. And then suddenly, the one who was all ‘she’ a minute ago is saying ‘he.’ Suddenly, questions are asked in a curious non-threatened way, suddenly they realize they are wrong in assumptions and vision is queered. It’s nice when it plays out that way and I can model in a way that is completely natural to me.

As with any modeling job *ahem* the ways in which I participate and present are entirely circumstantial. What might be okay in one context is inappropriate to another. I never know when my example will be leading. The dissonance is part of it. And I hope that it’s worth it. I hope this is one of the small ways in which I can make a difference.

Children and community

I love children.  I love babies.  I love youth.

I’ve always been observant of the cultural differences in the value given to children and their place in community.

Where I come from children are part of the community and we are all responsible for loving them, protecting them, caring for them, educating them.  Where I come from (and I’m talking culture, not just geography) it’s okay to talk to a kid you don’t know or make funny faces at the baby in front of you at the checkout line.  You aren’t seen as a threat or a weirdo; just part of community.  And it’s so different from when I experience in Anglo culture.  I hate to resort to a problematic cliche like “it takes a village to raise a child,” but, well, it fits.  It’s okay to be affectionate with kids where I’m from: hugs and kisses are generously offered.  Kids are welcome at parties, no weird separation of adults and kids, no weird tiptoeing and hiding the beers, no perception of children as a burden.  Birthday parties for kids include the adults and are often loud in the best ways with music, drinking, dancing, dominoes, laughter.  And when the kids konk out the adults keep partying.  It’s normal to see a puppy pile of little ones on a designated bed or couch and anyone and everyone checks on them while festivities continue.  The idea of a party for children where adults aren’t welcome, or where they aren’t having a good time but are just hovering over the kids awkwardly is foreign.   Weddings, graduation parties, family bbqs, funerals, life events are all attended by community and community includes kids.  Kids are incorporated into activities and they are just another blessed fact of life.

Once a child enters into the mix the community shifts to welcome them, there are more eyes to watch them, more hands to guide them, more hearts to love them and keep them safe.  If a child is hurt, anyone of us will scoop him up.  If she is unsafe, any one of us will rush to rescue.  If he is bubbling with joy, every heart will smile.  As a member of the community, we all participate in their life.

Interactions with children has always been an area of culture shock for me, especially the walls put up around them that seem to say it’s not okay to love them if they aren’t yours.

I got to do some kitchen table organizing with friends recently and it warmed my heart to be there with three amazing, powerful, fierce women and two of their kids.  See, when women of color get together and there’s  kids in the mix there’s a dynamic that is usually different from anglo culture to me.  There’s a sense of community and freedom and an invitation to love.

As we plotted with a toddler and a three year old around, we were conscious of the kids and comfortable.  We were all at liberty to offer guidance, all entitled to a hug and a kiss, or a bop with a spiderman toy.  It gives me joy to work with a baby on my lap playing with my phone and chuckling his wizened toddler laugh.  It gives me joy to see the whirlwind of three year old energy playing with a butterfly net and a spderman figure around us, or belly laughing when Tita Thea ignores the fact that he’s pretending not to hear her goodbyes and scoops him up for a wiggly squishy hug.  All this while strategizing, planning, sharing dreams, anger, frustration, good food.  Kids weren’t a nuisance or a distraction.  They were part of the process.  They were part of the reason for doing the work.

I love the ways in which women of color so often come to community, how brown babies are passed around to be adored, and how we all care for them.  I love the easy ways in which we embrace their energy and the lack of apologies, no need to justify their presence.

I once taught an adult education course in Washington Heights.  The course was all Latinos and it was held on Saturdays for about 5 hours in a church.  The participants were motivated and invested.  When childcare was an issue I’d teach history with a baby on my lap drooling during our heated discussions.  There were older children who would come as well and they were always given a job, whether it be a five year old erasing the board, or a seven year old talking about something they had learned in school.  And in this learning community, everyone was valuable, the baby with his babas as much as the 60 year old woman sitting attentively in the front.

When I taught a Graduate course that was held on Saturdays I also had a child student, his parents were both there to learn English and the son would play in the halls, wander back in, hang out with me while the class worked, listen to their presentations, draw pictures on the board.  It was never a disruption, and we all accepted and welcomed him into our class.  Come to think of it, every class I’ve taught has been visited by little ones, some more than others, but always welcome.

One day soon(ish) I’ll have my own brown babies and I know they will have so many tios and tias to fuss over them; and primas and primos and to play with;  padrinos and madrinas to spoil them.  Comadres and compadres for me to turn to.  I know that my babies will have a place in community, a community to love them, see them, keep them safe because, well, that’s just how we roll.  And in the meantime, I feel fortunate to have beautiful babies who bless me.