28 January 2014

the limits of imagination

I'm sitting having drinks with G. The Rocking Horse Cafe. We're chatting about everything and nothing, the way you do on one of these Internet meetings.  Not the weather, thank god, but jobs and movies and how we got to find ourselves in New York, in Chelsea, at the Rocking Horse on this first meeting.

At one point, well in, maybe after we've each gotten past the initial inclination not to share anything important, he's talking about growing up where he did, a suburban town, spending lunch money to take the bus to the city where he would hang out with a couple other fiends playing hooky. They asked where the gay part of town was and went there. Found a community center that was hospitable to gay kids. And then took the big step of crossing the threshold. 

We all did that, right?  We all found ourselves on one side of a door, and asked ourselves if we were really going to pass through it.  Wondered what was on the other side, and knew that there was really no turning around after that, even if we immediately turned around. The question had been asked, and it had been asked out loud. For G it was a community center, for me it was a phone call to Stasha, for you - whatever it was for you. 

G says, "It was a big step."  And it was, of course.  I picture him, standing there between two friends - for whatever reason, I'm picturing two white guys, but whatever - and weighing, and then somebody decides to step forward, and the others follow. I can see the scene as clear as if I were standing on the other side of the door looking at them. I know just what that felt like. 

And so we talk a little more about that, and then other things.dogs and cars and driving through the west. Everything and nothing. And I'm listening, and suddenly it strikes me that when G was standing there, he was a teenage girl. 

The picture changes. That's easy. G is now a pretty fifteen year old with processed hair, maybe dyed pink. I don't know why, and the reality is, that's probably totally wrong; G was more likely a butch girl with cropped hair and a canvas army jacket.  It's perfectly easy to remake the picture any number of times.

But I suddenly have no idea what it felt like to be standing outside that door.

I can find correlatives in my own life to almost anything; I've been an outsider, lived in strange cities, traveled to places where I didn't know the language. I've been out of work and broke, and so can understand that part of the feeling of being poor; I've been hopeless, if not about money, and so maybe can understand that part of being poor, too. I'm gay, and sometimes can use that to try to understand what it feels like to be a woman, or to be some other kind of minority. Here, I got nothing. i literally can't imagine what it might feel like to think, feel, know your body is the wrong gender - let alone the number of steps along the way to that (metaphorical) door. It's not that I don't believe it, not that I think (I think) there's something wrong with being a trans person. It's just that I have reached the limits of my imagination. 

That feels wrong. It feels like a lack of empathy. I hope it's not, and I hope it goes away. For now it's troubling and fascinating. 

When I was in school, they would talk about a finite universe. I would try to picture what that meant. What happens when you reach the end of the universe? Do you run into a wall? Isn't that wall something, and isn't that something part of the universe? And what's on the other side of the wall?  Or is there just nothing?  And isn't that nothing part of the universe?  What is not something and not nothing?  

This conundrum would keep me up at night. It's keeping me up at night again. 

When you don't have answers, one of the things you do is turn to poetry. So, Robert Hass, "Heroic Simile."

That's all I got for now. 

25 January 2014

the year of being queer

On January 5 I posted on Facebook:
Three resolutions for the new year:
1) Practice meditation and try to learn more about Buddhism.
2) Earn the label "queer."
3) Write regularly in a forum that encourages investigation and reflection.
 So this is an attempt toward resolution 3, by reflecting on resolution 2.  And maybe it will be a series.

In truth, resolutions 1 and 3 were there to justify the second one.  Or to frame it, or to obscure it a little bit so it wasn't hanging out there by itself attracting all the attention.  I'm not sure I would choose that again.  The fact is, almost nobody commented on resolution 2.  Maybe they didn't know what to do with it.  But I wanted people to ask what it meant.

And my answer is, I don't know.

This started out of a period of loneliness and horniness, when Reg was in Detroit and I was back in Brooklyn, and I was probably feeling entitled to do what the hell I wanted as a result of the house thing and as a result of the Manhunt thing. So I'd downloaded a couple of phone apps, Grindr and Scruff, and on this particular evening, the fourth of January, I was preferring Scruff and I was browsing the profiles and maybe occasionally giving or getting a woof, I don't know. And then I came across a profile with a possibly hot but slightly goofy picture, with lots of things that matched to me and lots of things that didn't. I could quote it here and maybe at some point I will. But for now it's enough to say that it was a profile that was rare in its openness, and in its - I'm not sure how to say this - quiet and thoughtful tone. Somebody had put some effort into this profile. (More than I had in mine.)

Anyway, there were two items that my attention snagged on. One was that it said "I hope you: don't mind that I'm a lil' on the shy side & you're cool with me being trans (FTM)". Other than it being atypical, I don't know why that snagged my attention, and by "snagged" I mean "made me consider whether to contact this guy." In a different profile, maybe it wouldn't. Then again it might be the first ftm profile I'd ever seen. (I've seen a few MTF profiles here and there.  They've never especially interested me.)

But this seemed like a guy who might have a certain amount of patience with someone who didn't know the first thing about transgender people.

The second thing that caught my attention was that under "What I'm looking for", it said:
queers (!)
In my fairly limited experience, there aren't too many guys in personal ads who describe themselves as "queer," nor indicate that they're looking for queers.  Maybe I'm just looking in the wrong places; maybe the pictures that attract my attention are attached to guys who tend not to think in those terms.  I don't know.  That's not the point.  The point is, to my surprise, I was attracted to a guy who was attracted to guys who are queer.

And I have never thought of myself as queer.

And suddenly that's curious to me.  And problematic.  Suddenly I want to be able to call myself queer.

I'm not sure where that came from.  Probably a lot of things; probably working somewhat unhappily in the Jersey City, Alabama office, where there was mocking of gay people at the holiday party.  Probably a desire to be in the streets instead of the cubicles.  But in any case, I didn't - don't - feel entitled to the term, to the label.  There's something I'm not doing, or maybe something in my conception of myself that I haven't opened up to, that prevents me from calling myself queer.  I think I want that to stop.

I was talking with Yeshwant about this today, and among other things he and I noted, more or less simultaneously, that there are plenty of people in the world who are perfectly content to call me queer.  There's no special qualification for it, I suppose, other than a willingness to live outside of gender norms.  Taking it up the ass probably qualifies as a willingness to live outside of gender norms.  And yet: I wouldn't claim "queer" for myself.

So I think this year of being queer, of earning the label, is really about finding out what it takes for me to feel that I've earned it.  It's about figuring out what queer means.

And I'm trying to document that here, although this post (or the full version of it, anyway), might remain private for a while.

Red Hook, Jan 25.