strange fire

books. poetry. paganism. feminism. queerness. blog.

I’m having a Mo moment January 31, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 7:28 am

I missed the bus. Flickr is being a bitch. The computers are as cooperative as my 13 year old students. The Dykes to Watch Out For archives are blocked by the computer nanny thing. Nothing for it but to surrepetitiously whip out my latest copy of Girlfriends and snark. From the Editor, swooning over the revolutionary impact of The L Word:

Mainstream advertisers whohad no idea about our readership (or worse, had terrible stereotypes about us) suddenly “get it”. We’re not all man-hating, jobless anarchists with bad haircuts.

To quote: Dude, speak for yourself. She says “man-hating jobless anarchists with bad haircuts” like it’s a bad thing. I knew the MHJAWBHs (yay acronyms!) in college, all four of them; not only were they the nicest, coolest people around, some of them were men! They lived in a communal house just off campus and made zines. We had a great time marching in the freezing drizzle on November 3, after the election. They let me carry the “Keep Your Rosaries Off My Ovaries!” flag. I aspire to be more like them! Except for the jobless bit. And my hair is pretty frickin’ cool. And maybe I should actually learn something about anarchism first…
But seriously, I wasn’t aware that the ultimate goal of the queer liberation movement was equal opportunity commodification and exploitation. Hey there, Mr. White Male Corporate Executive With His Head Up His Ass–we’re cogs in the capitalist machine too, y’know!

le sigh.

On the bright side, the French are striking again, so I don’t have to work on Thursday. And I found another French dyke mag, Oxydo, which I’m enjoying.

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Les mésaventures de la nouvelle lesbienne, acte 1 January 30, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 6:06 am

Isn’t that a great title? The Misadventures of a New Lesbian. It’s an article in my SCUMgrrrls magazine. Apparently the French for coming-out is: coming-out. I wonder how on earth they pronounce it. As the awkwardly translated article summary states:

One “coming out” is ok, but 30 “coming outs” are already less fun…the coming out to parents is just the beginning of a very long list. And as is confirmed by the old new lesbians [this is a literal translation of ancienne nouvelle lesbian. I have no idea what it’s supposed to mean]: “One has never really finished to tell it to everybody.” The only positive side is that it makes good stories to tell…!

Well it does at that. Let’s just say that coming out to your parents over the phone is sooooooo not recommended.
I’ve often thought that the coming-out metaphor shouldn’t be a closet but a revolving door. Because you’re never really totally out (unless you’re Elton John or something). Until the world stops enforcing mandatory heterosexuality, every new person you meet and every new social context slams you right back into the closet. People just assume everyone is straight like them.
Which makes navigating the social terrain of a foreign country that much more complex. In some sense, I’m much freer here than in my home state; I’m removed from the family clan, and gay marriage here isn’t the political football it is in the States. Plus, Paris. Lovely, wonderful, infuriating, teasing Paris. But it also means I don’t know the ettiquette, identity politics being quite different here. I don’t have the luxury of the gender neutral third person pronoun (I don’t care what some 18th century old fart said, “they” is perfectly acceptable as the singular). And it’s just as suffocatingly heterocentrist as anywhere else; especially since French women have this intense pressure to maintain the ideal of heterosexual femininity. They got a national reputation to maintain. If you like femmes, France is the place for you. I haven’t even seen the “female jock” types like you have in the States, straight but sporty girls in soccer cleats and pony tails. The word “butch” doesn’t exist in French. Butch women do, but they aren’t a delineated gender in the lesbian scene, as I’ve found it.
My trip to Greece was another mésaventure in the dynamics of homophobia. My Let’s Go guide, in describing some guidelines for single women traveling alone in Greece, had this advice:

Homophobia is also widespread, so asking where you can find a gay bar will usually shake off a potential suitor. 533

It’s also a great way to get yourself killed. Spoken like a straight person who’s never had to face the ramifications of coming out. If I’m being harassed by a man, I’m going to head to a well-lit area with lots of people and policemen. I’m not going to give him an excuse to rape me or plead homosexual panic.
But, safety issues aside, you know what? Sometimes I don’t feel like it. I didn’t come out to my roommates in Greece because I didn’t feel like going through the trouble of sussing out their likely political bent, then finding an appropriate time to casually drop it in without sounding awkward or creating an uncomfortable, surprised pause in the conversation. I just met these people, and they’re leaving in a few days. I’ll probably never see or hear from them again. I didn’t feel like being The Gay Person. I was willing to put up with conversations that assumed I was straight (“Seriously Anne, can you explain to me why women find Brad Pitt so attractive? ‘Cause I just don’t get it.” Me neither, pal. Me neither.)
Because you never really know how someone is going to react, and you’re always taking something of a leap of faith, and I just didn’t feel like having that conversation. Ricardo handled the news about Matt fine, but when I came out to him he was so shocked he had to “go have a cigarette” to process the information. Even though we were sitting in a bar (well, he is from Nicaragua…). After which proceeded the education; no I don’t hate men, yes it really is real sex, no I don’t know why I am I just am, yes I guarantee you have met lesbians before Ricardo, you just didn’t know it. Of course they’re not going to tell you, you live in fucking Nicaragua. Etc.
Sometimes I wish we could sit every straight person down and force them to read “I Hate Straights” until the scales of heterosexual priviledge fall from their eyes and they finally get it:

I hate straight people who think they have anything intelligent to say about “outing.” I hate straight people who think stories about themselves are “universal” but stories about us are only about homosexuality… I hate straight people who say, “I don’t see why you feel the need to wear those buttons and t-shirts. I don’t go around telling the whole world I’m straight.”…I hate having to convice straight people that lesbians and gays live in a war zone, that we’re surrounded by bomb blasts only we seem to hear, that our bodies and souls are heaped high, dead from fright or bashed or raped, dying of grief or disease, stripped of our personhood.

(This is why I work so hard to be aware and mitigate my race and class privilege. It’s a basic requirement of all decent human beings, but I know what it’s like to be on the other side of that coin too).
I ran into a really stunning example of this with my roommate Val. I was telling her about my conflict over coming out to my hostel roommies, and she said “Why? I don’t feel nervous about telling people I’m straight!”
I seriously just sat there and blinked at her. I should have asked her “When have you ever had to do that, Val?” but I didn’t think of that at the time. And even if you ever have had to “come out” as straight, it’s not even remotely the same thing. No one’s going react with violence or disgust if you tell them you date the opposite sex. And she should know better. Her father’s gay, for Christ’s sake, been with the same man for the last 20 years or something. I refuse to believe that she’s never had to hide the fact that she has two dads. It’s for situations such as this that they coined the word “flabbergasted.”
Maybe I’ll take to wearing the rainbow triangle earrings I got for Christmas (from my “Brazilian sister”, not from my family, of course. They wouldn’t know where to buy them in the first place). A bit corny, maybe, but hopefully it will make this whole endless revolving door experience a little less dizzying.

 

homophobia du jour January 25, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 3:54 am

Yesterday I was working with a class of 10-11 year olds, playing Guess Who? It’s a good way to get them to have fun while practicing simple questions and answers, such as Has she got red hair? No she hasn’t. Does he have a beard? Yes, he has. I would walk around the room, correcting grammar and pronunciation, answering questions like “Madame, how do you say “old”, “white hair” ‘, etc.
One little boy raised his hand, and pointing to the picture of Eric the Policeman, asked “Madame, comment dit-on il est une fille?” How do you say he is a girl?
I thought maybe he wanted to ask a person’s gender, so I said, “Well, Eric is a boy’s name, right? So you would ask, is it a boy?”
“Mais non, Madame”, said his partner with a scandalized shriek; “Il est gai! Comment dit-on il est gai?” No Miss, he’s gay! How do you say he’s gay?
Apparently “He is a girl” is a French way of calling someone gay. Because the worst insult you can say to a man is to call him a woman.
I found myself trying to suppress a sigh and a laugh at the same time. Because honestly, Eric in his policeman’s hat totally looks like an escapee from the Village People. But still. They’re only 10. They have no idea what gay means, beyond “stupid”. But they’re already using it as a slur. Where are they learning this?? Older siblings? Parents?? Sometimes I think homophobia is in the fucking water.
I remember when my 7 year old cousin crawled into my lap one day and asked me what “gay” meant, because some kid had called her that. Not being out to anyone, I found myself trying to explain to her why she shouldn’t use it as an insult without making her think it’s a bad thing. If I simply said “Don’t say that!” she’d get the impression that “gay” is a bad word. But I didn’t feel comfortable explaining what gay really means; I didn’t want her parents calling me up demanding why I was exposing their innocent darling to nasty homo talk. So I used a convoluted blond analogy. “My sister’s a blond and she’s not dumb, right? So it’s not nice to call someone a dumb blond, but that doesn’t mean being blond is bad. Gay’s the same thing. It’s not a bad thing, but you shouldn’t call someone that to be mean to them.”
So I was looking at my students, who are giggling nervously, afraid I was going to reprimand them, and I was thinking about my cousin, and I said “Mais, s’il est gai, c’est pas grave.” So? If he’s gay, it’s not a big deal. Now, how do you ask if he wears a hat…?

I’m not sure if I handled either of those situations well, but I wanted to try and treat gayness like a normal variation, like hair color: She is blond, he has brown hair, he is gay. So what?

After class one of my students handed me a note: God Bless Miss. Damn right. That fucker owes me.

 

In Paris With You January 21, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 10:15 am

Don’t talk to me of love. I’ve had an earful
And I get tearful when I’ve downed a drink or two.
I’m one of your talking wounded.
I’m a hostage. I’m maroonded.
But I’m in Paris with you.

Yes I’m angry at the way I’ve been bamboozled
And resentful at the mess I’ve been through.
I admit I’m on the rebound
And I don’t care where are we bound.
I’m in Paris with you.

Do you mind if we do not go to the Louvre
If we say sod off to sodding Notre Dame,
If we skip the Champs Elysées
And remain here in this sleazy

Old hotel room
Doing this and that
To what and whom
Learning who you are,
Learning what I am.

Don’t talk to me of love. Let’s talk of Paris,
The little bit of Paris in our view.
There’s that crack across the ceiling
And the hotel walls are peeling
And I’m in Paris with you.

Don’t talk to me of love. Let’s talk of Paris.
I’m in Paris with the slightest thing you do.
I’m in Paris with your eyes, your mouth,
I’m in Paris with… all points south.
Am I embarrassing you?
I’m in Paris with you.

James Fenton

 

cuss words fail me January 19, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 8:50 am

This is the second time in as many days that I’ve learned a friend is a survivor of rape and sexual assault.

“çp&é’_(*ù^:”+#@èé!

?.;/:§@#§!!

°+}]à@\#~&%µ*$£¤!!! ………..

Go read twisty. She makes me feel better (hope she’s feeling better too). She also notes that Michelle Bachelet–you know, the first female president of Chile–totally looks like Martina Navratilova. Very cool.

 

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. " January 18, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 6:29 am

Monday was Martin Luther King Day in the States, so I’ve been working on that subject with my students.

and here I am in my white skin, privileged, and bouncing from hemisphere to hemisphere thinking “where would I like to be today? where can I find peace and safety? do they even exist anymore?” if they do, I think every human spirit deserves to live under those conditions. Ember Swift, “Sucker Punched”

It’s been an interesting experience, trying to get the significance of Martin Luther King across to my preteen students, who frankly, couldn’t care less. Learning about a political figure in a foreign country who died 40 years ago isn’t the most riveting of lessons. They’d rather talk about Eminem and 50 Cent. So I tried to jazz it up a bit with music; I’ve been playing Sweet Honey in the Rock’s “Ballad of the Sit-ins”, trying to expose them to traditional African-American music and the history of nonviolent protest in the U.S.

It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important. MLK.

They get the concept of segregation, they understand about Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott, they know about the speech and the march on Washington in ’63, they know he was asassinated. But I can’t show them the beauty and passion of the “I Have a Dream” speech, because their language skills aren’t up to that level. I can’t get across his significance to Americans; do the French have an equivalent to MLK? I have no idea.
It’s been an unexpectedly moving experience, personally, observing MLK Day in a foreign country. Trying to look at it from the outside. It gives me perspective. It forces me to think about things that usually I’d rather not think about. MLK has always been, essentially, a day off from school. It’s nice to mark some important historical event, like the signing of the Declaration, but that was about it. Of course King was a great man, and a visionary, etc, but has MLK Day ever really meant anything to me personally? Unfortunately, until now, it hasn’t. What did MLK have to do with me? I was raised in a racist country, in a rigidly self-segregated city, I’ve heard “the n-word” tossed around once or twice by people in my family. I went to white suburban Catholic schools; I can count on one hand the number of black kids I went to school with in 12 years. MLK, like Patrick Henry, was one of those great men with no relevance in my daily life.

If physical death is the price that I must pay to free my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive. MLK.

I remember vividly the one time I went to the black women’s organization, to talk about working with FMLA, and how I realized it was the first time in my life I was in a room where I was the racial minority. And how wierd that felt. And how I suddenly realized that while I have several black friends, I was used to dealing with them on my terms, in my comfortable world. How many black authors have I read? How many black musicians do I listen to? How often do I see black people in the magazines I read, the shows I watch? If I have trouble finding reflections of myself in my world, how much more difficult is it for black dykes, and latina queers, and Asian lesbians? It was one of those excruciating moments when you’re forced to confront your own priviledge–I don’t have to think about race if I don’t choose to.
And now I’m in a country dealing with it’s own racial tensions, trying to teach them something about how Americans have handled the same thing. The reason I didn’t say anything about the French rioting at the time was because I didn’t feel qualified to comment. Although I will say that the French like to think that just because they’ve never had institutionalized-separate-drinking-fountain racism like the States, somehow it doesn’t exist. I got several “OMIGOD ARE YOU OKAY??” emails from family members, but the riots never touched us here. Verdun’s minority population pretty much consists of 2 black people and a boarded-up synagogue. I have about a dozen classes of an average of 20 students, and there’s only one black kid. But I have several students of Middle Eastern descent. The French see banning the hijab in public schools as some sort of church/state separation thing; I see it as the forced assimilation of a minority population. Identitiy politics are very different here. How dare you go out in public with your strange religion and strange clothes and shove your blatant un-Frenchness in our faces. Conform, dammit!
This post is wandering all over the place, but what I’m trying to get at is that by teaching my students (not entirely successfully), I wound up teaching myself. I’d always admired MLK intellectually, of course, but now I’m genuinely moved emotionally by him and his words. Seeing the French burn cars and throw rocks at the police in rage and frustration, and then seeing pictures of those 18 year old kids who started the first sit-in, sparking an entire movement of peaceful resistance, knowing that they won that particular fight without having to throw rocks and smash windows, not only do they inspire me, they make me proud. This is my country and my culture at its best; this is a heritage I can claim.
It makes me frustrated too, though. Those kids are my parent’s generation, and sometimes I shake my head in disbelief at the Baby Boomers. What happened to those idealists? Those crowds of blacks and whites marching together for change, the second wave feminists who made so many huge strides so quickly, the hippies protesting for peace? What the hell happened to you? Did you get too comfortable in your middle-class suburbs? Drop too much acid in the 70s? Become too anxiously aware of your own mortality? How could you do this to us? Because it’s their generation who elected Reagan and the Bushes; my generation voted for Kerry, but when our votes weren’t defrauded, we were outnumbered by our parents (and grandparents). You all lived through Vietnam, you saw it happen on tv and in the papers, back when the media still made an effort at doing it’s job. How could you get us into another one?

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor in America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours. Martin Luther King, Jr., The Trumpet of Conscience, 1967.

That quote should be poignantly out of date. It shouldn’t still be relevant.

Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted. Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963.

The ironic part is my parents, classic Baby Boomers, totally missed the 60s. They went to school, got married, had children. Except for my dad joining the Marines and getting himself shot in ‘Nam. I get my political idealism from him; my mom’s a pragmatist, my dad was something of a dreamer when he was a kid. He’s not anymore. He was going to save the world from godless commies; me, I’m going to save the world from godbag capitalist patriarchs.
I don’t really know where to end this post, so I guess I’ll end it here. Here are some good MLK quotes for a more positive note. I’m going to go to Paris this weekend and buy more magazines.

 

Symmetrical Companion January 17, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — andygrrrl @ 2:02 am

It must be
there walks somewhere in the world
another
another namely like me

Not twin
but opposite
as my two hands are opposite

Where are you
my symmetrical companion?

Do you inhabit
the featureless fog
of the future?
Are you sprinting
from the shadows of the past
to overtake me?
Or are you camouflaged
in the colored present?
Do I graze you every day
as yet immune to your touch
unaware of your scent
inert under your glance?

Come to me
Whisper your name
I will know you instantly
by a passport
decipherable to ourselves alone

We shall walk uniformed
in our secret
We shall be a single reversable cloak
lined with light within
furred with dark without

Nothing shall be forbidden us
All bars shall fall before us
Even the past shall be lit behind us
and seen to have led
like two predestined corridors
to the vestibule of our meeting

We shall be two daring acrobats
above the staring faces
framed in wheels of light
visible to millions
yet revealed only to each other
in the tiny circular mirrors
of our pupils

We shall climb together
up the frail ladders
balancing on slender
but steel-strong thongs of faith
When you leap
my hands will be surely there
at he arc’s limit
We shall synchronize
each step of the dance upon the wire
We shall not fall
as long as our gaze is not severed

Where are you
my symmetrical companion?

Until I find you
my mouth is locked
my heart is numb
my mind unlit
my limbs unjoined

I am a marionette
doubled yp in a dark trunk
a dancer frozen
in catatonic sleep
a statue locked
in the stone

a Lazarus wrapped
in the swadling strips
not of death
but of unborn life

a melody bound
in the strings of the viol
a torrent imprisoned
in ice
a flame
in the coal
a jewel hidden
in a block of lava

Come release me
Without you I do not yet exist
May Swenson

Isn’t it strange when you find a poem that perfectly expresses everything you didn’t know you were feeling?