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What am I doing with my life?

August 14, 2010

It’s been a while since I asked myself that question, but this week seems like a perfect time to address it.

Four years ago today, I moved to San Francisco with a ton of ambition but no real goals. And when I say a ton of ambition I mean a shit-ton of high hopes about this new beginning and all the fantastic opportunities that awaited. I was ready to dive into four years of English Lit. studies at an overpriced Jesuit school that I quickly realized was not for me. I did love literature, though I’m not sure where that love went. I still love writing, but I was a much stronger writer back then, and with a better voice, though with fewer ideas than now.

Even back then I remember wanting to pursue photography, though I clearly recall feeling that it was not academic enough, and that I didn’t consider it a real career because I was so into being a snotty grammar nazi and all the other things that people say about English majors that are true. (I can say that stuff because it applies to me.) I wanted to write for the New Yorker and make obscure references in my essays, wanted to be in on the inside jokes and be all snarky and stuff.

I transferred out of USF after my third semester, after realizing it is a huge rip-off for an education that I found not very fulfilling. Since then I have spent a lot of time wondering if I did the right thing by not immediately entering another four-year program and picking up precisely where I left off, and finishing on time just for the sake of having a BA to show for it. This recurring worry has since subsided for a number of reasons.

I immediately entered the photography program at CCSF, which is awesome and amazing, save for the hassle of recent budget cuts. Next week I start my sixth semester at CCSF, and I’m not in it for the degree, though I feel like I should probably finish it up (which means taking a math class), for the sake of feeling accomplished.

About two years ago I realized I just couldn’t spend my life working for someone else. This was when I got serious about freelancing and finding ways to build a sustainable business in a freefalling economy. During the “Summer of Love” (I think that’s what people called it) in 2008 before Prop. 8 came crashing down, my girl (a filmmaker) and I prepped for an insurgence of business related to queer weddings. It worked well, considering we were both working mindless retail and going to school, and found time to put together the framework of a joint photo and video service. But it has been on hiatus since November 2008, and since then we’ve kind of just been waiting around for Prop. 8 to dissolve so we can reap the economic benefits of marriage equality.  Now that things are looking up, I’ve taken a lot of steps in recent weeks to ensure that we’ll get some work whenever the marriages resume here (because there’s no guarantee that they’ll start again on Wednesday).

So here’s to new high hopes and substantiated ambition. Freelancing is tough because it’s all sink-or-swim, but the most crucial aspect of freelance is loving your job. I know I can do that without a problem, and I’m excited for all of this stuff to pan out especially because I need to prove to myself that I don’t need a BA to succeed.


Queer Assimilation

July 29, 2010

My last post about The Kids Are All Right got me thinking quite a bit about my stance on assimilation and how my outsider status affects my actions. It’s likely that I exaggerate about how other people perceive my appearance (not so much my mannerisms), though those feelings of displacement certainly exist. My thoughts on assimilation and equal treatment vary the most when I change geographical location, whether I walk just a few blocks from my apartment or drive out-of-state.

To be straightforward, being gay isn’t what causes me discomfort when I am in the public eye, though a lot of time it’s what causes other folks to project their discomfort onto me. Separately, I would expect that my gender presentation is what ruffles feathers — I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that the men who catcall and/or harass my girl and me simply feel threatened by a female’s embodiment of masculinity. Those threats would likely subside if I made a greater effort to present “as male,” though that’s not one of my current intentions. It’s the precise intersection of “female” and “masculine” that is so threatening to male assholes, and that’s what makes my assertion of the “she” pronoun a political stance if nothing else.

In and around my neighborhood I feel fine. People claim there’s a lot of sexism in the Castro but I think it’s just male-centric. There’s a difference and frankly it doesn’t relate to this post so let’s skip it. The queens in my hood often compliment my hair and shoes and I end up feeling like a million bucks. What’s fascinating is how different things are when I visit my old hood, down in the Mission, where machismo runs wild even though the 94110 zip code has one of the highest concentrations of queers in the US. When I lived in the Mission (and Bernal Heights, too), I became so accustomed to that kind of harassment that I was really taken aback when we moved up to the Castro. I catch myself freezing up sometimes — even though I have a desire to take the offensive I never really have.  One time I flicked my cigarette at a guy on Mission and 26th. I’ve flipped some people off, mumbled “fuck you” here and there, but have never been in a serious struggle, luckily.

Frankly, I can’t imagine living as if queerness were not central to my identity, and I think living under the radar is akin to living invisibly. So here’s the tricky part: do we embrace queer identity and separatism and continue to live with the legal repercussions, or should we be marching alongside with the HRC and kissing ass when half-assed legislation passes (like pro-gay, anti-trans nondiscrimination policies)?

And is there a middle ground? Yes, I think there is.

With my appearance and the help of the trained judgmental eye, it is nearly impossible for me to live as if not to suggest that my genderqueerness is a crucial part of my identity. And I’ve experienced lots of good and lots of bad things as a result of that. I don’t believe in falling back into the woodwork because living quietly means slowing the momentum that we’ve begun in just a few short years. I think about how queer visibility has changed so much even in the time since I’ve been in high school. Will that kind of visibility level off when we are fully accepted? (And: accepted by whom, and for what?)

When I start feeling uncomfortable in my own skin it’s almost always because of the threat of physical harm. So is there a chance that the threat of physical harm will subside without the threat of blending in and being boring? I think that’s where the importance of having a lively community comes in. This is a tough subject.

The Kids are Whatever

July 10, 2010

About a month and a half ago I attended a special screening of “The Kids Are All Right” followed by a Q&A session with writer-director Lisa Cholodenko. I was excited about it in the days leading up, thinking I had earned VIP privileges, and that I’d be way ahead of the world. I probably should have written this while the film was still fresh in my mind, though I still remember exactly which aspects of the film left a bad taste in my mouth.

It has amazing potential but I think it flopped really hard. A lot of mainstream media is giving it rave reviews for its groundbreaking and original content. Side note: Portraying a lesbian relationship as a real relationship is not praiseworthy. We’re past that. I don’t think we should have to sacrifice decent content as we wait for the rest of the world (straight audiences) to catch up to us. Call me an angry man-hater, but those sex scenes between Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo were awfully exaggerated, whether or not the director intended for them to evoke nausea in viewers.

The film should not be hailed as a cure-all for the representation of gays in media, and I fear that’s exactly what has been happening in numerous publications. I think straight moviegoers will give themselves a pat on the back for enjoying this kind of film, for opening up and “understanding” the experiences of certain same-sex relationships. That’s not the kind of progressive film I want to see. That’s not progressive to me. That’s handpicking two actresses who would make a good poster family for the advancement of the Gay Agenda to make the rest of us look normal.

During the Q&A at the screening I attended, most of those who spoke out offered uninterrupted praise — variations of “thank you for finally telling our story and taking this huge step.” Undoubtedly, the path to equal rights relies on acceptance from straight yuppie voters, but I can’t feel okay about pandering to that audience. And one woman stood up and asserted that she was very disturbed by those sex scenes, and the director acted as though she couldn’t understand how one viewer in a theatre full of queers could receive it that way.

Plainly, I couldn’t bear to watch a cisman in action in what has been touted as some revolutionary lesbian film. I know it’s fiction, and it’s drama, but god.

I haven’t given this much thought before, but I’m so uncomfortable with normalizing queer culture. If equal rights comes by way of assimilation, I will choose assimilation, but I don’t want to.

Defying the gender binary at age 3, before I understood it.

July 5, 2010

I spend quite a bit of time thinking about how queer I was during my youth, how I had no idea about it, and how I haven’t changed much. It really does fascinate me because I just never had the resources to put my gender expression into context and as a result, for about 10 years, I just decided that I was a weirdo.

From time to time I remember bits from my childhood. I was hilariously queer.

A few weeks ago I told my girl this one story from when I was 3 or 4. We were walking home from Noe Valley and she laughed for at least two blocks without stopping. And truly, I didn’t realize how funny (and telling) it was until she reacted like that.

I had a lot of Play-Doh as a kid. These days I don’t think kids get enough arts and crafts in their lives. My parents were totally opposed to TV and movies, though they bought a computer when I was 5 or 6. I also have an older brother, so a lot of the toys I had were his from a few years prior — lots of Legos, trains, race cars — which I think my parents liked to refer to when they couldn’t figure out why I was not quintessentially feminine during those formative years. Or they could tell early on that I was a big homo but preferred to ignore it. I think I’m guilty of that ignorance, as well.

Anyway, I had some Play-Doh. I can still remember how it smells when you peel off the plastic cap. One can was red and the other was kinda off white, and both were fresh and soft and brand new. So clean, no lint or smaller dried up pieces stuck anywhere. It was a lot like when you open a new jar of peanut butter and can’t bear to watch as you destroy the smooth layer on top. But I went for it anyway. I mixed the two colors together creating a marbley red and white cylinder. Maybe you already know where this is going. Back and forth I went, rolling it between my hands to make it really long and thin, then balling it all back up to start over. Finally I settled on the right width (girth, if you will) and length, and I held it up, marveling at my statue. As I remember it, this phallus was at least the size of my forearm but in reality it was probably no more than like 4 inches. So proud of it, I sauntered down the hall and into the living room where my parents were on the couch watching a nature documentary. I held it exactly where it belonged, centered between my legs, perfectly on display and with both hands wrapped around, and showed my parents. I even pushed my pelvis out in a completely inappropriate and exaggerated stance. It was perfect!

They were so totally not okay with it. The looks on their faces went from confusion to complete disapproval, and I detected it just as fast as their expressions switched. “Inappropriate” is the one word that I remember my mom used when she demanded that I go back to my room and never. do. that. again.

Naturally, I was crushed. I worked so hard to make it my own. It was my penis and what business was it of theirs to tell me not to have it? The logic of a 3 or 4 year-old. I had no idea it was a bad thing. And it wasn’t a bad thing by any means! I was so proud of it, and how could I not be? It was so big!

This is one of very few clear memories I have from that age, so it was certainly a monumental occasion. It likely affected me in more ways than just that immediate moment, but I don’t recall specifically referring to the event later on while deliberating the complexities of my own gender. I do have a lot of other examples of gender defiance as a pre-teen, but during my adolescence I made some really serious efforts to mask those gender “inconsistencies” in hopes that they would stay buried. And I’m so glad it all resurfaced.

On Pride, the sequel

June 28, 2010

The first post on this blog is about how funny it would be to watch the events of Pride 2010 unfold beneath our fire escape. Funny, yes, it was. Exciting, certainly. I never could have predicted that three people would be shot and one killed on the sidewalk below.

On Saturday night I came home from my Frameline shift and set up my camera to attempt my first time lapse of the progression of the crowds. Jesus, I had no idea what I was getting into. My girl and I fiddled with the framing for a while — not too much of the porta potties, make sure the rainbow flag blew into the frame every so often, and try to get a decent angle down onto the street. The Nikon D200 has a wonderful internal intervalometer that I don’t think enough people are aware of given how popular time lapse videos are now. Anyway, we set it and forgot about it, popped in the earplugs we bought specifically for Pride weekend, and went to sleep fairly early.

Fast forward 8 hours and I woke up to review the images that it caught. This explains itself:

(Note that Vimeo embedding is finicky on WordPress and RSS readers don’t usually show Vimeo media, so you’ll have to view the original post to see what this is all about, or just click here to watch it externally on Vimeo.)

There’s a lot of outrage over this senseless act of violence, and with good reason. I don’t like crowds to begin with, especially drunk crowds. Sometimes I feel a little guilty about that because I feel like I should be more involved with my community, but then I remember that community-building efforts are not strictly centered on drunken revelry. And I’m all for celebrating our gayness, but I have never painted my nipples with rainbow glitter. (Perhaps I’d feel differently about that if I were leaner.) From my vantage point, it didn’t look like Pink Saturday was much of a community-building effort. I watched two huge groups of kids (by kids I mean people who are younger than me, and I’m pretty young) get into a shouting match, shoving and punching, recording it on their phones and laughing about it. What the fucking shit, people? What are they even celebrating?

This kind of violence does not belong in our community. So many people are saying now that Pink Saturday is going to end up the same way that Halloween in the Castro did. (In 2006, five people were shot during the Castro Halloween party and it has been shut down since then.) That’s terrible because the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence work so hard to organize and put on this whole show.

Very briefly…

June 21, 2010

Perhaps I started this blog at the wrong time because I have been slammed with non-stop work this week (haaay Frameline), and I apologize to my one or two readers for not adding content regularly. My girl helped me come up with a bunch of great topics that, in my experience, haven’t circulated around the blogosphere very much. As soon as this Pride madness is over and I go back to my plain life, I’ll have time to write extensively.

For now, I share with you this gem: The Butch Clothing Company. “A safe and stylish way to have superbly fitting clothes bought in our non hostile environment.” This better spread.

P.S. the great new topics I plan to write about are not just related to fashion, I promise.

Sun’s out, guns out: Butch swimwear

June 13, 2010

This city is on a few months’ delay when it comes to nice weather, but summer, it appears, is finally here. We’ve already booked our trip to the Russian River. For as long as I can remember, I’ve hated the idea of finding appropriate attire to swim in. Throughout my adolescence I wore a frumpy one-piece bathing suit with mesh basketball shorts and a regular cotton t-shirt over it. Around the beginning of high school, I just gave up on the whole thing and told myself I wasn’t interested in swimming.

G at can i help you, sir? recently posted a great response to an AfterEllen article about the butch swimwear dilemma. The first thing to acknowledge is that the original AfterEllen article fails to address the issues that masculine women face — we’re not trying to find items that are not “overtly lipstick” (seriously, it says that), we’re searching for items that look like they’d actually fit in with the rest of our wardrobes. There’s a lot to say about that article, but a lot has been said already and I have little to add. I just think the author failed to acknowledge the huge number butch women who happily identify as masculine and very rarely, if ever, purchase women’s clothes.

Last summer when we booked our trip to Guerneville we had to frantically find swimsuits because neither of us had anything that would suffice. The only trouble my girl had was finding a plain white bikini halter top with enough support. She paired it with some really cute maroon board shorts. Mm. I ended up getting a solid black top that pretty much looks like an A-shirt. It has built in support and enough of a binding effect that I don’t feel weird, which I really like, and the straps aren’t spaghetti-like in any way, so I can actually take myself seriously in it. The shorts I have to go along with it are not outstanding, but they’re a comfortable and water-friendly material. They’re just turquoise and a little baggier than boxer briefs. I plan to replace them when my budget and priorities allow.

Swimwear is one of those categories that’s just so unbearably gendered, starting with the fact that there seems to be so few options for what to wear on our chests. I’ve read that pairing an Underworks binder (that’s the company I buy from — strongly recommended) with a rashguard is ideal for those who are most concerned with binding effect. I haven’t tried that combination, but the material seems as if it would dry pretty quickly and I strongly doubt the water would stretch it out. There are also swim shirts, which have evolved from rashguards — my understanding is that they’re pretty much the same thing but targeted at casual swimmers who like the idea of extra sun protection and being able to wear it as a regular clothing item after the beach. They’re also looser, so that might be a more desirable option for some folks.