October 11 is National Coming Out Day. Sam Sanders has a great episode all about the history of the day (hint: Harvey Milk had a lot to do with it) as well as its implications for queer communities of color. His guests also point out something that I absolutely know to be true: coming out is a process, not an event. Sam asks longtime NPR contributor Bob Mondello when he came out, and Bob’s answer speaks volumes. “Do you mean to myself? Do you mean to my friends?”
Coming out–and being out–used to be much simpler for me. Continue reading “Coming Out Yet Again on National Coming Out Day”
In honor of National Coming Out Day, I present below an essay I first published on my site about 20 years ago. Sexuality and identity run on a spectrum. Today I tend to identify as a queer femme. I like the word queer because it is all-encompassing, placing me in solidarity not only with socially-acceptable gay, lesbian, and bisexual monogamous couples, but with all the rest of us: gender rebels, transfolks, intersex people, non-binary people, poly bisexuals, poly pansexuals, straight supporters, heteroflexibles, kinksters, and others with complicated identities. We all deserve a place in the world and we all have something to contribute.
Because I present visually as gender-typical and my partner is a man, my queer identity is largely invisible today. It doesn’t change the fact that I feel passionately about issues of gender equality in all its forms, and about the ways that gender issues intersect with issues of race, national origin, class, and disability. I’m proud of the way that the queer liberation movement has evolved over the last couple of decades, not only in terms of legal protections for same-sex couples, but also for the new awareness and advocacy for trans folks and for femmes of all genders.
On the Definition of a Lesbian Continue reading “Hello, I Am Still Queer”
Terry Pratchett is one of the most prolific authors of our age. When he died yesterday (March 12, 2015) he left behind a massive oeuvre: more than 70 books, most of them about the Discworld, a flat planet carried on the back of four elephants who themselves stand back of the great turtle A’Tuin as it swims through space.
About a month ago I began re-reading Pratchett’s Discworld books. As I did so, this question kept roiling around in the back of my mind: Is Terry Pratchett a feminist? Continue reading “Was Terry Pratchett a Feminist?”
This poet, first arrested by the implied promise of this passage (Buzzfeed headline: “How to become a Great Poet (TM) in three easy steps”), is struck by the subtle gendered irony contained therein.
We might say that three qualities are necessary to write superb lyric poetry. First, the writer must have something of a gift: she must be able to make music, command metaphors, compress sense, write melodiously when the situation demands and gratingly when need be. She must also have something to say. There must be some region of her experience that has transfixed her and that she feels compelled to put into words and illuminate. She must burn to attack some issue, must want to unbind a knot, tighten it, or maybe send a blade directly through its core.
Given these powers — the power of expression and the power to find a theme — the poet must add ambition. She must be willing to write for her readers. She must be willing to articulate the possibility that what is true for her is true for all. When these three qualities — lyric gift; a serious theme, passionately addressed; real ambition (which one might also call courage) — come together, the results can be luminous: one gets Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind,” or Plath’s “Daddy,” or Lowell’s “Sunday Morning” (or Wallace Stevens’s). But without that last ingredient, ambition, nothing great will come.
— “Poetry Slam: Or, the decline of American verse,” by Mark Edmundson, in Harper’s July 2013, p. 64. Full text behind a paywall here: http://harpers.org/archive/2013/07/poetry-slam/
Some relevant pieces of information about the text:
- A few years ago, Harper’s was one of the worst offenders on the VIDA list. It’s still not doing so well.
- The author uses the feminine pronoun to refer to the hypothetical Great Poet.
- Three out of four of the examples of Great Poetry are by male authors.
- The author of the article is a man.
Since I’d rather be a Great Poet (TM) than a Women’s Studies professor, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about these facts and whether or not they indicate that Harper’s Magazine has a long way to go before its head will be completely removed from its own posterior.
Is it a date, a friendly get-together, or an interview? The femme is zaftig and pale with dark auburn hair, a violet orchid behind her ear that matches her dress. So I’m guessing it’s a date. Because my own femme-dar tells me this woman might be wearing that fabulous dress, but not the orchid if she didn’t have a reason to. Why else would a femme and a butch — or is ze a transman — be sitting together on an October afternoon at Fiore’s Bakery, in Jamaica Plain, the the Ground Zero of our tribe? Why else would they be asking and answering all those getting-to-know-you questions? Are all queer women so matter-of-fact witht their first-date questions? Or is it an interview? Are they sniffing each other out as they consider collaborating on some performance art piece, or some vaguely charitable business plan, maybe a cupcake store that sources all its chocolate from a women’s coca collective in Ghana?
[Adapted from an October 2012 journal entry]
On a bright, cool day in December I packed up all my things and took the fool’s journey into a new cohabitation. The fool will say “it’s different this time,” but the wise fool knows when it’s actually true.
What follows are excerpts from my journal entries written before, during, and after the move.
A tent full of women in folding chairs,
a table at the front
a buffet served over beds of ice
talking about the interplay between dreams/words and reality,
the inner and the outer life
how this very event starts as a dream,
started as words on paper,
and moved through them into reality
how reality and our experience of it
sparks our inner life —> poetry
the experience of a bite of food
or running into a friend by chance
or hearing someone else’s words read aloud
informs our own inner life
the idea of delicious food served over beds of ice
and wildflowers perched in mason jars
and a room full of women — all these beautiful women!
young, old, mothers, crones, fat and skinny, smooth and blemished —
listening and speaking
it’s important that some of the
women have short hair
I just love those girls at Feministing. My initial impression of the blog was that it focused too much on the negative side of the current state of gender politics: all the shit that women still have to put with, in spite of all our gains. But they do also feature positive celebrations of women in power. And every once in a while, they have moments of writerific genius eloquence. Like so:
The real sexism against Palin, like the designs above, has been the flip-side of the sexism against Hillary Clinton. A sadly perfect illustration of the Catch-22 women face. You’re either a scary, ugly, old, mannish harpy. Or a ditzy, perky, fuckable bimbo. You’re either cracking nuts between your thighs or dressed up like Britney Spears. The sexist remarks about Clinton and Palin are like our hate mail (“you ugly man-hater!” followed by “gimme a blow job!”) writ large. It doesn’t matter that, in reality, neither Hillary Clinton nor Sarah Palin fits these stereotypes. Both are attractive women who have made their fair share of political enemies. But reality doesn’t matter much in terms of how they’re portrayed.
Link to full article
Rita Dove may have been one of the first published poets I saw as a real human being rather than a sort of mythical demi-god. Sure, Adrienne Rich is still alive, but I’ve always seen her as much more removed and unattainable — in that regard, she’s in the same category as Eliot and Pound and Bishop and Millay. But Rita Dove, for some reason, seems like a real person, someone I might actually be able to meet and talk to one day. Perhaps it’s because she was poet laureate of something or another when I was in college (the U.S. maybe?). Perhaps it’s because I always associate her with a joint project I did with another student, and I still vividly remember that woman’s frustration with me for not being as on-the-ball as her. She also introduced me to those little sticky flag things from Post-It. They cured me of my archivist-horrifying habit of dogearing pages — plus, it’s easier to find a yellow flag than a dog-eared page. I have a package of them in my desk right now.
So. Rita Dove. In an interview in some literary journal, probably conducted because she was the poet laureate of something or another, she talked about learning to leave the end of a poem open, rather than sewing it up with a final sewing-up type line. I think about that a lot when I’m writing poetry. I try to leave room for the poem to breathe at the end, rather than making it a self-contained little jewel. A stale cream puff. Some poems lend themselves to open-endedness more than other poems.
Continue reading “Rita Dove”