A river surrounded on both sides by bare trees. The water becomes foamy in the places that hit rocks of several sizes, scattered liberally throughout the water.

In transit

As I write this, I sit in the Philadelphia airport, one that’s become very familiar to me over the last couple years –– I fly through here almost every time I go to Virginia to visit my partner, Ell. Despite initially having ––

–– I just saw a guy drop his whole container of noodles all over this gate’s carpet. We briefly exchanged a heartbroken look. Now I’m back. ––

–– bad associations with this airport (as a child I got stuck here with my grandparents for something like 8 or 9 hours on our way back from Disney World, due to a storm; we almost had to sleep here that night; I feel I can now, finally, appreciate it. The airport, that is, not the 9 hour layover.

The only upside to that layover was the fact that it was at that airport’s bookstore that I first got Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which I read faithfully for several volumes and which certainly helped keep me busy at the time. I must have been about eight and the first book was new and being advertised everywhere. I had never read a “graphic novel” before and didn’t end up reading any others for a long time after. I got back into them after being required to read Persepolis as a sophomore in high school, which I think is a fairly common experience*. On this flight from Norfolk to Philadelphia, I also read a graphic novel, called Kiss Number 8. I won it as an ARC from Goodreads (I know, people actually win those giveaways! I was shocked too). It was good; from a publisher whose works I generally like, and –– though it had problems –– was a really honest exploration of intergenerational grappling with LGBTQ identity. Some elements of the family-drama aspect were resolved in frustrating ways, or left unresolved and unaddressed by the end of the story, but it was a fast and enjoyable read.

A midafternoon image of the sea. Trees are on the horizon, white clouds are in the sky. The sunlight reflects off of the water, before which is a walked-on beach.

Warmth! It exists!

As for the trip itself: I had a wonderful time, as always, in Virginia. We visited Ell’s friends, spent some time in the mountains, went to the shore and to a gorgeous park whose center was a lake. The lake, Ell said, reminded them of a “New England summer camp,” and they were right, even though they’d only ever been to New England twice before (both times to visit me, and not to camp!). The weather was outstanding. Yesterday as we walked on the trail, I felt my back getting sweaty! I wore shorts and a t-shirt. It was about 75º at the hottest part of the day. It was a shock to my body after such a bitter winter, but much appreciated. I’m not looking forward to putting my winter coat back on once I’m back in CT/MA.

Additionally, while in the mountains, I finally broke through something of a creative (poetic?) block. It’s something about sitting on the mossy rocks in the middle of a foaming river that really lets my mind stop clenching around every word I think, trying to force something pretty out. I’ve been sitting and ruminating and forcing myself to write too much, but I feel terrible when I don’t –– there’s really no good way to resolve this. Of course, I’ve been opening my poems, tweaking them, and closing them all along; I’ve been writing at least a tiny bit of my longer project every day. I’ve been giving myself the opportunity to add something important to my creative body. But it really took a period of time away from school, away from the same old seat in the same old dining hall, for something I was at least semi-satisfied with to come out of my head. I can’t promise myself I’ll actually put this reflection to use in my life moving forward, but I’m glad I’m recording it here.

IMG_4886Speaking of projects, this past week has had me feeling weird about not writing much for my independent study on transbutchness. But just today, I had an interesting experience; airports are a really fascinating (and terrifying!) study in interpellation; for me, relating to gender specifically.

I had just said goodbye to Ell and was about to walk through the body scanner at security, when the agent operating the machine asked me “what [I] wanted to be scanned as.” I had to ask for clarification. She cleared her throat and said, somewhat uncomfortably, “there’s a pink option and a blue option.” Fascinating that, throughout that entire interaction, no one even said the words, “gender”, “sex”, “male”, “female”, “man”, “woman”, etc! Sexgender, when ambiguous, is something too taboo to name but too ubiquitous not to reference endlessly in institutional spaces. All that time, what they really wanted to know was whether I had a penis or a vagina. Which they would have then needed to emphasize as the question, “male or female?” and then further with “man or woman?” and then, because they took it a step further, “the pink option or the blue option?”

Because I happen to prefer the color blue and because I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of girling me against my will, I said, “Um…I’ll go blue.” She had not expected that answer. I had not expected it from my mouth. She signaled to the male agent to pat my arms down after my body was scanned initially. He put up a polite fight, looking at me anxiously, trying to flag down the female agent, the machine’s operator, who was now onto the next person in line. She said, of me, “she said blue.” The man said to me, “Ma’am???” as if he was hoping for me to deny it. I just stood there, waiting for him to pat my arms and let me put my shoes back on. Finally, with a look of resignation, he beckoned me to him and said, “I’m going to pat down your arms, alright?” I said, “Sure.” He did, and after less than ten seconds, I was out. But *writer voice* I had been out long before then, hadn’t I?

With that, I’m going to wrap up this post and get it on the blog before my laptop’s battery gets too low. Thanks for reading even after my (somewhat, I guess?) prolonged absence. 44 minutes until boarding begins!


*Either with that or with Maus, the latter of which I did not have to read for school but have still read and much appreciate.

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trans(and/or?)butch

Anyone I’ve spoken to for an extended period of time this semester probably knows that this semester, I’m engaged in an independent study. Too complicated (or perhaps I’m just too long-winded!) for a quick and comprehensive elevator pitch, I usually say that I’m thinking about “butch (and/or) trans (and/or) masculine relationality, historically and today.” But that doesn’t quite describe the truth of what I’ve been thinking about since just before break, and what I’m spending so many hours on today. Truthfully, I’m trying to figure out (and live inside the discomfort of) the politics of cross-genre personhood, specifically in regard to transbutchness.

Because this project includes a strong autobio/ethnographic component, I will be focusing on those assigned (“diagnosed”, really) female at birth who cross sexgendered expectations at some point in their respective lives. Some of these people are marked as / self-define as butches, butch women, dykes, bulldykes, stone butches, passing women, passing butches, genderqueer people, nonbinary women, studs, nonbinary studs, nonbinary people, bois, nonbinary lesbians, nonbinary butches, genderqueer butches, nonbinary transmasculine people, genderfluid lesbians, genderless lesbians, transmasculine people, trans men, third gender people, genderqueer trans men….and I could go on! The rub is that words are inherently incapable of capturing the true complexity of our respective experiences, and also attempt (in vain!) to tie our respective experiences to static definitions. The same logics that declare “they” not a singular pronoun are weaponized here: namely, in the advancement of the myth that language (and identity) is inflexibly static, that the dictionary is some sort of divine ordinance instead of an object created and re-created by humans.

Within this independent study, I feel I must also address the thorny, often-abused topics of detransition, or the “cessation” of transition (which are difficult to quantify, too). With the rise in accessibility of medical transition for many people, including children, I would expect no less than a fetishisitic gravitation toward the idea of transition regret on the part of transphobes, particularly transmisogynists. After all, what better way to argue against the bodily autonomy of a marginalized group than to weaponize the existence of those who used their autonomy to make a choice they don’t like?

I am not going to bother linking all the fearmongering articles here, they’re not worth the extra clicks. What I am going to mention here (and in whatever comes out of this study) are the curious ways in which most people do and do not analyze (de)/transition. Instead of understanding detransition as further evidence of the mutability of gender and its dependence on social and sexual relationships, they instead use detransition as an excuse to double down on their essentialist project: to reinscribe the assumption that being “truly trans” is rare and must be gatekept for fear of enabling a supposedly-irresponsible choice. If “true transness” is as rare as these people want it to be, then violent systems of gender normativity can remain in place, and those few exceptions to it may be confined to reproducing gender stereotypes even as they transition. Those whose genders are liminal are painted as indecisive, juvenile, and fundamentally incomplete.*

Butches are then wholesale grouped into the “woman” category, and transness and butchness/womanhood are understood as mutually exclusive. Thus, butch transition is often blocked, and when allowed, the potential womanhood of butches is erased. Transmasculine people are expected to completely defect from womanhood without regard to what could be years or decades of involvement with communities of LGBTQ+ women; if they do not defect to the proper degree, they will risk not receiving a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, thus blocking insurance coverage for transition as well as social approval of their identity. This is what it means to be medically illegible.

“I don’t feel like a man trapped in a woman’s body, I just feel trapped.”

– Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues.**

If we open up the space between cis and trans –– if such a space exists outside the eyes of the medico-legal systems that govern the true-trans person –– what possibilities can we find? And, can we find a way to steal gender non-conformity back from this current push to medicalization?

Right now, a large swath of the people against the medicalization of TGNC life are simply transphobes who believe that the medicalization of transness is part of some massive plot to “take away the butches” from lesbian communities. They demand to know where all the “masculine women” are going, with the proliferation of identities outside womanhood. Some even see dysphoria as an experience so tied up in what it means to live as a woman under patriarchy, that the question of transition would seem to be moot: if women live in bodies that are constantly under attack, how is one to suggest medical alteration as a solution?

Truthfully, I don’t think this “debate” is all that worth having, because all arguments rely on the assumption that there is some “deep-down” truth of our identities that existed prior to social relations. Unlike many of the poststructuralists, I’m not saying there must be no essence, or that our selves must be solely the result of discourses. I’m saying that either way, we’re never going to know the difference, and that efforts to find a deep-down biological reason for identity and behavior is virtually always in service of those in power. 

Arguing for a relational understanding of (trans)gender, one that is not fixed and inborn, is something trans people aren’t always safe enough to do. I recognize that. In her groundbreaking 2007 book Whipping Girl, Julia Serrano made arguments for “subconscious sex” that may or may not be in line with one’s body as a reason for transness. Needless to say, I was repelled by this argument upon reading it today, but not only was it written over a decade ago (a thousand “trans studies years”) but it was also written subsequent to Serrano’s agonizing journey through the medical industrial complex. If arguments for the existence of “brain sex” are what some trans people need to tell their families in order to ensure their own safety, the choice to do so seems clear. Similarly, if Serrano needed to publish this idea in 2007, prior to the wholesale entrance of trans discourse (or even gay discourse!) into the mainstream, in the hopes of cis readers treating her with some semblance of respect, I understand.

All this said, it is now 2019, and because of the way I live my life, my own existence relies on a more complex view of gender/sexuality. For me, they are inherently connected. I have asked myself many times, “why am I not a man?” after all, one of the most vile arguments that transphobic women make is that trans men are transitioning as some bid for “male privilege,” as though they are “selling out.” Wouldn’t it be easier for me to “just be a man”? I mean, I’ve transitioned medically in multiple ways, and am interested in women. If the idea of butch flight is real, if people exposed to gender-multiplicity today are going to abandon butchness and quite literally sell out “to the man,” shouldn’t I?

To be perfectly honest, I’m repelled at the idea of myself being a man. It’s not so much a repulsion at being called “he,” although that is certainly not the correct pronoun for me at the moment. It’s not even a repulsion at being “read” as a man, because, though uncomfortable, it is psychologically preferable than being read as a woman. It is that the idea of being (acting as?) a man is completely incongruous with the way I live my life. It simply isn’t the way I want to enter any of my relationships, especially romantic ones. Had I had different life experiences, perhaps I would feel differently –– I don’t feel like there is something inherent in my subconscious that gives me the particular gender feelings I have. I just have a litany of gender options in front of me and have the experience and information to make the decision(s) that is/are best for me, and right now, being genderless and a butch lesbian is right for me: I am not interested in loving women as a man and womanhood is incompatible with my psychosocial reality. Maybe this will change. Maybe it will never change.

Overall, I want to fight the notion that, when identities mutate, replace each other, are taken on and rejected by different people, this renders some “right” and “progressive” or “wrong” and “defunct”. This goes for societal differences (butchness is not somehow less progressive than transness, of course, and it’s not like the two are mutually exclusive anyway). Similarly, butch isn’t “trans man lite” and someone who was once a butch and was later a man, or vice versa, is not necessarily growing closer and closer to their “real” identity but rather making valuable, courageous, informed decisions based on their constantly changing lives and relationships.

So, if you’re wondering what I’m doing in this independent study….hopefully that clarifies things somewhat!


*Bearing obvious, purposeful resemblance to biphobic rhetorics.

**Stone Butch Blues  is free for download at the link.

re-addressing re(-)solutions

I. More meditations on the “abroad” & acclimations to the non-norm.

I had been looking forward to marking this blog’s first birthday, which actually occurred almost a week ago now. I thought I would go back to that first post and find several of the resolutions I thought I remembered posting, and perhaps make this post an update on how well I accomplished, or did not accomplish, the goals I set for myself a year ago. Imagine my surprise as I read that first post and found no talk of resolutions, apart from my vague, fear-filled hopes that my time abroad would not be so painful to me that I would regret it. After searching through several pages of this blog, I found the post I thought I had remembered posting in January. I had posted it in May.

This is telling –– in many ways, if feels as though 2018 was two different years: the “year” I was in Amsterdam and the “year” I was home. It’s hard to believe that a third of my 2018 occurred overseas, that it’s been less than a year since I went abroad. My mind (like many others’) has a habit of making situations temporarily “natural” and “bearable,” even if I look back afterward and think that I could not have conceptualized myself going through it. The situations I’m referring to aren’t even “bad” ones, per se: when I sit at my desk now, I struggle to imagine waking up, walking through a city whose signs were all in Dutch to the office where I had classes, making coffee for our student cohort, etc.

While I was there, this process became so natural that half the time, I would wake up, dress, walk to the building, and be mid-way through the coffee ritual before my mind awoke to what I was doing. I grew accustomed to listening to morning news podcasts (such as The Daily, which releases at 6:00am EST) at lunchtime. I got used to my professors’ accents, their speaking to each other in a language of which I only understood snippets. This became normal. In many ways, I could not imagine being home. Then, within a day of being back home, I could not imagine being “there”. As it turned out, my doing well (however that’s measured!) abroad didn’t have as much to do with some verbal commitment to it, it had more to do with my ability to homeify / normalize a once-different environment.

With that in mind, I understand my unconscious reasoning for saying little about resolutions in the traditional sense. My time abroad necessarily took place “outside” normal life, not only in a physical way (being outside the borders of the territory that calls me its citizen) but also in a temporal and emotional way: my communication with loved ones back home lessened, I was literally “in a different time” than the life I had had; and, at least at first, it was necessary to abandon some things I took for granted (staying up late, more than a few pages of pleasure-reading per night) because I was using every spoon and more to lull my brain into the homeifying process. I needed to maintain a perfect sense of control, as if I were lowering myself into a hot pool, refusing the pull of gravity into its steaming waters, instead letting myself inch-by-inch. Acclimation. That’s the word.

II. (Get[ting] through this year) if it kills me.

This year is different from the last, as I first suggested in that post from May. I made it just five days before returning home, with the understanding that now I was moving back into a body of water whose temperature precisely matched my body’s; water I could not feel. Here I laid out my “resolutions”, not just for the year but for the next several years, or even for my whole life. I will list them now:

  • publish or be in the process of publishing a small, complete “something” (chapbook, short novel, etc.) by the time I graduate from Mount Holyoke.
  • not speak erroneously, for the sake of speaking, in class
    • & acclimate to the “waters” of silence.
  • resist the forces that compel me to try to commodify everything I wrote.

How did I do?

  • I have made immense progress on my primary, large writing project. I have done this by employing a technique that never seems to fail me when it comes to writing, studying, reading something long or dense, etc: doing a little bit every day. Even a sentence, even a page; sometimes far more. The complete book (or completed reading challenge, or whatever else) will become in time if one works every day. There is a sense of comfort in this.
    • Will it be “out” by the time I graduate? I hope so, but I think a more important goal here is that I remain relentless and do my best writing and revising work every single day, no matter what.
  • This resolution was a curious one, because I’ve simultaneously fulfilled it and not fulfilled it. I have trained myself to sit in silence when I have nothing valuable to say; to attempt to read the room and figure out when I have spoken too much and to give seconds of pause for others to gather their own thoughts.* But in no small part due to a class I took last semester, on writing & re-remembering (re-visioning**) painful memories as a mode of confrontation and reclamation, I’ve revealed more of myself to people on a personal level. I can’t say I’m happy with how the latter turned out, although this process of revealing-self was helpful in the quality of work I produced in the class. All that said, I strongly prefer being private and self-contained with the most personal element of my life.
  • If anything, this last one has gotten worse, and will likely continue to get worse as I publish more things. However, I’ve also begun saving the poems, stories, etc. that will likely never see the light of day, and accept that as a way in which I process the things I experience, and not just a means to getting more recognition as a “writer.” This is the “resolution” I fulfilled the least in the last several months, and the one that most needs to roll over into this year.

This May, after it’s truly been a whole year since I made my last resolutions post, I may (ha) post a similar one in which I outline my 2019 resolutions. It’s a bit of a strange time to post them, but given that the yoga equipment Target sets out for the first two weeks of the year promptly returns to its back-of-store shelves after two weeks, I take comfort in the fact that no one, not even our corporate overlords, take January resolutions seriously.


*and many arguments (including those made by Margaret Price in her book Mad at School: Rhetorics of Mental Disability and Academic Life) suggest that the classroom structure of rapid question-and-answer produces a participatory environment wherein students of very specific abilities thrive, while creating a positive feedback loop in which disabled students cannot participate, therefore cannot ask questions when needed, therefore fall behind on material, therefore cannot participate…etc. I tend to agree)

** I owe this idea to Adrienne Rich, as she discusses in When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision (1972) [x] in particular here:

“Re-vision –– the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old
text from a new critical direction-is for us more than a chapter in cultural history:
it is an act of survival. Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are
drenched we cannot know ourselves.”

on the idea of a “good christmas”

Every “holiday” season (that is, Christmas season) I feel overloaded by anxious posts from other psychosocially disabled — neurodivergent — etc. people. These posts all attend to a deep fear of “ruining Christmas.” I’ve felt for years now that the (I consciously avoid using the word “pathological” here) fixation on Christmas as a moment of terror and misery both for disabled people and for our family members is a subject worthy of investigation.

The “Christmas” holiday has, over the course of the twentieth and now twenty-first century, been transformed from a mere religious holiday to an ideological orientation, an artists’ statement one might stamp on their own lifestyle. On a surface level, one might see this in the idea of a “war on Christmas” and particularly in those Starbucks cups. But the most dangerous expressions of this Christmas-ideology appear benign. I’m drawn to using the 1983 classic “A Christmas Story” as an example. The useful thing about analyzing this movie is that its plot and imagery are completely divorced from any pretense of Christian religion. It presents a wholly-commodified Christmas that does not match “american christian” culture but rather, specifically, the culturally christian middle-class whiteness which worshipped the buying and selling of commodities first and foremost. The life glorified in the film is socially and culturally contained, only addressing the existence of a world outside the town in which it’s set once. These two moments are reflective of a contradiction of u.s. capitalism: an inexhaustible desire to consume the other, while at the same time having to shun the other in order to maintain its fragile myth of exceptionalism. Ralphie and his family meet the outside through trips to the mall and mail-order prizes, as well as via “Santa” in the Christmas climax of the film. Conversely, Ralphie and his family also encounter the “other” in the infamously racist last scene of the film, in which they dine at a Chinese restaurant and are serenaded by a group of cringily caricatured, heavily-accented Chinese waitstaff. The presumable punchline of the scene is that the food Ralphie and his family are served and the way the waitstaff speak are both unpalatable in that they disrupt the white, midwest-american christmas narrative. The juxtaposition between the “all-american Christmas” and the “(perpetually-) foreign” waitstaff is meant to be the film’s closing gag (and reader, I did gag).

Now that I’ve established the role Christmas has in stabilizing normative american selfhood, let’s consider disability, and specifically, for this blog post, psychosocial disability / neurodivergence. Any narratives of non-normativity ruining Christmas must begin by presupposing a perfect Christmas. Presumably, this perfection can be found in the advertisements (on T.V., online, even still in catalogs –– consider the ubiquitous well-stocking’d, lit hearth which can be found in advertisements from L.L. Bean*, Land’s End, and other stores). Popular perfect-Christmas images circulate, at this point, from October through the beginning of January. Whether we truly believe that Christmas perfection can be achieved, we are still inculcated by a series of images that reify the idea of what Christmas should be. Again, Christmas turns from a holiday to an ideology –– if we merely purchase the correct products, engage in the correct “pro-social” and expected behaviors, listen to the correct songs, and engage in the discourses of “the holiday season,” we may too partake in the cult, as it were, of Christmas.

This can explain both why the anxiety of fellow psychosocially disabled / neurodivergent people reaches its peak at Christmastime, and why the impossible standards set by ableism reach their most bizarre at the same time. It’s not as though those two can be separated from each other –– to paraphrase Sartre, it is the abled bodymind that creates the disabled bodymind. Of course disability would be magnified at Christmas: this is a time in which norms of behavior and relation have been so heavily culturally codified that any “transgression” becomes more glaring than it would be otherwise. Psychosocial disability / neurodivergence can be understood as a failure or refusal to comply with the societal norms that keep the world predictable, safe, and “ordered.” One might also call this timeless sense of order “tradition,” and in doing so we can see its connections to Christmas as a social practice. Disability is suddenly thrown into stark relief against the thick outline of Christmas expectation.

I found an example of such a phenomenon in this 2015 blog post, titled “Don’t Let ADHD (or Autism)** Ruin Your Holiday.” The author, Penny Williams, recounts what could have been a disastrous Christmas, in which her son, who has ADHD, gets up early and begins to open his Christmas presents before his parents are there to watch. No explanation is given as to why, but she concludes that this early-gift-opening “would surely ruin Christmas.” She responds to her son’s enthusiasm with anger and disappointment. It appears that she’s personally offended that her son did not wait to open the gifts in front of she and her husband.

Curiously, her son’s forthcoming response to his mother’s misery is cited as a possible pull-quote. When Williams exclaims: “‘What are you doing!? You know you were not supposed to open anything without getting mommy and daddy! I am so very disappointed in you! What did we say would happen if you opened presents without us?”” her son responds, as would be expected, in shame. He responds by acknowledging what I assume was a pre-stated threat that she would take away his gifts if he opened them early, and then shouts “‘I am so stupid.’” The text of the suggested pull-quote is placed in brackets below. It suggests what one should tweet if linking the post:

[Tweet: "I am so stupid!"he shouted. A cautionary tale of letting #ADHD ruin Christmas."]

Though I’m not going to address it deeply here, we can see in the way Williams parceled out her pain in an easily-tweetable way an observance of a time-honored Christmas tradition: the commodification of family life. What I would like to point out is the way in which she frames her son’s outburst, and the way she “unframes” her own, so as to encourage the reader not to understand her’s as an “outburst” at all. From the start, Williams gives the audience the required cues to frame all of her son’s behavior in a pathologizable manner. “Namely,” she does this with the nickname she gives him for anonymity: “Ricochet.” Presumably, this is meant to convey the way in which he, imbued with an “excess” (compared to what?) of energy, appears to ricochet off the walls. Although it’s certainly proper form for her to anonymize the child whose disability she is exploiting for followers and possibly money (although I’d rather her not exploit him at all) this anonymization could just as easily have been done with a simple pseudonym or initial, or with the initialism I see used often among mothers who write about their families: “DS” (for “dear son,” the use of “D” is typically mirrored in regard to all other family members). And yet she chooses Ricochet. Why? I argue that this word and its chaotic connotation primes the reader to view her son in the way she wants him to be seen: a disruptive force in her family’s life***.

This brings us to the second curious aspect of the quotation. She describes her son’s (to keep with the clinicalizing theme) negative self-talk as a result of “#ADHD ruin[ing] Christmas”. Yet, it was not “the ADHD” (as though ADHD is an isolable entity that can be simply exorcised via “good parenting”!) that caused her son shame. It was her. The diagnosis becomes an easy label on which society -– in this case, parents –– can project their own faults; by ignoring the ultimately social nature of disability, they believe they can turn to biology to explain their child’s negative responses to their parenting decisions. So it was not her outburst (which would not be called an outburst, but rather a reprimand) that ruined Christmas, it was “the ADHD” she believes is located in some cubby inside her son, waiting to be removed in order to save the holiday.

Christmas is never what we want it to be, not precisely. If we are raised to believe the advertisement-Christmas and the Hallmark-Christmas are ideal, then naturally, our imperfect reality will never live up to it. Because of the prevalence of these idealized images, though, our “real” Christmas becomes “less real” than the idealized images we’re fed. What we categorize as disability, or Otherhood writ large, does not expose some fault within the person marked as such, but instead exposes the wide, gaping cracks in normative society that we refuse to see. In “A Christmas Story,” the snow-white Midwestern Christmas, in which not one person of color is shown, is diverted from its course in the Chinese restaurant. To compensate for the simmering fear of “invasion” white people experience at the sight of Asian people in america, this disruption of the idealized Christmas is played for laughs, and the fear is neutralized by cheap, racist attempts at humor.

In Williams’s post, on the other hand, the disruption is injected with decidedly negative emotion: Christmas has been “ruined” by a metaphorical “invader,”  the ADHD. Again, we have an invader –– that is, the real world –– disrupting an imaginary normscape****. The disabled bodymind is, to the (temporarily-) abled bodymind, a constant reminder that the seemingly-untainted lifestyle of the normal subject exists only in the shadow of disabling rupture. Normal life is the unsuspecting beach town which has yet to realize a cartoon-tsunami wave hovers above it, waiting to drop.


*Note the use of “heirloom” as a product-descriptor, too.

**Ironically, although this calls attention to the many similarities between autism and AD(H)D, its conclusion is not to question the validity of such discrete and charged diagnostic terms for what amounts to similar lived experiences, but instead to expand the number of “disability parents” that this article is meant to inform.

***Alternatively, some “disability parents” see “the autism” or “the AD(H)D” as an independent force that infects the brain of their child, that ideally should be exorcised for the good of the family.

**** Full disclosure: I just made this word up.

pushcart nominations and more!

With only two weeks left of the semester, it feels like the perfect time to write an update.

Within the last couple weeks, I received news that I had been nominated two different times for the Pushcart Prize, once by Gimmick Press and once by Sweet Tree Review. I’m so excited to represent small literary magazines/presses in particular. I’m aware, of course, that it’s not a particularly high honor unless one actually makes the shortlist or wins. I’m currently thinking about how to balance feeling good about my nominations with the knowledge that they don’t mean much by themselves in the long run. I’m not yet sure how this balance is to be achieved; despite my nonbinary gender and nonbinary philosophical bent, I’m very much a black-and-white person.

Speaking of growth, I want to briefly sing the praises of another class I’m taking, called Narrative Medicine: How Writing Can Heal. Not only has my writing –– especially my ‘personal essay’ writing –– improved technically since I started the class, but that class also gave me a more concrete toolkit for addressing life experiences I have yet to narrativize for myself. All history is narrative, and, in a sense, fiction; what is “legitimate history” is more a question of whose narrative gains dominance, rather than adherence to an arbitrary standard of objectivity. Objectivity is used all too often to mask what’s really a white supremacist, patriarchal, abled, etc. point of view. It’s used as the only way to advance a highly specific way of perceiving reality as the singular truth. More people are realizing the dangers of such hegemonic perspectives that are wildly discordant with the material lives of subjugated groups of people –– for example, the dismissal of sexual assault survivors’ stories in favor of the perpetrators’.

Narrative Medicine has given me the opportunity to write a final paper on Virginia Woolf’s essay On Being Ill, which I’ve talked incessantly about to many people close to me (because that’s what happens when I discover something I’m into). For anyone who, like me, was taken by Woolf’s biting critique of the medico-psychiatric system and its abuse and neglect toward patients in Mrs. DallowayOn Being Ill is a must-read. My edition has an introduction from Hermione Lee, who shares that Woolf was actually sick in bed while writing the essay. This in and of itself helps prove one of her main theses: that conceiving of The Writer as rational, cerebral, and divorced from the messiness of the body is limiting and inaccurate. I weave my own personal experience into my analysis of the text, which is reflective of the feminist turn in literary analysis which began decades ago. I argue that Woolf did it too –– albeit in the 1920s and 30s –– and her bold discussion of trauma, disability, patriarchy, and hegemonic “rationalism” paved the way for more identifiable feminist criticism.

In other word-news, last week, I also got the opportunity to read a short story aloud at a small open mic at MHC. It was a lot scarier than I thought it would be, as I’m not usually so afraid of speaking in front of people. I had a small identity crisis following that experience: who am I if I can’t even get up and speak confidently in front of an audience the way that I used to? I’m still not sure where the sudden barrage of anxiety that day came from, all I know is that I was shaking so hard as I read that I thought I was going to fall over. I’m still thinking hard about why the sudden change in my public speaking self-confidence occurred. Let me know if you have any insight. Regardless, I’m really glad I did it, as many of my friends and classmates, as well as professors, were there, and they all gave me positive feedback. That always feels good. I’m thankful for having chosen to take creative writing as a class this semester, as that class was the reason I learned about the open mic, and the reason for much of my recent growth as a writer in general.

In the last week-and-a-half before break, it feels like everyone is trying to squeeze in as many events as possible. This is partially also because Hanukkah is happening this week and I’ve been trying to go to the various celebrations our Jewish Student Union has been hosting. Several days ago, on the first night of Hanukkah, I learned to play dreidel, which was great fun! Tonight I hope to listen to some Klezmer music; I’ve loved it since an online friend of mine introduced me to The Klezmatics. I’m looking forward to hopefully listening to some Klezmer live!

Lastly, I’d like to update you regarding the progress I’ve made on my “project” which I’m refusing to call a “novel” (even saying the word “novel” makes me cringe). I’m at a little over 30,000 words / 100-ish pages. I’ve implemented a writing strategy that’s been effective for me before, namely to write at least a little of that project every day, even if it’s only one line. I wrote a novella when I was fifteen and used this strategy to keep up with it, and happily, I think I’m soon going to surpass the length of that work in writing this new, more sophisticated project. Every day, I fear that yesterday’s idea was my last good one, and this whole project is going to go down the drain, but so far, I’ve been able to continue. Scary as it is, I think this constant state of insecurity is also important in that it’s humbling.

I’ll try to post again around my birthday, which is in exactly two weeks. I’ll be 20! If all goes according to plan, I’ll be able to go to Barnes and Noble that day, my favorite activity. Talk to you soon!


 

ETA: I didn’t have the spoons to attend the Klezmer concert, but did spend some quality time supervising the menorahs until they burnt out and then having dinner with friends.

the first couple days

Hi all, this is my very first blog post from South Hadley and I am thrilled to be back. I’ve had numerous people ask me, “wouldn’t you rather be in Amsterdam?” Although when I listened to a podcast the other day on which a Dutch person was speaking, I felt a little empty ache where Amsterdam used to be in me (or I in it), I’m happier here than I was there. No shade to Amsterdam; I just prefer routine.

I moved back in on Saturday, 9/01, a day before most of the returning students at MHC, and I’m always extremely grateful for my early move-in accommodation with AccessAbility (AAS). I’m also happy to continue my tradition of speaking openly about being registered with AAS. Perhaps it does nothing, but I’d like to think it’s a reminder to all the ~normal~ people on campus that, surprise! The Disabled Are Just Like You!  Not to mention that it’s a reminder to the other registered students that there are tons of us registered, and that it’s nothing to hide.

On Sunday, while everyone else moved in, I spent an enjoyable morning at Thirsty Mind, the coffeeshop* across the street. So far, I’m feeling pretty good about meeting all my obligations this month, despite the ridiculous busyness of these next two weeks. Part of this, I think, has to do with my decision not to pursue registration in a course I originally wanted to get into: Critical Psychology. It seems perfectly suited to me, and it’s at another college in the consortium of which Mount Holyoke is a part. If I had gotten in already, I’m positive I’d keep the class, but it was full by the time I tried to register. Back then I was convinced I would do what I’ve done for several other classes: email the professor and act intelligent and put-together (which I did) and then come to the class looking extremely eager, ultimately stealing the spot of a less-eager counterpart (which I’m not doing).

I had reservations about Critical Psychology from the start, even when I was sure I wanted to be in it. The varieties of people one might find in a class like this can include Thomas Szasz-types and orthodox psych-majors who hope this class will be another place for them to study the fascinating crazies or talk authoritatively about biochemistry concepts they’ve never actually learned. I also trust very few professors to teach a class like this with fairness, compassion, and respect –– let alone a professor whose reputation I didn’t know.

Why, then, would I take a class whose material I, between lived experience and independent study, likely already know; when taking it necessitates more energy than the class’s substance likely deserves? I had no answer to this, four other classes, and several jobs. So, no Critical Psychology.

I’m extremely excited about my other classes, though. I’m taking third year Chinese this year, after initially signing up for it as a first-year, when I was woefully behind in the character-writing part of my study of Chinese. I feel a sense of pride now that I’ve dug up the textbooks I bought two years ago and cried over, now no longer insurmountable.

I am taking Political Ecology this semester, too. I spoke with a friend briefly about this; I assumed that it would be an anarchist-leaning class because of the relationship between the eco/philosophical concept of the rhizome and the spontaneous revolutionary acts that feature so heavily in some anarchist strands. My friend told me, though, that the professor of this course actually had more of a Marxist bent, so I’m hopeful that I’ll get to learn a Marxian perspective on political ecology that might help me develop my own argument and opinions for anarchism. Maybe I’ll even incorporate some of his beliefs into my own politics. I’m excited that I don’t know things. I’m excited to learn. I’m even excited to be corrected and “proven wrong.”

I’m also taking a course on Narrative Medicine, the first session of which is this evening. I’m not entirely sure what I’m getting into with this class, but it looks very promising. On a similar note, the other class that I’m taking this semester is creative writing –– like this past summer, it looks like my fall semester is going to be creative writing-heavy. Despite the amount of “creative writing” I do, I’ve never actually taken a formal class on it. Recently I’ve been craving outside perspectives on my work, and have been trying to become more comfortable with showing my work to others before it’s been published –– that is, approved by some outside “authority”. I liken this to the stress others feel about disclosing disability (or transness!) without “formal diagnosis”.

I return to the middle of this blog post after a day, as my writing time was abruptly cut short by the fact that I realized I lost my lanyard and needed to go on a wild, sweaty search for it. The search was relatively brief, because some kind stranger left it for me at the info desk in Blanchard. Later, a friend drove me to pick up my course pack and to drop me off for what I thought was my first session of Narrative Medicine: but as it turned out, I had misread the schedule. My seminar was actually only on Thursdays, not Tuesdays too: I was heartbroken when I found that out, not because I desperately wanted the class that day but because it felt like one more thing that had gone wrong on a warm and exhausting day.

I took the bus back to Mount Holyoke as the sky darkened and the air cooled, willing myself to cry as I listened to Against Me! (as I always do when I’m upset). I had dinner with my co-editor for the Mount Holyoke News, Kate, and together we went to see Christina Henriquez discuss her novel “The Book of Unknown Americans.” Between dinner and the talk, and some unexpected positivity from my friends (who always seem to know what I need, even when they had no idea at the time that I was in a bad mood!) my evening improved beyond what I could have imagined.

That leaves me here today, Wednesday, my first actual day of classes. On my agenda is not only classwork and my work-study jobs, but also my “What’s Your Story?” zine (the proof of which I finished this morning!) my wrap-up work with my internship at Not Dead Yet, and my personal creative writing pursuits, which I really hope won’t fall by the wayside as the year carries on. I think I have a good chance of continuing to work on those projects, especially because I’m taking creative writing this semester.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll continue to follow along with my posts –– and that I’ll have the wherewithal to keep posting in the first place –– now that I’m back at MHC!


*Actual coffeeshop, not the Amsterdam kind.

A white & brown hobbit house, in front of which a woman washes and hangs linens to dry. Trees surround it all.

et tu, cottagecore?

Recently, you’ve probably noticed cottagecore-related content, especially on Tumblr. As someone who already has a deep devotion to farm animals (especially sheep), mushrooms, and cabin-homes stuffed with knickknacks, the cottagecore aesthetic was and is one I gravitate toward. It’s easy to scroll mindlessly through blog after gentle, peaceful blog; reblogging jars of honey and golden sunlight and teddy bears and picnic baskets; right alongside assorted farm animals and wide, vast vegetable gardens. It’s impossible for me not to project myself onto their hazy, golden façades (literally!) and feel, for a moment, like that picture is my life. Unfortunately, I recently met with the reality undepicted in those images, and had to confront the practicality of my dreams, the genuineness of my desires.

Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 4.50.20 PM

In the background, a blurry pastoral scene of grass, flowers, and weeds as well as a wire fence sit in the afternoon light. In the foreground, a sticky pot of honey is ladled, so as to keep some honey suspended in the air to reflect the sun’s light.

I’m already a person prone to planning for a future that could only exist several decades from now. Ever since I was a child, I knew I wanted children of my own, and spent much of my childhood paging through thousand-page baby name books, making lists that I was sure would turn to children. Soon, plans for my perfect home emerged, too: usually a tiny house on the beach or in the woods or in a field whose endpoints can’t be seen from my someday-home’s window. It was always a pastoral scene that never seemed to get so far as to ask, “how do I get my groceries?” I suppose I’d grow all of those, though I think veggie burgers and chewing gum would be difficult to grow on trees.

Aside from the limits of my hypothetical trees, there are numerous other flaws in my dreamy future plans. As someone whose hypersensitivity to noise and need for personal space gains them access to a single room in college, thanks to AccessAbility Services, I sincerely doubt I’d do well living with a wife and kids in a sub-1,000 sq. ft. space in the middle of nowhere. Just a hunch.

In addition, my dream almost always includes me helping to design and supervise the construction of my tiny home. Where will I get the money for this? On whose wide stretch of land will I be allowed to plant my home? These questions, too, remain unanswered. As someone in a relationship, and as a Capricorn Moon & Venus, thinking about and sharing my dreams for a future with the one I love feels like the ultimate sign of devotion. It’s not so much the content of the dream, it’s the idea that there is one. But ever since the beginning of this month, I’ve been wondering just how much real, practical thinking is required for the dreams I want (or do I?) to bear fruit, and how aesthetics seem to be altogether hijacking my dreams.

Of the many things I was excited to do with my partner, Kayla, I was perhaps most excited to visit a farm with them. The farm represented an aspect of our theoretical future that we loved and love to discuss: oh, the animals we’d care for! The love we’d have for them! The endless space in which they could run and play! The mass numbers of Instagram accounts catering so specifically to my dreams of animal-parenthood only furthered this desire. The reason I follow so many (almost 600) accounts on Instagram is that many of them are about certain animals and farms I’d like to keep up with. There’s nothing I love more than watching their latest videos with whomever will agree to watch them with me. I had never been to one of these sorts of farms in real life, and I have to say, I was ready for a relaxing time.

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A moodboard. (R-L, top to bottom:) houses with high-peaked roofs amongst high grass and shrubs, a forest ends in a hole opening into a blue-skyed clearing, chickens stride about on a house’s front lawn, a golden-brown pie sits on a wood block, a close-up of a bucket of red & green apples, a photo of a basket of fresh eggs, a dimly-lit bedroom featuring fairy lights and a skylight in its dormer ceiling, a better-lit loftlike bedroom featuring a bed with white sheets and a window revealing trees in the distance, another, this time large, bedroom whose bed faces a tall and wide window embedded into a dormer ceiling.

Farms –– I’m sure you never could have guessed this –– are, in fact, dirty! As in, there is a lot of dirt, and animal poop that is easily mistaken for dirt, all over the place. There are bugs, too; especially flies in the vicinity of the aforementioned poop. It didn’t fully register with me why Kayla and their mom were slathering themselves in bug spray before walking into the covered structure in which some bunnies and (separately) some small pigs lived. If you were to tell me, “There are bugs here,” I would have replied, “Of course there are!” But it isn’t until a several land on your legs as you attempt to replicate a pristine, loving Instagram video with your new pig friends that you fully accept it.

This situation was unsettling enough in the face of my romanticization of farm life, due both to my consumption of Instagram videos and from my love of cottagecore aesthetics. But it got worse: when we went to visit the goats (who were extremely pleased to see us!) we had the opportunity to spend time with them in their pen. We did. Goats, much like dogs, will get up on their hind legs and put their two fore legs on your thighs, hoping for pets and scratches. In their excitement, these goats managed to spread their poop not only into the ridges on the bottom of my Birkenstocks (and dangerously close to the synthetic straps) but also onto my thighs and the groin-area of my shorts. For all my excessive talk of wanting a farm, I booked it out of the pen after that, standing uncomfortably outside as Kayla and their mother continued to spend time with the goats, significantly less disturbed than I was. When they were done, we visited some kittens and cows. All that time, I was praying,  please let me transfer my consciousness out of this soiled body and into something cleaner. I can’t say I even really enjoyed the rest of the visit, as I was so distracted by the mess.

When it finally came time to clean ourselves off in the farm’s bathroom before driving back to their home for full showers, Kayla let me go in first* and I doused the entire lower half of my body in a mixture of soap, water, and hand sanitizer, all rubbed into my skin and clothing by a massive wad of paper towels. When we got back to their house, we had a delightful time hosing down our respective shoes. Then, finally, it was time for me to shower (first**).

And then I was clean. And mildly disturbed, because it didn’t simply feel like shit had gotten my my legs and shorts. It felt like it had gotten all over my “future,” simply by shoving its reality into my face. It has forced me to (re)consider whether or not I actually desire other things, like a garden (hard, hot work with unguaranteed results) or a tiny house (a truly limiting amount of space that would be more likely to drive me to a divorce than anything else). There has been much written on the potential harm that life lived through a camera lens or an Instagram account can be, especially now that people are using these as reasons to alter their physical forms. But significantly less has been said about the way that popular aesthetics have taken and run with our future plans, leading only to disappointment when we come up empty, frustrated, and unsatisfied.

…[S]ignificantly less has been said about the way that popular aesthetics have taken and run with our future plans, leading only to disappointment when we come up empty, frustrated, and unsatisfied.

A lot of people, especially fellow lesbians, have bought into the ideal-farm-future wholesale. It’s especially tempting because it offers an alternative to a society that is usually either hateful toward you or pretends you don’t exist. Perhaps also to help something or someone grow in ways we have been denied; to nurture other living things in the ways we wish we were nurtured. This is especially true, it seems, for lesbians who don’t want children –– but these dreams tempt us all.

I think I really had myself convinced that this was what I had always wanted, when in reality, what I wanted was the pristine version I had set out in my head. Visiting the farm animals with Kayla, I had assumed, would be a peak into my future: a partner; a farm; a sense of freedom derived from both. But as I stood, panicked in the bathroom, goat shit on my bare legs from eager goat feet, I realized that if this was living my future, I didn’t want it.

It’s impossible to tell the difference between a “real” dream (one that came “only” from inside one’s head) from a dream installed there by some outside source –– namely, because almost everything is a combination of those two. But it’s important to acknowledge outside and personal implications for those dreams, if realized, and to allow oneself to enjoy an ideal but know the reality is not for them. I’m still learning this.


*However lucky you think I am to have Kayla in my life, multiply that by a factor of ten.

**See above.