tentative roots of a possible tree

His voice when he calls me,
is the sort of warm you get
with socks, right from the dryer.

“Really, really good,”
He answers my first query.
I know it has to do with her.

He tells me how they went climbing,
and he was afraid, but sent the problem.
The way she looked over at him-

(Here, he interrupts himself to exclaim about how romantic it was).

“And she looked at me and said ‘I love you,'”
he finishes, quietly.

My throat is tight with fierce joy.
Smiling broadly,
I spin the golden band
on my left ring finger.

We chat for a while-
about how he said it back,
how happy I am for him,
how cute her dog is.

And about whether or not
we should look for a house that allows dogs
when we move in the spring,

Playfully grave,
the way we discuss things
when we know it’s far too soon.

Cincinnati looms behind me.
I ignore it to watch the joggers
who pass in front of my rental car.

I think about flying home
and finding them both in my bed-
warm and happy as socks,
right out of the dryer.

A letter to my cross-dressing pen-pal

Dear B,
I’m actually quite torn about which of your alternates I like best. I think Brianna, maybe, but Brandy is cool since it’s closer to your male name, female, and also an alcohol. Hmm.

I actually decided to go with all three names (Elle/El/L) dependent on my gender at a given moment. Today it’s El. Usually it’s Elle, sometimes, if I’m in-between, it’s L. I like the versatility, and the simultaneous unity of pronunciation. It’s a metaphor. I’m in my guy mode again today. Upon reflection, I think I need to look in the boys dress clothing section, and also for jeans/trousers. Men’s small is still a bit too large. *Sighs* this clothing thing is a pain in the ass.

Seriously, I think we should all be able to shape-shift back and forth and between sexes. Or at least have timeshare options…

Regarding existing in a comfortable box: I think the most valuable thing I have learned so far in life is when to cut my losses and move on to something I really need. As described harshly, but gorgeously here. I can’t get enough of this stupid comic… it’s so good. Going to a therapist can be helpful. Don’t be afraid to find a different one if this one is not helpful.

Regarding your concern about being a “pervert” or “sexual deviant” I had a few thoughts:

First- what does that mean to you? What is a pervert? Why is it bad to be one? Just think about your own understanding of the word, and why it is something to be concerned about. Same with “sexual deviant.”

Then consider: is your behavior harmful to you or anyone else? Genuinely? How so? Does your behavior go against your values in some serious way? What values? Where did you learn these values? Are they still relevant to your life? Should they be?

Please feel free to send me your thoughts on these questions, I’d be very curious to hear them.

Perhaps a more useful question is “Why don’t more people wear exactly what they want?” The term “cross-dressing” itself assumes that there is actually a valid line to be crossed. As I think I mentioned before, it’s generally OK for women to wear more masculine clothing (though presenting as men, binding our breasts and cutting our hair is still not as acceptable) largely because it supports the male-powered status-quo. Yes, female and male bodies are different, and clothing serves to accommodate and emphasize those differences, but what does it matter if ‘boys’ want to be pretty and ‘girls’ want to be handsome?

A well-known gender scholar presented at the University the other day and made a really interesting comment. She looked around the room and said “I don’t see two people here of the same gender.” And I think she had a point. Rejecting our tidy male/female man/woman binaries can go beyond creating more segments. What if gender is the intersection of thoughts, experiences, presentation, emotion, and relationships? She also asked “are you the same gender with your peers as you are with your parents?” Which I found fascinating.

We are all social chameleons, fitting into situations and relationships, often without thinking about it. Even when identifying as a “woman” I wear different clothing to the auto-shop than I wear to school, different clothing to the ranch than to a club. My behavior, and likely my gender presentation, is distinctly different in each of those scenarios. Being feminine is not a one-dimensional experience, nor is being masculine. What if those who identify as genderqueer, trans, genderfluid, crossdressers, all simply have a more nuanced sensitivity (and acceptance) to their own capacity to be fully human, and not be held completely by the socially acceptable gender constructs?

Before they learn the “rules” of gender, kids wear things because they feel right, because they feel most comfortable, because they are authentic to who the kid is at that moment. Adults seem to trip over themselves when their desires clash with what is expected. Yes, society and it’s developed ‘norms’ has many functions and uses, and it is important to navigate it, to know the rules. However, as Picasso supposedly said:

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

Alright, that’s enough food for thought I suppose. I should go work instead of creating the gender-creative manifesto.

El (for the moment)

Remnants of an artichoke garden

The Pork & Pickle restaurant in Kansas City International airport serves surprisingly compelling coffee. That John Legend song you sang to me with utter sincerity and unfortunate breath croons from the sound system and I think fleetingly of texting you. The restaurant is unpretentious, quietly holding the set for a harried waitress. It spills the rich scent of barbeque into the concourse of an odd little airport that feels like a European railway platform. From where I sit I can look right and see the passenger pick-up road, I look left and see an empty tarmac waiting patiently for the next plan to appear from the anxiously hovering clouds.

Part of me acknowledges that a friendship such as ours was untenable. We played make-believe with the best of them, though. Mostly, I’m proud that you had the nerve to  walk away. You used to say you would write a memoir about us, and our improbable friendship. I hope you don’t- I’d much rather you finally built your own life, devoid of fantastical constructs such as myself. Such as the wardrobe of hair-shirts you tend to invest in. They really don’t suit you. But you always loved discomfort best, so whatever you end up wearing, I hope it makes you happy. I hope you take as much pride in your decision to walk away from me, as I took in my decision to walk away from my first love of many years. I finally got over that last year, I think. It feels strange not to have the grief catch in my throat when I think of him. Grief is not linear though, my lack of pain may just be temporary remission.

I detailed my own car the other day. There are no flowers on my dashboard, but I’m wearing the jacket you bought me about five years back. I’m happy. I’m loved. I’m sure you’ll hear about it from my mom the next time you two have coffee. She’s incredible- I hope you make the effort to stay friends with her.

Today, I’m going to sit in the dessicated remnants of our secret artichoke garden for a while. California will never be the same without you. Neither will I.

O Captain! My Captain!– In Memorium of Robin Williams

A friend of mine posted this excerpt from Walt Whitman’s poem in response to the tragic news of Robin Williams’ death today.

Incidentally, “O Captain! My Captain!” was the first poem I ever memorized, when I was nine years old. I liked the cadence of it, and I may have even known what ‘cadence’ meant at the time. In high school I attended a creative writing class, and the professor had us watch the Dead Poet Society. The famous salute scene struck me as a very appropriate way to express your deep regard and admiration for someone who has earned it. So, here’s to Robin Williams, his family and friends, from someone you inspired with your art and your career.

O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:

But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! My Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

Here captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;

Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

(Whitman, 1865)

On loss, On exhausted observations

When typing this post, the first words I wrote were “I lost a friend today.”

Then I erased it. Precision. One of my partners (my favourite, truth be known) once told me I was more poetic when I was trying to be precise, than when I attempt to be poetic. I shall endeavor to follow this advice.

So, being precise. Today, Vincent died. Vincent was a friend, a lover, and a catalyst in my life.

Our time together started in Hawaii, traversed half the globe and ended when he moved to Chile for his job I had grad schools to attend. His life started in France, mine in the western US. He was critically injured in a car wreck involving a bus. I always despised the plot function of killing someone by bus. Very ‘Nicholas Sparks’ and too trite for Vincent. Trite. What a way to describe the death of someone I love. Seriously though, a bus? Weak- as that crappy City of Angels movie was. He deserved something spectacular, if he was going to check out early.

Fuck propriety to hell, he always deserved better.

Speaking of being trite, I knew the moment we first met that we would likely be together eventually. I walked into the little house in Hawaii where I would be staying for the semester and made eye-contact with Vincent and his bizarrely no-coloured eyes. His passport said verde but they were usually an indeterminate shade, a common moth wing colored through with concrete. He had a blue cast on his left arm (from biking home drunk after a Christmas party) and a hand holding a bit of bloody tissue to his ear (where the nurses messed up his piercing when he went in for X-rays). I was 19 and fresh off the plane from Utah. There was a mild thrum of recognition, or acknowledgement when we looked at one another across the kitchen island.

Oh, ok then. I thought.

I was busy enacting a three part Shakespearean tragedy with my own misguided Romeo for the better part of the semester, so Vincent and I fell into an easy rhythm of friendship. He brought me into the fold of mostly-European expats that lived in the quirky little set of boarding houses, and made sure I was fed. I let him pick odd movies to watch. I still remember his preface to Tarantino’s Death Proof-  “You’ll like it, Lei. It’s feminist.” Good grief.

You ever have a friend you’ve either had a falling out with, or simply fallen out of touch with call you out of the blue to reconnect, months or years later? And you think “Well, they’re either on a 12-step program or someone died and the mortality salience is making them recognize the pettiness of the argument, or the importance of letting people know how you feel.”?

Well, maybe not in those words, unless you’re a social psychologist or spend too much time in academia for your own good. Regardless, I find the urge to connect with people (one person- the aforementioned Romeo, in fact) to be rather impressive. I haven’t done it yet. I’m not sure if I will or not. It seems to be lacking in authenticity to need a reminder of the precarious line we walk before I bother to contact someone. Though that’s probably justification for my own pride and not anything more noble.

The wave of renewed, sentimental paranoia I am experiencing is the behavioural signature of grief. Then again, I am rather convinced that our emotional experiences are generally have functional utility. In this case, it would be to maintain social cohesion and improve social support in times of vulnerability.

The scientist in me says that there is internal logical consistency in this.

The pragmatist says I should just call the man and be done with it.

The encroaching headache is voting for bed.

Tu me manques, Vincent, Je t’aime. Fais des beaux reves.