The First Time With A Girl

she asks
if I want to come over to her house
after class
and she will make us lunch.

after a week of flirting
hands brushing thighs under the table
testing ripeness, testing tenderness
leaning close to whisper things like
what page were we on again
learning the smell of her shampoo
the millimeter thinness of her hair,
I blink at her — can you just
do that? invite someone over?
her boyfriend won’t be home until 3,
she says, but he knows she’s bi, they’re poly,
he knows she wants a girlfriend, too

I’ll be honest, I’d written her off
as straight: but the purple streak in her hair
and short painted nails said femme,
and she flirted back
as much as anyone ever had

she used to sit behind me. I noticed her
because I noticed every girl in class,
trying out my brand new gaydar
at every chance, to make sure it worked.
I overheard her say, it’s my birthday,
but clearly the dumb boy she was talking to
didn’t hear, because the only proper
response to that statement is, of course,
happy birthday, but he didn’t say it.

I did. it’s my birthday too, I said,
and she pinned me with her gaze,
looked straight at me. after that,
she sat next to me in the second row
on the far right, offering her knee, her thigh
brushing my arm with her fingers

my tongue is so swollen, I can barely reply.
yes, I say. I got my tongue pierced, I say,
but I can’t pronounce the r’s. I brought a smoothie
for lunch — but I’d love to see your place
.

her couch was white
her boyfriend came home early
my swollen mouth could barely
form words, ached for more
flexibility, to be able to extend
the tip of my tongue
past my teeth
but I didn’t care

I’d waited so long to do this
to know for certain for sure
for confirmation
that every throbbing kiss was a relief,
a relief, a deep truth surfaced,
a secret no longer unknown.

The End of Innocence, Guest Post by Guy New York

Growing up, Vogue had more naked pictures than Playboy. Or at least they were more appealing to my budding teenage imagination. Maybe they spoke more to my aesthetic, or perhaps they felt illicit because they were so unexpected, but whatever the reason, I used to pour through my mother’s magazines almost as much as my father’s. I remember one ad, a double page spread I believe, of an elegant dinner party where the women were all stark naked while the men wore suits. And that was hotter than any centerfold had ever been.

But to be fair, I also remember flipping through the giant collection of New Yorker cartoons we had sitting on the coffee table in the old farmhouse. It was an oversized paperback of every single cartoon in the magazine over the course of thirty years, and I read it from cover to cover again and again. I have no idea how much my twelve-year-old self understood any of the jokes, but again, there were glimpses of nude bodies, albeit inked with a pen, that while I didn’t lust over, I relished all the same.

What is it about naked bodies that fascinated me? Was it more the dirty magazines or the sex-ed textbooks from my mother’s library? Maybe it was the naked girls and boys in my room as we played doctor, or possibly it was a trip to a nude beach when I was nine, where for the first time in my life I looked up to see a woman, spread eagle on a blanket, less than ten feet away from me. That image has stayed in my mind although it’s more the feeling of watching than it is a photograph. She was an adult, and she had a thick covering of pubic hair between two round thighs, but the rest is a blur as much as everything else. I know I wandered the beach after that, my own naked body irrelevant to my interests. I don’t remember feeling shame, in fact, the only thing I recall firmly is the desperate interest to see new bodies, new shapes, and new people.

But home from the beach I was left with the familiar images in my father’s house. But I had seen the National Geographics, and I had flipped through the one copy of Playboy dad had a photo in. I had explored the old photography magazines until I knew them by heart, and my mother’s sex-ed manuals all knew the shape of my fingers.

Which meant there was only one choice for a pubescent boy in the northern wiles of New Jersey. I had to head to the woods.

When I was maybe twelve or thirteen I spent as much time as I could in the woods not far from the house. Sometimes with a friend or two but often alone, I’d wander through the small nature preserve kicking rocks, climbing over streams, and searching out the hidden grottos where older boys might have hidden the greatest treasure known to man: a truly dirty magazine.

And lo and behold I would find them! As I’ve gotten older, I’ve met other men who also found porn in the woods, and it’s become something of a joke. Kids these days with their internet! When I was young, we used to have to look for porn under a rock or hidden in a hollowed out tree. We didn’t know what it would be. We couldn’t search for “Blonde Teens” or “Big Titty MILFS” like they do these days. No! We’d find something, often half a page, and we loved it for what it was. Most often it was a centerfold from a Playboy, or if we were lucky a few pages of a Hustler where you could not only see some bush but some skin as well! My god, is that girl holding her pussy open? I had no idea what that looked like.

And once, maybe in sixth grade, Matt and I found a whole magazine that must have been European. It was black and white, with photos covering the paper like stamps. And there, on those wrinkled, rain-soaked pages I saw a woman fucking herself with a carrot! My god, I had no idea that’s what women did! Why did I never think of it?

The truth is, the thrill of discovery was always more exciting than the final reveal. The long hours walking through the woods, the digging through our father’s closets or basements, and the channel surfing late-night cable in hopes of seeing some semblance of nudity was all the more exciting because of how rarely they panned out. But the searching got my heart beating, and the hope was a drug. And when the web finally appeared it was still the same. In those early days of surfing, it was a hunt to find good nudity, and sometimes we’d wait for an hour as the file downloaded only to discover a girl in a bikini from a sports illustrated we had already seen a hundred times. Often it was the same model, the same naked girl that popped up on every site, and some of those faces are still familiar even if I don’t know their names.

What I don’t remember is ever getting off to a picture. I don’t remember crawling under the covers with a stolen Playboy or jerking off fantasizing about Miss May. The New Yorker cartoons didn’t get me hard, and even the impossibly beautiful models in Vogue didn’t drive me to self-abuse. The longing was there, the desire for discovery was overpowering, but the sexual release was seemingly disconnected as if my lust for the images was separate from my want for release.

The first pornographic movie I ever saw was on a VHS, and I barely remember a thing about it. I’m sure it was enticing, and I have a strong sense of attachment to it when it somehow ended up in my possession, but as for the scenes? They’re as much a blur as anything. I’m reasonably sure there was a blonde but after that?

None of this is to say that I didn’t like to get off, that I didn’t get turned on, or that my love of dirty pictures was disconnected from my sexuality. But if I was going to touch myself to a magazine, it was going to be a Penthouse, because dammit if those letters didn’t do something for me! There were two magazines in the house that had stories in them, and I don’t know how many times I read them. Strangers fucking on a beach during a summer vacation, a young man picked up by a woman only to discover that her husband liked to watch from the closet and a road trip that ended with a beautiful hitchhiker getting fucked in the backseat of a truck.

I read them over and over again because while the pictures were enticing, the images in my mind were something else. Because when that husband came out of the closet to watch his wife have sex, the story was only beginning! I read it with my cock in my hand, and I’ll never forget my shocked delight when our hero knelt on the floor by the bed and learned how to suck the husband’s cock like a pro! It was a Penthouse, a magazine for straight men, and yet there he was, on the floor with a big dick in his mouth as he struggled not to choke.

And if they could put that in a Penthouse then where else could it appear? What else had I misunderstood about what was allowed and what was not? It was easy to look at the pictures of the pretty women and the nude models, but the men were something else. And if I was lucky enough to find a magazine with not just a man in it, but a hard cock as well, then my year had been made. Because in those days, men were rare in straight printed smut unless you read the words.
But the more I searched, the more I found them! Hidden in the middle, between articles, nearly every single men’s magazine had a letter about a man discovering a new side to his sexuality. Maybe he was “forced” into it for plausible deniability, but sometimes he jumped into it gleefully, as if to tell me that nothing was as it seemed.

No one is as straight as they look.

And the books were even better because in books anything could happen and often did. There were a few books in particular that worked in the same way, and I vividly remember the scene in Eric Van Lustbader’s classic novel The Ninja about two women in a bathtub fucking a pistol which turned out to be a shower attachment. But lo and behold, there are a man and a boy (can I possibly remember that right?) who fuck as well because nothing was off limits to Mr. Lustbader. I think there was a rape scene and possibly a sexy murder, all of which I slotted into my mind’s rotation or horrible jerk-off material.

Clan of the Cave Bear had a scene which got dog-eared as well as Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose because those were some graphic sex scenes. A girlfriend in high school revealed the secrets of Anne Rice, and at some point, I discovered hidden among my brother’s comic books the filthy ones whose names now escape me. And I’m sure there were others, although those are the only ones I remember this morning.

It would be easy now to jump forward to Literotica, but there’s a middle that’s even harder to ignore.
Because before that, there’s Innocence.

At that point, I had only recently come out. My senior year of high school I wore a skirt to school one day, which prompted a whole lot of questions from other boys and cemented my reputation as the gayest kid in school. We had one gay teacher who was barely out, and he was as close to a community as I had. Because when it came to the students, I was it.

But once I found my way to college, I discovered at least a few other queer men, which meant that thankfully I was no longer the expert. I attended a meeting of the alphabet soup committee and helped organize the Midwestern Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual College Conference which brought in a hundred queers to our tiny college in Indiana. And one night, I found myself in bed with two men, trying desperately to navigate my desire for one and my fear of the other.

As a newly minted bisexual, I had work to do, and since I only knew those two other gay men and they identified as full-on gay, I was still somewhat adrift. It was better than high school, but the pickings were slim, the community complicated, and room to explore negligible. Because let’s face it, all of us were awkward and confused, and that didn’t make anything easier.

There was one place, however, where I might have better luck. It was new, and it was confusing, but I heard enough rumors to believe something was out there. It wasn’t just a place to form community either; it was a place where stories were told, and sexuality was explored. And I was going to find it no matter how complicated and confusing this new-fangled Internet thingy was.

My first foray online came from an old friend of mine who shared the log-in to a bulletin board system out of the University of Chicago. I had to dial in via Telnet or some other technology I only understood well enough to make my way into the text-based heaven of chat rooms. And there, one afternoon, hidden deep in the basement of the school’s library, sitting in an imaginary hot tub in what was called the Bisexual Cafe, I met Innocence.

I found my way there through dumb luck and sheer force of will, and once I had arrived, I learned how to chat, how to use the basic commands, and how to interact with other perverts halfway around the world. Innocence was the handle of a girl in England who had also managed to Telnet into to the BBS and make her way through the ether to the Bisexual Cafe where she too climbed naked into a “hot tub” to chat with strangers. And my god was she enticing! I pictured her in my mind’s eye that very first day I logged on, and we talked for an hour as I fantasized about all the imaginary sex we would soon be having.

We flirted, her and the others as well, and in that one afternoon, I joined a small community of queer and questioning people desperate to find others like them. When I finally logged off, I felt alive and afraid. I had discovered something new, something foreign, and yet something that I was sure was unstoppable. It was just a taste of the future, a hint at how the world might be, but in my heart, I knew everything was about to change.

I just didn’t realize how quickly.

The next day I found my way back to the computer lab, worked out how to gain access to the BBS once more, navigated my way through the text-based interface, and then once again landed in the Bisexual Cafe, sitting in the hot tub. Which is where I heard the news.

“Hey, where’s Innocence?” I asked someone. There was silence on the board for a few moments until someone sent me a private message.

“Sorry, didn’t you hear? Innocence was hit by a car in London last night and was killed. Sorry to have to tell you.”

And my god, if right then, hidden in the basement with a broken heart, I didn’t realize the truth of it all. I had found the internet. I had discovered a brave new world that would soon change everything. And at that moment, after my initial discovery, right then as it all began, Innocence died.

What a fucked up metaphor, I thought to myself. What a completely messed up, disturbing, and in your face lesson to learn. And my god the poor girl! She was a teenager, maybe a year younger than me, and just as she too found her way into the new digital closet, her life was snatched away seemingly so that I could be hit over the head with a message from the future.

The internet is here. The world is changing. And Innocence is dead.

The Exact Right Word: National Coming Out Day and Chosen Identities

For #nationalcomingoutday, here are some words I use to describe myself and some identities that I have actively cultivated:

white
butch
queer
writer
survivor
genderqueer
masculine of center
poet
teacher
bookworm
introvert
HSP
hedonist
working artist
social activist
able bodied
Pacific Northwestern American
Daddy
Master
cock-centric
college educated
2nd generation woo
Buddhist
foodie

For a while, I kept a list of words in the back of my journal, making a note to myself anytime I heard myself say, “I’m a _____.” I would write it down and think about it, pondering if I really am that thing or if it was a passing moment of identifying as such. Some of the words that came out of that are survivor, introvert, and hedonist, as well as the more often-used social justice ones, like butch and queer and dyke and gendequeer.

There are some other words—like lesbian, dyke, and trans—that are almost the right word, and which I sometimes use and sometimes identify with, but that aren’t always precisely right.

There are a few more that are complex and I hesitate to list, like yogi and tantrika, because while I do practice yoga and tantra, I haven’t quite been able to reconcile the cultural appropriation that surrounds me with those activities enough to be comfortable to use the identity labels to refer to myself. (So for now, I go with 2nd generation woo.)

There are a few more that I aspire to, but don’t quite have yet … like gardener and runner, which are identities in progress but not quite integrated. I do have a garden (finally!!), but I frequently forget about it. And I did run two 5k races in the past two years (hurrah!) but again, that habit doesn’t feel consistent, and isn’t quite an identity yet, just an occasional burst of interest.

And what’s the word for someone who tends to be depressed, or who struggles with depression? I don’t quite want to say neurodivergent or depressive, those seem too intense. Something a little more mild that says that I tend toward internalizing emotions rather than externalizing, and tend toward feeling down rather than feeling up (anxious). Or maybe this is a case where I have to reclaim a word, or use something that seems overly harsh and is misunderstood (like depressive).

There’s a lot to think about on National Coming Out Day … I’m particularly interested in identities, and what we call ourselves, and how we claim our power in these words and communities, but I also recognize that for many people, being associated with the identities that have marginalized them feels an awful lot like being marginalized all over again.

I believe that we should find the precise right words that are big enough to contain all the multitudes of us, and not sacrifice our selves to fit into labels which constrict. I believe the identity should conform to us, that we shouldn’t conform to it. And I believe that labels and identities and words that describe ourselves should always be the starting place, not the ending place, of the conversation—a place of opportunity to know more and ask questions and listen, not a place to fill in our own assumptions and determine the truths of others.

I’ll leave you of the Mark Twain quote: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning-bug.”

What identities do you claim? What words do you use to define yourself?

Review: Roving Pack by Sassafras Lowrey

I feel so lucky to know a lot of artists, to consider myself part of the larger community of queers who live brazenly and create art out of our heartbreak, growth, struggles, and lessons. Roving Pack, Sassafras Lowrey’s first full-length novel, is a beautiful, fun, and poignant read, and it makes me excited to be part of these queer artist communities.

Roving Pack follows Click, a homeless teenage genderqueer creature struggling with hir relationships with family of origin in addition to hir crushes and relationships with butches and trans guys who are lovers and Daddies and friends. Set in the punk underbelly of Portland, Oregon, in the 1990s, the book is an honest look at the queer youth center, navigating housing as a homeless youth, squats, testosterone injections, straightedge politics, D/s, and a deep love of dogs.

I read it quickly, devoured it really. I came out as queer in the late 1990s in Seattle, and came to a queer identity in a very similar culture. Though I was a bit older and not homeless, the tone and characters and place really resonated with me.

Order it online at rovingpack.com, and read more excerpts and thoughts about the book over there.

A Dozen Years

Murder, or regret.

That’s how the majority of pop culture refers to abortion. I have noticed this distinct lack of range depiction, not just because I was a women studies major for whom reproductive justice was a constant teaching and learning, but also because I had an abortion in the year 2000.

I was twenty. Unlike what Ani sang, mine wasn’t a “relatively easy tragedy,” it was just relatively easy.

I worked at Microsoft at the time, and my insurance covered it. I made the appointment from the phone in our lobby, which was the most private space, filled with large indoor house plants someone would come around and water twice a week. Plants so generic in an office building that they become wallpaper after the daily/yearly commute.

I remember I had to buzz into the clinic and identify myself. I remember that they wouldn’t allow anyone in the room for the procedure. That the partner (the guy) in the waiting room may be coercive, and as such the women who came in for such procedures were asked the same questions in and out of their escort’s presence. I remember the room was the same as a room for pelvic exams, with the same landscape poster on the ceiling, but for the machine they wheeled in on a cart. I remember it didn’t hurt much, just a click click whirr and then over. I remember I bled for days, but the bleeding was such a relief.

I had been full for weeks. Never so aware of my uterus. I mean, think about it: can you feel your organs? My college girlfriend could feel her kidneys, because she had a kidney infection that put her in the emergency room, and she probably still can. I can still feel my uterus, still remember that rubber ball-sized solid object lodged in my pelvis that showed up without my asking, without my request.

I was trying to leave him at the time, my ex boyfriend. We’d been together five years. I was trying to leave him because I was queer and that was easier than to leave him because he was abusive. Mostly he was abusive because he suspected I was queer, which I’d told him was true since we met on the internet when I was 14 and my interest in ladies was a turn-on, but five years later was a threat.

I wrote a poem about this abortion, a heavy-handed lyrical thing that I won’t share because it’s bad writing, though not because I disagree with anything I wrote. The one line I remember, without looking it up, is “this is how sure I had to be in order to be the me I was meeting in dreams.” Getting pregnant meant I needed to be that much more sure that I was queer. This is how hard it’ll be, the universe told me, to stop being heterosexual. You can have this partner and this baby, if you want it. Are you sure?

Yes. I was that sure.

The cells they removed from me were more an infection than a child, more an unwanted mutation than a new life. It was not murder and I do not regret it. It was a decision that took me on a path here, and musing about the idea that I could have a twelve year old right now is as useful or relevant to my life as musing where I’d be if I’d married my first girlfriend or gotten into a different college or not quit that job.

I make a thousand decisions daily and they have brought me here, where most days I am wildly happy in my queer, kinky, working artist, open, exploratory life.

Protected: Coming Out

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Friday Reads: Dear John, I Love Jane

Seal Press recently released a much needed addition to queer identity narratives in the anthology Dear John, I Love Jane: Women Write About Leaving Men for Women edited by Candace Walsh and Laura Andre.

What do you think of when you think about a coming out story? Typically in this culture, the main character of a coming out narrative tends to be a teenager, either pre-teen or late teens, someone who either has always been a bit different or is suddenly hit with the sexual revelation that they might be gay. Despite that coming out as a teenager seems, to me, to be actually a somewhat recent phenomenon, and that people coming out even ten or fifteen years ago were more likely to be college-age rather than high school age, which I would largely attribute to the rise of the Internet and the vast amount of information easily accessible by just typing “gay” into a search engine or, at this point, speaking one word into a search program on a smart phone, there is still a significant lack of literature available about people who come out later in life. Though the coming out process continues to happen younger and younger, the dominant stories are still about people in their tumultuous twenties, which is frequently when we formulate and articulate our adult sexual identities, often for the first time.

But what about someone coming out in their late thirties, forties, fifties? What about someone who has spent most of their life heterosexual, married and raising kids? Often, these stories are not reflected in queer literature and culture. We tend to value and legitimize the folks who express that we “always knew” that something was off about us, queer identities that started giving hints in childhood and were full-on signs by our adolescences.

Which is why this anthology is a much needed addition to the body of work on queer identity; we have so few stories about what it’s like to form these identities later in life. In this book, “later in life” is defined quite broadly, as some of the participants are still quite young and have, in my mind, had fairly typical coming out experiences.

While I was reading through these essays, I felt that it was important to keep in mind that they are personal reflections about the authors’ own experiences, and while there is great value in telling those stories, and this book is beginning to fill a neglected gap, they are not necessarily radical or particularly theoretical, and in fact perpetuate many stereotypes about lesbianism and gender in particular. In fact, the consistent commentary on gendered lesbian stereotypes in so many of the essays made me wonder if those stereotypes were a reflection upon the editors’ beliefs. Perhaps the reader was meant to assume that these were former stereotypes that the narrators held, and that their understandings have deepened and become more complex, but none of the essays directly addressed the vast inaccurate outsider observations toward the lesbian communities and none of the essays directly took on any sort of understanding of how complex gender identity and expression is in the queer and lesbian worlds.

I know that a complex understanding of gender is a lot to expect, and that I am particularly critical of representations of gender that are heteronormative and perpetuating stereotypes, but I was disappointed in the consistent portrayal throughout this book. I do think it is an important to add to the dominant paradigm of coming out and coming to queer identities, and certainly it gives a solid base on which others can now build. But I am cautious in recommending it, since I think it perpetuates more stereotypes than it challenges.

Ask Me Anything: Coming Out at Work

From the Ask Me Anything questions from Sugarbutch’s 4th anniversary:

I’m completely femme and work in a very straight environment. A few of my co-workers know that I’m gay, but I haven’t come out to all of them, and I’ve been at this work place for a year. I don’t usually hide my sexuality, but it’s been extremely hard for me to relax at this workplace. I hate that, and my partner is somewhat hurt that I haven’t been open about it and talked about her. I want to be able to do so, and I want to be strong in myself and come out with it. Any ideas on how to do it? The longer I wait the more awkward it is.—Tuesday, from tuesdayateleven.blogspot.com

It’s been months since you wrote this, so this might be an outdated question at this point—have you changed things? Did you start slipping your partner into conversation more frequently? Did you out-right come out? Did you let it leak to the office gossip?

Telling your co-workers things about your personal life can be tricky, especially since you’ve already been there for a year and you still haven’t said anything, because now, when the reveal happens, it will seem out of place. So how do you start bridging this gap between yourself and your co-workers, such that you can reveal more personal things? Maybe it’s time to have a happy hour after work, or host a weekend event, if you’re comfortable doing those things. Maybe it’s time to invite someone out to lunch and open up a little about your lives.

You don’t have to start with, “By the way, I’m gay,” you might want to start with the more impersonal. In The Art of Civilized Conversation, Margaret Shepherd says that conversations start with facts, then to opinions, then on to feelings. There are a lot of facts you can gather about each other that I bet you don’t have, if you’ve avoided any discussion of your partner so far. Where do you live? Where did you go to school? Where did you grow up? What’s your family like? Why did you move to where you are now? What do you do in your spare time, what are your hobbies?

I think it’s also in that book that she says the way people deepen with each other is to start revealing little things about themselves in the conversation, and then guaging the reaction of the other to see if it’s safe to continue revealing.

My mom always used to say, “Find common ground, then elevate the discussion.” See if finding some common ground about other topics makes you feel more comfortable talking about more personal things. Ask questions of them, too—as you find out more about them, you might feel more safe revealing things about yourself.

I kind of hate to say this, so I’ll tack it on at the end here, but it also could be that you are dealing with a little bit of internalized sexism, and some complicated feelings about your own femme in/visibility. I don’t know you, so this could be happening a teeny tiny bit or a ton or not at all, but I figured it’s worth throwing out there because I spent the last few paragraphs on one direction, but it might not have anything to do with that. You might be a very open, revealing person in the workplace, but have this particular snag when it comes to your own sexual orientation visibility. That’s a complicated thing to work with, as a femme who can, if she chooses, “pass” for a straight girl in the larger hetero world. There are many ways that femmes construct identity which are not strictly through visual markers, however, and articulating that identity—namely through speech and communication—is a big one. It might be a hurdle to examine and investigate in yourself a little more.

What say you all? Do you have more advice for this person in coming out at work? Are you out at work?

“I feel kind of … honored.”

All the episodes of the 1994 short-lived one-season series My So-Called Life are on Hulu.com, and I spent the last few weeks watching through them in my down time. I’m the same age as Angela Chase (and nine days older than Claire Danes) and now that I’ve watched it again I remember the show vividly. I wasn’t sure I’d remember it, but it turns out there are some episodes I can practically recite by heart. Like Pressure and all those scenes in the boiler room? “The whole world is separated into kissing … and not kissing … kissing … and not kissing.” “My lips feel used, but, like, in a good way.”

I miss these characters now that I watched through the 19 episodes. I have lots to say about the parental relationship, Graham’s masculinity, the character arcs and some of the slightly more experimental attempts at episodes, the infamous lean by Jordan Catalano (“you’re so beautiful, it hurts to look at you”), Jordan’s masculinity … oh there’s so much.

But what I want to write on here, real quick, is Ricky, and his finale.

If you haven’t seen it, revealing that Ricky is gay is not giving anything away. You’ll know from the first episode. The other characters know, too, but they never say it directly. Sometimes they say Ricky likes boys, sometimes Ricky confesses a crush, but he never comes right out and says it. There’s some talk of Ricky being put up at Pride House after he is kicked out of his house (presumably because of his sexuality) by his aunt and uncle, who raised him. But he never comes out and says it.

Until the very last episode, in this exchange with Delia, a straight girl. Earlier in the episode, it goes through the grapevine that Delia has a crush on Ricky, eventually getting back to him. He says (I’m paraphrasing), what if this is my chance? What if this is my chance to be normal? What if this is my chance to have a normal life? And he decides to ask her out.

The embedded video is below. I couldn’t get a clip of just the one part, sorry. I do urge you to watch the series from the beginning – if you watch this whole clip it’ll give some things away! This is the last episode, after all.

This clip starts at 34:58.

Ricky: Delia? Um, maybe we should um, go somewhere sometime.
Delia: Okay.
Ricky: You know like, to a movie, or something.
Delia: I’d like that.
Ricky: Because um, I really think we’d be … good together.
Delia: Okay … but, you’re gay, right?
Ricky: Well, you know, I …
Delia: Oh I’m sorry!
Ricky: No, it’s okay.
Delia: That came out so rude.
Ricky: I try not to um … I don’t like uh … yeah, I’m gay. I just don’t usually say it like that.
Delia: How do you usually say it?
Ricky: I don’t usually say it. I’ve actually never said it, out loud.
Delia: Wow. I feel kind of honored.

I’m pretty sure I actually teared up and said awwwwww! to my computer screen, because, come on, that is such an awesome way to have dealt with this moment. Ricky struggles so much with fitting in, with feeling like he belongs, with finding somewhere that he’s accepted, and his struggles just kept breaking my heart over and over. And I just love how this was done. So much acceptance, so much care.

Is it too late to start a “Bring Back My So-Called Life” internet campaign? I mean it’s possible, with the power of social networking these days! They made a movie after Firefly!

Queer Books Saved My Life

I have a new piece on Carnal Nation called Queer Books Saved My Life. An excerpt:

I have always been a reader. I don’t remember learning to read: I was three, my mother says Sesame Street taught me. Books have always been my go-to when I don’t understand something. Even now, in this digital age, though I do utilize Google faster than you can say “you should Google that,” my second go-to is nypl.org/books and finding a title to put on hold, to pick up at my nearby Mid-Manhattan library.

I don’t remember a time when that wasn’t my answer to any given question plaguing me.

Before I was out, and before I was an “adult” with one of those “real” jobs, I worked in independent bookstores. My specialty and sections were always social sciences. When the shelving had been done, when the desks were tidy and the isles were mostly empty of customers, I would sneak into the slightly secluded corner with psychology, eastern religion, relationships, sex, and gay & lesbian studies, and pull the queer books off the shelves.

Read the piece in its entirety over at Carnal Nation.

The piece is basically the story of my coming to a queer identity, and the ways that books influenced that process. During that time I was living in Fort Collins, Colorado, working at an independent bookstore, and with my high school boyfriend of four years. We split after we both moved to Seattle and I left him, and came out. Meanwhile, I bought the biggest bookshelf I could afford and read everything I could on queer culture and lesbian fiction, and finally felt like I fit in, like I belonged, like I made sense.

I’ll be writing a column for Carnal Nation monthly in the future on Radical Masculinity, which I’m really excited about! If you’ve got topic suggestions or comments, I’m compiling my first few in the next few weeks, please let me know.

On Matthew Shepard, and Not Getting Eaten Alive

On October 6th, 1998, Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence in Laramie, Wyoming, beaten, and left for dead – because he was gay. He was taken to a nearby trauma hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, and died on October 12th.

I lived in Fort Collins at the time. I was not out, I was living with my high school boyfriend of five years. Nobody I knew was talking about it, aside from the brief acknowledgment in order to look away. There were protesters at the hospital. The Denver newspaper announced that he had died before he actually died.

I remember crying. I remember being so confused as to how this could’ve happened. I remember being terrified to come out in that environment, so I stayed in the closet for two more years.

Years later, after I was living in Seattle and came out and was building an amazing queer community, I saw Matthew’s mom Judy Shepard speak at my college. I’m paraphrasing here, but I remember a few things she said so deeply: “I’m just a mom,” she said. “I’m not an activist, I’m not a historian, I’m just a mom of a really great kid who died because he was gay. People ask me all the time, what can I do, and I always tell them: Come out. Come out everywhere, all the time. People discriminate because they don’t think they know any gay people. They don’t know that the guy they go bowling with is gay, that their office neighbor is gay, that their dry cleaner is gay. They think gay happens “over there” in big coastal cities. Until everyone starts realizing that gay people are just like them, discrimination will keep happening.”

I tell that to people a lot, especially baby dykes (or baby fags or baby queers) who are struggling with coming out. It’s our number one place of activism: to be who we are. To let the soft animal of our bodies love what it loves. It is not easy for any of us, but for some more than others, as there are still very real consequences to coming out and being out, not just with our families and parents (especially) but in our daily lives.

I was searching for some Judy Shepard direct quotes and came across this article from 2001, which relays more of the thoughts I’m trying to articulate:

Matthew came out to her at the age of 18, three years before he died. He decided in his own time and space when to tell his parents about his feelings on his sexuality and how that was important to him. After explaining how she and her husband dealt with Matthew’s coming out, Judy believes that “Your goal in life is to be the best and happiest you can be. Be who you are. Share who you are with the rest of the world.” Come out. Come out to yourself. Come out to your family. Come out to your friends. Be who you are and don’t hide in the closet of fear. Take pride in who you are through and through. […] In closing, Judy illustrated her thoughts that if the corporate world of gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals would come out and be true to themselves, their lives, and the world we live in would be a better place. Maybe Matthew would still be here today. ‘It’s fear and ignorance that killed Matthew. If fear is shed, the violence will go with it.’ Acceptance of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals would not allow fear and ignorance to exist as hate.
Erie Gay News report on Judy Shepard at Mercyhurst April 3 2001.

Years after I left Colorado, when I was in Seattle and studying writing, especially formal poetic forms, I wrote an acrostic poem about Shepard. The acrostic is a form you’ve probably played with as a kid, at least – you take a word and make each letter in the word the first letter of the line of the poem. In this case, the assignment was to write an acrostic about a place, capturing both the essence of the geographical space and an event that occurred there. The title is a reference to the date he was attacked.

    MATTHEW 10:6 (Acrostic)

    Framed in thick oak trees, equidistant, streets
    Open to fields marching toward undisturbed horizons
    Regulation-height lawns burn with summer’s oppression
    Tearing boys from youth, from breath. Behind

    Cinnamon foothills, anger and ignorance sprinkle
    Obstructions in the north winds. An easy tragedy
    Laughs. Tail lights disappear, tangled in this inevitable
    Last night – train whistles whisper, keeping company
    Infused with ghosts. Plucked from a fence,
    No one blinks – hospital doors swing shut.
    Shepard boy releases. The world watches the moon set.