After the wedding

Gone this weekend at a (straight) friend’s wedding in Seattle. Worked it as designated (lesbo) photographer. News flash (a): one (straight) man drew my rarely unleashed butch wrath. Okay, alls it was was I had to wrest the wine opener back outta his hands after he offered to “help” me uncork a bottle of wine. You’d think my dapper tie might have inspired him to consult the “Things I Would & Would Not Do or Say If This Were a Guy” playbook. Ah well.

On the upside, news flash (b): every (old school, bio-male) dad I talked to was totally intrigued about our commonalities as non-birth parents. They found it fascinating to discover that many of the things defining their early experiences of parenthood weren’t due the limitations that biological maleness might place on their capacity to bond or nurture, so much as to the unique role of s/he who does not carry or bear the child, and then s/he who does not have the milk.

And why wouldn’t they presume that much of what distinguishes their parenthoods from that of their wives are simply those things that distinguish men from women? What’s to compare to? I would imagine most straight male fathers don’t know many lesbian moms, and few if any, know lesbo moms who think of themselves more like lesbian dads. Soon enough, they will. And at that point, I suspect they–and we all–will start to look at fatherhood in a new light.

Are you a boy?

Our dear friends with the skirt-wearing, evening-glove bedecked, female pronoun-using son are staying over this week, before they return home to Israel, whence they came eight years ago for grad school. Though none of us in the household (counting seven of us, in our extended state) is a gender-bending boy, I at least am some kind of a gender bending girl, which Amit picked up on at dinner the other night.

“Are you a boy?” he asked me, out of the blue.

“Good question!” I said, thrilled that I might keep him company, if for a moment, along his brave journey deep into the nether space between the sex of the body and the gender of the spirit. “I’m a little bit of both.”

For a second I thought that might be confusing, or ambiguous. Which of course it can be. But seemingly mostly if you’re a grown-up.

“On the inside, you’re a boy,” he flatly declared.

“Yep, pretty much,” I smiled back.

He concluded, “In your heart you’re a boy, but on your chest, you’re a girl.”

My sweetie and I met eyes with his mother, and we all noted wordlessly to one another his stupefying eloquence. All I could reply was, “I couldn’t have put it better myself.”

Then back he went to his pasta.

Days of womanness

Estrogen hormone, courtesy

Day of womanness, part one: My plumbing, Myself. About a week ago I had a stout reminder of my biologically female selfhood, lest I think my ‘twixt genders state gets me off any essentially biological hooks: the one-two punch of (1) an external & internal ultrasound to check on the progress of some naughty little ovarian cyst, and (2) an overdue mammogram to confirm the absence of any naughty little breast-bound irregularities. I am woman, hear me disrobe into one of those impossible little paper gowns.

Every aspect of my female plumbing was plumbed. I have asked men friends whether the prostate checks are anything like what we get for mammograms, with that enormous piece of machinery clamping down on the breast, squish-squish-squishing like some arch fiend’s terror-room would squish our heroes in a Batman episode, and you have to trust that the lady operating the thing is going to get it to stop before it squishes the breast into a vertical or horizontal pancake. My bro-in-law contends that the prostate exam is nothing near so scary (the male member in one of those squish-o-matics?! no freakin’ way would anyone submit to the dang test! except ex-Robert Mapplethorpe models!). He did note, however, that for some men the thought of a stranger’s finger up the an*s is as scary or scarier than the thought of their member in a maniacal squish-o-matic. Particularly if there’s anything remotely enjoyable about the sensation. I leave it to you, dear reader, to ponder.

Meanwhile, back to the mammogram. The one concession about it for me was that first generation immigrant Russian ladies were administering the whole business. They have a lock on the medical gigs in that part of town (like lesbos have a lock, Bay Area-wide, on UPS). The lady at the desk asked me, as I was filling out the paperwork, “If, by the chance, you have changed addresses.” I wish’t she would have asked me more things and said more things, so I could file away more priceless phrases for my Bad Taste Imitation Foreign Accent file. No such luck. But “If by the chance” is lovingly tucked away for future use.

Day of womanness, part two: In walks Big Daddy. J and I went in for a neucal translucency test, part of the whole rigmarole for women who are pregnant in their late thirties (which J just barely is–in her late thirties, that is; she’s more than pregnant). We were on edge since at the first of the three previous visits we’d made there, we had discovered that the fetus J was carrying was unviable, the oddly euphemistic way of saying it was no longer alive, though there it still was. That news itself was—I falter at the word devastating, but it was extremely, extremely, extremely hard. And the experience was made measurably harder by the undisguised homophobia of the technician who did the first reading. When we subsequently went in for tests relating to our first child, we set our teeth and requested any technician but her.

So the other day, with kid #2 cooking away in J, we sat down in the perinatal clinic’s waiting room, the only two-gal couple there. Otherwise the folks in the room were descriptive of the community the clinic served. Two hetero Latino couples; one hetero interracial couple (gal Filipina, guy Anglo); one white hetero couple, but the guy’s hair was in a pony tail. Then in walks a sister, very short natural, dyed blond. Soon thereafter come two of her chums, who are teasing her ruthlessly about various possible names for the kid (“Stop that right now. I can’t even pronounce that,” etc.). There I was, smiling internally at the current cohort of East Bay pregnancy, when in walks the pregnant gal’s sweetie. Swaggering, confident, Raiders t-shirt-wearing, one hundred percent bulldagger.

“Jist shows to go ya,” I lean over and say in my beloved’s ear, as I ease my hand farther over onto her shoulder, newly emboldened by Big Daddy’s presence. “Gotta love Oakland,” she responds.

There I’d been, wanting to comfort my beloved and me both, my hand on her knee, irritated that this simple gesture would issue from any one of the hetero partners in the room without a thought to the discomfort/ disapproval it might inspire in onlookers. I was assuming that no-eye contact offensive-defensive attitude, in case anyone thought about giving us a look. Thinking to myself: this is one of the countless moments that do indeed irrevocably divide our parenthood from straight people’s parenthood. Then in walks Big Daddy, prow of the gender-busting ship. Bless Oakland; bless you, ma’m. Sir. Whichever you like.

Saint Joan

Joan of Arc Kissing the Sword of Deliverance, by Dante Gabriel Rosetti (1863)

En route to the opera the other night, I saw a car whose bumper sticker read “Question Gender.” It was doubly apropos, since at that moment the beloved and I were, in our own car, talking with two friends about their son, now five years old, who questions gender daily: he has for years identified as either a girl, or as a boy who’d rather be a girl, preferring to wear girls’ clothes and asking to be addressed by a girl’s name both at home and at school. And, as it happened, we four were off to see Tchaikovsky’s rarely-produced The Maid of Orleans, a.k.a. Jeanne D’Arc, the only opera in the Western canon celebrating a sword-brandishing, dauphin-saving, cross-dressing farm gal.

I was looking forward to seeing this she-ro glorified on stage, knowing no more than the basic historic plot-line and the one well-known aria from the opera. Imagine my surprise when, after the half-time, the plot of the opera takes a severe southerly turn and Joan falls for the turncoat Duke of Burgundy. “The Duke of Burgundy?!” you ask, in horror, as you lunge to your keyboard to Google “Joan of Arc.” To which I must answer, Yes. It is he. In Tchaikovsky’s opera (for which, quite unfortunately, Tchaikovsky broke tradition and actually wrote the libretto as well) Joan falls for the Duke, on sight, on the battlefield, and she just can’t bring herself to behead him, as she knows she should. (Initially I thought she was just having a fit of pacifism and had suspended my condemnation, but no; the plot moves inexorably toward unrequitable love and away from unvanquishable heroism.)

Spoiler warning: I will now give away how the opera ends. Joan dies, burned at the stake—ah, but you knew that. What you didn’t know (unless you know the Tchaikovsky opera) is that she dies NOT for refusing to renounce that she received her marching orders directly from God his/her bad self, nor was it for refusing to take off the men’s duds she’d been sporting, the better to do God’s will out and about on the battlefiled (and, notes the scholarship[opens PDF], the better to foil sexual assault both there and in the English prison in which she lived out her last year). No, she burns to death for being unwilling to deny she’s unpure, and we are very clearly given to believe it’s her love of Burgundy, and we’re not talking the wine here, that impurifies her. I spent the last act with my mouth agape.

The aestheticized burning death of St. Joan at the end (marked by a quantity of stage smoke better suited to a Broadway production), felt particularly abominable, given what this historical figure actually died for. It couldn’t help but evoke for me the medival burning executions of tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of accused witches, whose real crimes, alongside paganism, holistic healing, and irritating their neighbors, most certainly included revolutionary gender role insurgency.

It also made me think back to our friends’ son, and the consequences people have paid for transgressing gendered boundaries. I wondered what he’ll have in store for him (it matters not whither he goes with his gender), nearly seven centuries after Joan swung a broadswoard. We have a fairly rich palette of resources with which to understand and support kids like him, including, god love ‘em, a Wikikpedia entry on “genderqueer.” Still, it is heterodoxical at the least, heretical at the most, to disentangle the biological sex you’re born with from the male/female gender roles conventionally assigned to that sex. And my hunch is it’s a bigger deal adbicating male privilege, going M>F, than it is hijacking it, going F>M. But I only have my experience as a gentle-manly lesbo to go by. Brandon Teena would have a lot more to say on the matter than me, as would Gwen Araujo. They speak volumes, posthumously, and I have to believe their deaths, like Joan’s, will change the lives of those to follow.

To all of us, in the here & now and in the hereafter, I sez Go it, sister, and let the devil take the hindmost.