Leviticus

“Mommy, why are they giving that boy by a bath? I want to go home!”

Just when I think Church is over, they start talking again. I want to change out of these uncomfortable clothes and eat lunch already!

“It’s not a bath, puddin, it’s called a Baptism. They wash away bad deeds so you can go to Heaven. It’ll be over soon.”

She strokes my hair as I lie across her lap, smelling her Mommy Smell and clutching my drawings of the grownups who talked during church.

“Have I had a baptism, Mommy?”

“No, baby. You’re not old enough. When you’re 12 or older you can decide if that’s what you want for yourself.”

“But if I’m not Baptized, how will I go to Heaven?”

She shushes me and whispers, “It’s okay. God doesn’t expect you to be all grown-up right away. And even if never get Baptized you can still go to Heaven. You don’t have to be a Christian to go to Heaven.”

That sounds okay, and before I know it we’re back in the car and going home to play!

My room is in the middle of the house so I can go anywhere I want through the two doors on either side. My Nintendo and The Computer are in the Den, but the TV and Table are in the Living Room. Mommy and Daddy’s Room are just past the Den to the right, and Cloud’s room is to the left. The Kitchen and Front Door are through the Living Room to the right, and the Backyard is out through the Living Room to the left. So I can go anywhere I need to without being too loud or waking up Daddy.

Daddy gets really angry if I accidentally wake him up. Or Cloud. But I’m a really good big brother, so that almost never happens. Even if he forgets to feed us when Mommy is at school, I can still climb on a chair in the Kitchen and make us Peanut Butter Toast.

But since Mommy is home, we have Spaghetti. I love spaghetti, but only when it’s naked. With salt. I don’t like vegetables. They make my mouth feel icky. Everyone says I need to eat them to grow up big and strong like Daddy, but I don’t want to be like Daddy. I want to be like Mommy.

My room doesn’t have real doors though, so when it’s bedtime I can still hear whatever Mommy and Daddy are watching and listen, like one of Papa’s old radio shows he likes. My favorite show is called Taxi, and it’s about people who drive taxis in New York, where Mommy and Aunt Bobby and Papa and Grandma Kowski came from, before they were gypsies.

That’s why Cloud’s bed is a big blue bus, just like Grandma and Papa Kowski’s house. It has a table that turns into a bed, and Papa built a porch and even a whole other-one-house that we get to stay in when Mommy and Daddy and Cloud and I come to visit. But I like the bus. Mommy says living out of a bus wasn’t very fun, but I think it would be the best house because then you could go anywhere and always be home.

I dream I’m floating in a bubble, floating even higher than Daddy’s plane can fly, and looking all the way down at the whole world that looks like ants crawling along my feet. But then the bubble goes up over the clouds and all I see is a mean looking monster.

It almost looks like an elephant or a hippo, but it has three sets of arms and legs like a person. It’s sitting criss-crossed and wearing a pretty blue robe with lots of silver jewelry but all of its eyes and hands and only a trunk without a mouth look really scary.

“God?” I ask. But it can’t hear me through my bubble.

It looks down at me with all of those eyes and then stretches out one of its sixty fingers and then —pops— my bubble.

Now I’m falling past the clouds and can see the ground coming right up to me as the monster laughs at me. I close my eyes tight because I’m scared and I don’t want to die but then the wind stops. And I feel the ground underneath me. So I open my eyes again.

Now my whole room is on fire! All the paintings of Winnie the Pooh and Raggedy Anne are melting and I worry about who will rescue Cloud, because only Papa knows how to fight fires but he’s hours and hours away from our house.

Then I see an even bigger monster, covered in fire, crashing through Mommy and Daddy’s Room and I scream. I run for the door for the Living Room so I can get out of the house, because Papa says that’s always what you have to do in a fire, but now I’m in a room like in Indiana Jones and I can’t find the door anymore. The walls just keep moving closer and closer and I close my eyes and just keep screaming and screaming and screaming.

Then Mommy and Daddy are there. They pick me up off the floor and there’s no fire or monsters anymore. But I know it was real! I even tried to do what I was supposed to do but I still got trapped and so now I can’t stop crying because I don’t know if the monster is still around the corner, about to eat us all. Or if the fire just isn’t big enough yet but maybe it could be soon and then we could all die.

“Baby baby baby, it’s okay, you just had a bad dream.”

I’m so scared I can’t even talk.

“No! I—I couldn’t—I couldn’t breathe—I couldn’t get out—the fire! And then the walls kept closing in and I couldn’t save you or Cloud or even get out!”

And then Mommy and Daddy laugh. And that only makes me cry harder because now I feel stupid.

“You’re okay, Puddin. You must have just walked into the closet by mistake,” Mommy kisses my cheek while Daddy holds me.

“No!”

“Daddy used to be claustrophobic too when he was your age, didn’t you Daddy?” She strokes my hair out of my face and wipes my eyes and nose with her hand.

“That’s right, son. Sometimes I’m still scared of small spaces,” he gives me a kiss.

When I calm down they lay me in my bed and then I hear the funny mechanic from Taxi say, “Thank You Very Much” in his silly voice, and it actually feels like it’s going to be okay.

I hold onto Boy, my baby doll, extra tight so he won’t be scared either. But I still keep seeing those two monsters. The elephant and the fire. I know Mommy says it’s just a dream, but I know they were really God and Satan.

What scares me is that God sent me to Hell, but even more than that I’m scared that maybe Satan just needed to get out of the fire too. Maybe he was just crashing through the walls because he didn’t know how to get out either.

But if God sent me to Hell in a dream, how do I know I can still get into Heaven like Mommy says if I don’t follow the rules? You always have to follow rules, or otherwise you get in trouble. And sometimes when I get in trouble Daddy gets really angry and scares me like the fire monster.

Maybe I just need to be Extra Good, just in case.

The next day I go to Kindergarten and I’m so good, I don’t even get a Behavior Document. Those are these notes my teacher is always sending me home with, and when Daddy sees them he gets really mad and spanks me. But if Mommy sees them it’s okay, and she tells me why Mrs. Brown thought I was rude and how to be better next time.

One time I got in really big trouble for telling her it was a “Yellow” Duck and not a “Yella” Duck, because my mommy said so.

I got in trouble another time for asking if I could read a book on my cot if I wasn’t sleepy enough for a nap.

And another time I got in trouble because I told her I had already read all the books she had in the classroom, but she said I was lying and couldn’t have read all of them. But I wasn’t lying! She only had like ten books and all of them are too boring to read again and again.

But today I was extra good and didn’t even talk at all, so when I waited for Daddy and he never showed up, I got worried the other teachers watching the kids get picked up would get annoyed at me and write another Behavior Document. So instead I told them I knew how to get home.

Because I was pretty sure I remembered how the bus got from my house to the school. I even have a Batman raincoat in my backpack, just in case it rains. And pretty soon I’ll even be big enough to ride my bike.

Mrs. Wyatt saw me walking home and she gave me a ride the rest of the way. Which was really nice of her, but for some reason Daddy was really mad when she knocked on the door to make sure he was home. Daddy’s always home except at nights when he works for UPS. On Fridays if I can stay up extra late, he even takes me to McDonalds for some ice cream sometimes.

But as soon as Daddy and me were alone in the house he starts screaming and throwing things and I start crying because he’s so scary. Then he picks me up and throws me against the wall instead of spanking me, which means I must have done something really bad by trying to walk home by myself.

He gives me a whole thing of Starbursts after, because he still loves me even when he beats me. And then Mommy came home with Cloud and told me how worried she was because I was walking in the wrong direction from school and they never should have let me leave without calling Daddy.

But I don’t think so. I think I just should have gotten home by myself and then played in the backyard until Daddy woke up. That’s what I usually do when I can’t get inside the house. Or if it gets dark I go to our neighbors and play with my friend, Peter. He’s a year younger than me but he has a really cool Powerwheels Jeep and I like to chase him and Cloud on my bike and pretend we’re superheroes.

But after that I got to go to a new school, Bale. And the teacher there is really nice and she keeps telling me how smart I am, and she even let me play King Max when we put on a play of my favorite book, because I was the only one who could remember all the words.

So if I’m that smart, I bet I can figure out how Heaven works. Just to be sure. But I still hope Satan is okay. Maybe he just needs a firefighter like Papa.

Leviticus
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Exodus

After the Fourth and Final Parent’s Day at AEGIS, which Daddy has once again failed to attend, Jonathan promises to take me up on the roof after he, once again, attends church with me instead of meeting his own parents.

We’re the only two boys in Theatre. Most others, my friends Dan and Blake included, are in Music or Art. Dance is unquestionably female.

The Art Education for Gifted Integrated Studies camp was a month-long intensive college campus experience for high schoolers, only available through scholarship to those who submitted a portfolio impressive enough to gain admittance. As I was turning 14 and starting Freshman year in August, I was easily the youngest in attendance. Something of a pet for the Seniors who found my wholesomeness adorable. And Jonathan was no exception.

“This is so cool!” I stage-whisper as he gently closes the roof access and looks around for chaperones or counselors.

“Yeah, Kimberly told me about it last year. We don’t ever bring Fish up here, but I know you’re cool. So it’s okay.”

I beam at Jonathan until he gives me a quick, calculating glance. He’s only slightly taller than me, but sleeker and more muscular, with dark skin and long braids he keeps tucked into his head-wrap.

“How old are you again?” His eyebrow cocks up and I quickly reply, “I’ll be 14 in two months! That’s when I start high school.”

“Christ, you’re just starting? I can’t wait to get out of there,” he sighs and unrolls a blanket from his backpack next to the industrial sized AC units, out of eyesight of the door. We settle with our backs buzzing against the warm metal surface.

“When I graduate, I’m moving to New York to write for Saturday Night Live. That’s where my family’s from. My mom’s family. New York accepts everybody. The weirdos and the crazies and the queers. Anyone else the rest of the country doesn’t want can all live together in New York.”

Jonathan turns to me and smiles before he produces a joint from under his head-wrap.

“Ever had one of these?” He teases.

“No,” I sheepishly admit, “But I’ve always wanted to try.”

He cups his hand and lights it in a smooth motion, “Here, let me spark it for you.”

He puffs until the tip glows red, then hands it to me, “Remember to inhale — hold it in — and then slowly exhale.”

I’ve never smoked anything in my life, but I do exactly as he says despite almost immediately gagging on the first breath. My face turns scarlet before I finally back out an enormous cloud, quickly covering my mouth to muffle the sound.

“Whoa! Slow down, killer. Don’t try so hard, you’ll feel it soon,” he takes the joint from my fingertips to puff on it twice while I regain my composure.

He’s right. By the time he passes it back to me I already feel an enormous weight lift from my chest. Before long we’re giggling and leaning close against one another.

“Don’t be offended,” he says as he flicks the roach off the roof, “But why are you in Theatre and not in Music with your other little drummer boys?”

Pot loosening my tongue, I tell him the truth, “Honestly? I wanted to get as far away from my home as possible so I could just be by myself. I needed a break and this camp was a month-long and free.”

“A break from what? You’re only 13.”

“I don’t know…Life? I guess?” I place my head on his shoulder and he rests his own on top of mine.

I can feel the deep vibrations of his voice as he asks, “What, your dad?”

“No, I mean yeah, but not just that. It’s—“ the proximity and the pot and the camp camaraderie embolden me further as I take a deep breath, “I’m…I’m a…I’m not a boy…”

It sounds so ridiculous out loud! I turn away in tears but Jonathan wraps his arms around me and rocks me into his chest as I take shuddering breaths.

“What do you mean, you’re not a boy? It’s okay, baby. I won’t laugh or tell anyone. I promise,” I smell his lotion as he tenderly kisses my neck from behind, sending shivers down between us.

“I mean I’m not a boy. At least I don’t think I am. I think and act a lot more like a girl and I…I think I might even like boys…”

This last sentence hangs in the air, barely a whisper, but his face is so close to mine I know he hears me. He begins to stroke my hair and I can feel his bicep flex against me as he holds me tighter still.

“It’s just not fair! I go to church, I help others, I practically raised my younger siblings, but I’m still never going to be what I feel like I really am!”

I turn around to bury my face and he holds me and rocks me until I finally look up into his brown eyes. He doesn’t say anything. He just leans his face toward mine. And then he kisses me. I open my mouth and find his tongue with my own.

My first real kiss! And it’s with a boy! I feel a slight twinge of guilt about Angela back in Dallas, but that doesn’t stop me from allowing Jonathan to gently lower me onto my back as he crawls on top of me. His bulge swells up against me as he becomes more earnest, and I more willing.

I don’t know if we kissed like that for 30 seconds or 30 minutes, but when he pulls back he gives me a sweet smile as I try to regain my senses.

“Well, you sure don’t kiss like a boy, that much is true,” he winks before moving away slowly to sprawl on his back on our abandoned blanket, “I thought maybe you were gay but maybe you’re right. Maybe you are a girl.”

I move to his side and rest my head on his chest, gazing up at the stars and moon with him.

“I try really hard to hide it from everyone, you know? I’ve been praying for God to make me a real boy for years, but I know He can tell I don’t mean it. And it’s a sin to lie to God. That’s why he punished me with these.”

I lift his free hand and place it under my shirt. He gives an appraising squeeze before quickly resting his hand on my head instead, stroking my hair gently.

Finally he sits up and lights another joint for us, “It’s like this. I can’t tell you if you’re a gay boy or a girl or whatever. Right? Only you have the ability to figure that out, but it probably won’t happen right away. That’s okay. You’re young, you’ve got plenty of time to experiment. But you also still have four years of high school and your parents to deal with. Only you can decide if you need to do that in secret or out in the open.”

Before long my spirits lift with our clouds, and I feel comfortable enough to ask him, “So what about you? Are you out? No offense, but Arkansas isn’t exactly super friendly to gay black men.”

He coughs out a laugh, “True, it’s not ideal. But this is my home too. Oddly enough, God gave me the strength to be gay. I used to feel like it was a curse or something I needed a cure for, but think about it? Why would God make me gay if he didn’t want me to be gay? Because it’s actually my character God is testing. To see if I’ll stand up for myself in the face of Hatred and Judgement. That’s what Jesus did, and he changed the world.”

“Yeah,” I cough sarcastically, “And what did they do? Kill him.”

“Well shit, kid. You have to make sacrifices if you want to make change. Some people sacrifice higher than others, but the reward is Salvation. I’m sorry, I don’t want you to think I’m some kind of religious nut.”

“Hell don’t worry about me, you already know I’m a Jesus Freak,” I laugh and pass the joint back, “But God, I don’t think I’ve ever been this relaxed.”

He puffs and passes back. I look into his eyes.

“Can I tell you something? I used to love going to church. I used to close my eyes and sing my heart out and feel the Holy Spirit rush through my soul. But now? I’m just not so sure.”

Jonathan just gives me a distant smile as we puff and pass once more.

“There’s just so many ‘Good Christians’ out there who only care about appearances. Who cast out sinners instead of loving them. And they care more about death than being better people now. You know I’ve actually heard preachers say good deeds don’t count without a baptism? I mean, surely Jesus can see past circumstances, but what if I’m wrong? What if I’m still damned no matter what I do?”

Jonathan pinches the last of the joint and holds it to my lips before flicking it off the roof.

“God in the mouths of men makes for some cruel irony, Kid. But you’ll be alright. Just have faith.”

Eventually he folds up the blanket and smuggled me downstairs back to the dorms. He kisses my forehead goodnight and whispers, “Break a leg!”

Shit. I totally forgot tomorrow was The Showcase. Last day of camp.

At least I’ll be leaving for Dallas and not Searcy when I’m done. Until August, when I have to go back.

Exodus

Masked Men and Mutants: Queer Coded Clowns

“Can’t Take A Joke?” by Andy Fairhurst (http://andyfairhurst.deviantart.com/)

For Part 1 of this series about queer theory and comic book history, click here.

We can’t talk about heroes without talking about villains. And we can’t talk about villains without talking about Queer Coding.

In academic theory or analysis, “Queer” is vaguely understood to be The Other in regards to societal expectations of sexuality/gender.  This is different from casual usage of the word queer, which is used as a slur by some, and increasingly commonly as an umbrella term for gender and sexual minorities, by members of that same community (such as yours truly).

We can’t talk about The Other without acknowledging what is in opposition to The Other. So in queer theory, this can be vaguely understood to be the societal belief that heterosexual and cisgender experiences are The Norm, normative, etc.

For this reason, it is not necessary to “prove” that a character engages in same-sex behaviors or attractions in order to argue that a character is “queer coded” by the choices made by storytellers. Instead, what is being argued is that storytellers are using deviant (which in this academic sense just means not-normative) sexual or gender behaviors as an allusion to criminal and/or amoral motivations.

There are many examples of queer coded villains out there: Scar, Rattigan, Hades, and Jafar of the Disney universe, or Buffalo Bill and Norman Bates of live-action thrillers, or countless video game bosses such as Sephiroth or Vega or Vamp. All of these villains have different goals, motivations, and outcomes, and they perform different evil acts in pursuit of them. But they all share a certain…swishiness in common with one another. A wimpy, un-manly, un-masculine way of carrying themselves. A way that is often deliberately contrasted with their normative foils, the hero who defeats them.

In comic books, there’s no example I love more than The Clown Prince of Crime himself, The Joker.

Batman has an entire Rogues Gallery, but The Joker is his oldest foil. If Batman is a symbol of conquering fear to fight crime, Joker is a symbol of using fear to fight society. If Batman is Order, Joker is Chaos. If Batman is dark and brooding and serious, Joker is bright and garish and absurd. And while Batman believes he has conquered his traumatic past, Joker believes his own traumatic past has conquered whoever he may have once been.

These are what are generally acknowledged to be the intentional themes of Batman and Joker’s dynamic throughout the ongoing (and often-regenerated-but-tweaked) nature of comic book storytelling. But there are many unintentional themes as well, and those are what often make Joker queer coded among various storytellers through his history.

As mentioned before, if our hero is being intentionally envisioned as incredibly masculine and heterosexually virile, then it can become easier to get that across in contrast to a feminized antagonist, rather than solely through the hero himself. This is why I don’t think it is coincidental that the more aggressively masculine iterations of Batman (Frank Miller, for example), are nearly always paired with an equally exaggerated Joker. While less extreme portrayals of Batman usually have less intentionally-feminine portrayals of Joker.

In The Dark Knight Returns, one of the best selling Batman graphic novels of all time, Batman and Joker have been unseen for decades. In the pseudo-1980s apocalyptic “future”, the two men are nearing the end of their lives, surrounded by a world that has forgotten them, and each are pulled back into their public lives for one last push against what society has become in their absence.

For Batman, this means establishing Order by any means necessary. Gone is the friendly childhood Batman who would never dream of killing or even seriously maiming another human being. Instead we have a heavily armored and heavily armed stormtrooper with pointy ears, who defiantly tells the reader “Rubber bullets. Honest.” A Batman who constantly scoffs at progressiveness and civil rights and criminal reform as the source of the societal scourge he must force himself to defeat in spite of his age.

For Joker, who has been in a catatonic state since the disappearance of Batman, his motivations are summed up in a series of increasingly close-up panels of his mouth as the news reports of Batman’s first sighting. His pale unmarked lips finally speak the word, “Darling,” in response. His ability to return to his life of crime is preceded with an intimate portrayal of him applying bright red lipstick, which is complimented by his bleeding-heart liberal TV-therapist, right before The Joker murders him and an entire studio audience.

Joker’s use of make-up on top of his disfigurement, his flamboyant gestures and theatrical presentation, and especially his use of romantic pet names for Batman; are all relatively unique details added by Frank Miller to what we already knew or assumed about The Joker. These are therefore deliberate and intentional choices, even if the intent itself might not be consciously recognized by the storyteller or the reader.

I mention this graphic novel specifically, because it can be argued the current cinematic versions of Batman have heavily borrowed from it’s costume design, it’s themes, and it’s general aesthetic as the quintessential “grownup” or “edgy” version of Batman; and arguably even Zack Snyder and DCU’s entire filmography. (Which is how we wind up with his and Frank Miller’s version of Xerxes in 300.)

So does this mean it’s Uncool to ever make a villain act in a way that isn’t super-duper cisheteronormative? Not necessarily. I don’t think there’s an inherent problem in having queer villains, by which I mean villains who are literally gender/sexual minorities. I think the problem is using deviant gendered behavior/expressions as a shorthand way of portraying the villain as antisocial.

Hell, I think The Joker would actually manage to be even more fun if his queer coding was allowed to surface as an actual queer person, baiting Batman with taunts about how they’re more alike than he’ll ever care to admit. But that is likely to remain relegated to headcanon and fanfiction.

Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, also of Batman’s universe, are decent examples of villains who are queer, not queer-coded. These two women are, have been, and will continue to be romantically involved with one another. While this was originally “subtext” or maybe even “fan service”, it has since become acknowledged by storytellers and is officially “canon” now.

And believe me when I tell you, most of my favorite Batman stories are when these two ladies doing villainous shit together in a romantic/sexy kind of way  and are loving the hell out of it.

Masked Men and Mutants: Queer Coded Clowns

Don’t Worry, Drink Heineken

You’ve responded to an invitation for a “social experiment” by Heineken. You are an outspoken trans woman trying to make a difference so you figure, sure. An opportunity is an opportunity. Let’s get this bullshit over with.

Their film crew tapes you speaking about who you are and why trans people deserve to exist. You already know where this is going, but you hope maybe this time you’re wrong.

You come to a warehouse and are made to stand within taped lines facing a bald, mildly put-upon looking man. Gaffs create a bar which the two of you are then instructed to approach and engage in polite conversation. You do so, critically hyperaware of your body and your transness because you already know what this “social experiment” is going to reference.

A buzzer goes off and you’re then instructed to stand and watch a short video. Sure enough, here is the bald man next to you talking about how “weird” the “transgenders” are. Just like clockwork.

“Another one of these fucking feel-good, bigots-just-need-a-hug commercials. Goddammit I gotta talk to my agent about this shit.”

Of course, two Heineken beers are now placed at the bar and you are given the “option” of having one with this man.

But you know if you actually leave you will garner no sympathy for yourself or other trans women. You are already aware that you alone now represent everything good or bad about all trans women to everyone in this room. You also know they will simply continue this “experiment” with other trans women until they achieve the outcome they want for their ad campaign anyway. So you do your best to make the most of it.

You put on that forced smile learned from your matriarchs for dealing with potentially dangerous men, and you make yourself as welcoming and understanding as you possibly can be.

He pretends to leave after you approach the bar. “Thank god,” you think to yourself. But then he comes back laughing and cracking jokes. “Oh goodie, this one’s a comedian.”

And even though that’s where the commercial spot ends, you now have to sit with this man for at least ten minutes while drinking a beer that tastes shameful with each sip, wondering if this is really the best you can do for your trans sisters right now? He asks you the same tired crap you’ve been answering your whole life out of the closet. And now, as you both leave, you know he feels great about himself, while you already feel like shit on the way home.

You retreat to your partner and tell them about how you got hoodwinked, and they reassure you that even though this bullshit gets old, we all have to make the best of what life throws at us, and they are proud of you.

The campaign comes out, and everyone praises the man who ridiculed you and your sisters on screen. And the company that didn’t give a shit about your feelings of safety if they could spin it into a message for drinking their swill.

This is what we need to create change!” someone comments, “You win more flies with honey…or in this case beer!”

God, now that man looks like a hero, Heineken sells more beer, and you’re just a nameless tr*nny that normal people are saints for treating like a human being.

Worlds Apart indeed.

Don’t Worry, Drink Heineken

Patriot

AP Image
A close-up of the Statue of Liberty’s face.

I spent Sunday with my mother, as I try to do at least once a month if life permits. We went out for lunch, shopped lazily through the crafting store, and popped into a thrift store on the way back home. While doing so we discussed, as we always have, politics.

My mother and I have been talking politics since I was ten-years-old, “campaigning” for Bill Clinton in my elementary school’s “election day”. She was the one who helped me join Amnesty International when I was in middle school so I could paper my small-town Arkansas town with anti-capital punishment literature. She supported my right to sit during the pledge of allegiance and told me I was brave for doing so. She drove me to my first anti-war protest in the wake of 9/11. My mom is a self-declared “mad dog liberal” and she did a damn good job raising me to be my own “radical commie queer” brand of political.

It was this slight difference in our approaches which created an awkward moment where my mother said, in response to my desire to hang an upside-down American flag outside my home with “Well it’s not like you’re not patriotic.”

I sucked in the air slowly into a humorously awkward pause, then laughed and said, “I like where I live in the sense that it’s got My Me and My People there. But, you know, Fuck The State.” To which my mother admitted, growing up exclusively in Post-Reagan Brutal-Capitalist America would make the idea of patriotism off-putting.

But I understand what my mother meant in her mild protest. While I have become increasingly Anti-Capitalist and Anti-White Supremacy  the older I get (and therefore pretty damn anti-american politicoeconomic state in general) I still get teary eyed when I remember seeing the Statue of Liberty on my childhood pilgrimage to my ancestral home. However, the country I live in wants nothing to do with tired, hungry, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. We are the country of #ICantBreathe and that is not a new phenomenon, it is our foundation.

There is a picture of Captain America on my desk with the caption “Punching Nazis is an American Tradition”. But of course, it is impossible for me to be proud of the same country that was interning Japanese descendants for the same sort of excuses the Nazis gave for their camps.

The musical Hamilton gives me complicated feelings of pride as the hardworking offspring of Polish “Immigrants, we get the job done!” Complicated because I can’t pretend to forget how many millions of American and African indigenous people had to be slaughtered and/or enslaved to make the young scrappy and hungry nation.

And I remember, oh yeah, America Has Never Been Great. Unless you’re a white land-owning male.

I realize now it is the mythical America I have loved, while becoming increasingly disgusted with the literal America. And no matter how much those two clash, I still want to believe in the America that’s never actually existed. An America of take-all-immigrants who take care of each other with New Deal Socialism rather than Cut-The-Bootstraps Poverty. Then I hear my mother’s last thoughts on the subject, “Well, you and I can’t leave. So we have to make the best of it.”

And she’s right.

I am no patriot by any stretch of definition. But this is where I live. And that means shit being done in my house is my responsibility to deal with whether I like it or not. It doesn’t matter if this is arguably the most powerful government in recorded history.

We must provoke outrage, outright. And make it impossible to justify the cost of the fight. But not while losing sight of how we fucked it up for people who aren’t white.

Patriot

Masked Men and Mutants: The Golden Age

Superheroes and comic books have been an important touchstone in my life since I saw Tim Burton’s Batman when I was not even five-years-old. From there I moved on the Bruce Timm’s Batman Animated Series and later to the mid-1990s X-Men cartoon. I grew up from a wee fangirl to an assistant manager of a comic shop when I left high school, where I stayed for nearly five years. This is where I eventually transitioned, surprised but pleased to find fellow nerds could readily accept someone growing tired of juggling dual identities.

The two managers of Lone Star Comics, back in 2008? Maybe?

During my years of slinging comics, it was non uncommon for me to give presentations about the history of comic books and their cultural relevance to American Arts. Comic Books, Cinema, and Jazz (among all other Black-Created “American” music styles), are some of the only American claims to cultural fame. And being American, comic books have an entangled history with many forms of our cultural expectations, as well as struggles against oppression.

From their birth, comics and their predecessors, pulp novels, were looked down upon for the people reading them (children, non-english fluent immigrants, and less-literate working class), which meant the views of people creating them weren’t much better. The comic book industry in its infancy mirrored many other problems in industries of that era. With little oversight or regulation, plagiarism and theft and non-payment for creators was extremely commonplace. Workers had little to no rights whatsoever about their creations or intellectual property. Writing for comics might be seen as a humble stepping stone to more lucrative copy work, but certainly not something any creator should actually aspire to.

A panel from Will Eisner’s “The Dreamer” a semi-autobiographical work about his early days in the Comic Book industry.

While this might have put off more socially privileged writers from joining the medium, it unwittingly created something of a haven (or maybe a trap) for minority writers who might not otherwise be able to get regular work. Black creators, Jewish creators, immigrant creators, women creators, communist creators, and queer creators all became the soul of American superheroes under the guise of “who cares it’s just harmless kids stuff”. They wrote about what they knew and experienced. They wrote about tenements and slum lords and wicked bosses and exploitation of the Little Man. And they created heroes who would listen to them and defend them. Perhaps the most notable example is a certain white-passing immigrant raised by Americans to believe that he too could stand for Truth, Justice, and the American Way, created by two young Jewish immigrants.

The cover page for Action Comics #1, the debut of Superman

In Part 2, I will begin discussing the intertwined history of queer subtext and comic books, starting with Masked Men and when staying in the closet was the noble thing to do.

Masked Men and Mutants: The Golden Age

2017

I’ve had a rough year.

I realize we all have.

I’ve survived toxic relationships, abusive situations, and physical recoveries. I’ve witnessed political despair, queer-antagonistic massacres, and state brutality with the rest of the world.

However I also got a new nephew and started antidepressants for the first time, and I have even started to become active in queerlesque and found the time and space to develop other new talents and hobbies. (Such as renovating tiny houses for plastic people.) Despite the struggles, there were also small comforts. Time makes fools of us all. Perhaps especially the worst of times.

I primarily focused on survival in 2016, rather than living. Which is one of the reasons my writing has dribbled to a stop in my usual history of being a somewhat reliable, if not prolific, writer. When struggling with self-worth and executive function, it can be hard to believe my voice or my words have any reason to exist. That anyone would want to read what I have to say. This is a lifetime struggle for me as a writer, an activist, and a person fighting for their right to exist in a hostile environment. But this is a time for marginalized voices to speak out and create, not yield.

I realize that new year resolutions, and apparently even the concept of breaking time into manageable-socially-agreed-upon yearly increments, has fallen out of favor recently. But I want to do everything I can to not just survive 2017, but to fight for the space for myself and people like me to create. To communicate. To share thoughts and frivolity and pain and questions and observations. I will not let the antagonists of the world restrict my creativity.

So I’m promising myself and my readers that this year will have a lot more angry rants. A lot more queer dystopian escape fantasy. A lot more retorts to poor representation. A lot more snark. A lot more outrage. I do this with the trust that those who wish to read my writing will do so, and others will see themselves out.

Like many of you I am still tender. I am still recovering. I am still grieving.

But I am here with you now. And I promise to be with you more in the coming year.

2017

Why Another Trans Woman Wants to Discuss Sex After Surgery

This week Vogue released an article discussing trans women’s sex lives after vaginoplasty. There were some things I found impressive, in the my-expectations-can’t-get-much-lower sense. The cis reporter was respectful, in fact she used more respectful language than the trans women she interviewed. And although there was still plenty of hemming and hawing about whether she should be reporting on the subject (she really shouldn’t but here we are), I thought she did as good a job as I could expect from a cis woman reporting on trans women’s lives.

The meat of the article, the interviews with trans women who have had vaginoplasty, I found limited and unimpressive. Both women interviewed, Nomi and Charlie, were straight trans women. And both women would seem to have only discussed their sex life with straight cis women. Despite the article’s initial bemoaning that trans women aren’t having this conversation more openly. And perhaps because of this, the article follows the same tired “vaginas are so confusing how do you make them cum” narrative that is in so many heteronormative discussions of sex. So this is me, a trans woman, initiating a conversation about sex for other trans women. If you are not a trans woman, you are still welcome to read, but this is not written for you.

Straight trans women are not the norm. Seriously.

Less than a quarter of trans women identify as straight, according to the most recent National Transgender Discrimination Survey, which is some of the largest collection of self-reported data about trans people to be found. This means any attempt to have a well-represented conversation about sex and trans women must involve queer trans women. The fact that both of the trans women interviewed at no point discussed sex with anyone other than straight men, frankly says more about straight men as sex partners than it does about sex after vaginoplasty.

Your mileage will vary.

I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the lament that, by expanding the conversations about trans women beyond what our genitals look like, conversations about sex have somehow become taboo. This has not been my experience, or the experience of any of my trans friends. We talk about sex a lot. Regardless of what shape our genitals are or have been. We’re all trying to figure out how to get where we’re going and none of us were given a decent road map when we were born. If anything, the understanding that surgery is not a given has actually helped us have better conversations about sex.

When I was preparing for surgery, vaginoplasty was intensely important for my happiness and well-being. I would often go into dark pits of self-loathing because of disgust at my own body and how others would perceive it. Now that I’ve had surgery, I can acknowledge it was a good decision but only that it was a good decision for me. Every time a trans woman asks me about vaginoplasty, I tell her the honest truth. It was really fucking difficult, quite possibly the hardest thing I’ve done in an already hard life. And it hasn’t so much improved my life as it has simply removed some obstacles that were significantly troubling. Other than that, not much in my life has changed. I’m still trans and always will be. I will still deal with oppression and obstacles cis people never will, and that’s true of all trans people. The only person who can know if vaginoplasty is right for them or not is the individual contemplating it. For me, that’s more important information than whether I can get wet or not.

My experience will not be your experience. And a cis woman’s experience won’t be your experience either. So rather than wondering if what you experience is “normal”, it’s better to ask if it works for you.

Sex before vaginoplasty can be weird. Sex after vaginoplasty can be weird.

Before surgery, I had a pretty active sex life. I had several regular partners that I enjoyed infrequent sex with in various ways that worked for my and their preferences. Because of intense dysphoria, I never used my genitals during sex before surgery, but I gave lots of head and took lots of anal from people of various genders. Although having the initial conversation of “how do I fuck you?” was awkward, actually having the conversation ensured we had an enjoyable time.

After surgery, I’ve had a pretty active sex life. I have several regular partners of many non-male genders that I enjoy infrequent sex with in various different ways. I still don’t really like having my genitals touched most of the time, which many people find surprising. And I no longer enjoy penetration except in very rare circumstances. But I still give lots of head, and now I love strapping on. My sex life has gotten more creative, but also possibly more confusing, since surgery. But that’s because I’ve expanded what is and isn’t “sex”, not because my anatomy boggles me or my partners.

I still have “how do I fuck you?” conversations with new sex partners. This could be why, at worst, I’ve had unremarkable but never bad sex. I’m not afraid to tell someone “Yeah, your tongue isn’t working for me. Let’s get out the magic wand instead.” And there is still plenty about how sex works for me that I still can’t really articulate or understand, but because I discuss that with the people I have sex with, and not straight cis lady friends, I’ve never had anyone tell me that boring sex is just part of figuring out life with a vagina.

Vaginas aren’t rubik’s cubes. Not even neo-vaginas.

Look, I’m not gonna act like figuring out how to achieve an orgasm isn’t a thing that a lot of women and fems struggle with. We’re socialized to put our (presumably male) partners’ pleasure and needs above our own, with their orgasm being assumed and ours being nice-if-it-happens. Unpacking all that and learning how to speak up for your own needs can be an ongoing process. But none of that means I don’t know how to touch myself and figure out what feels good and what doesn’t. That was how I decoded sex before surgery, and it’s how I decode sex after surgery.

There’s still plenty I’m figuring out, such as whether I’m polyamorous, whether I’m aromantic, whether I’m asexual, why some people turn me on and some don’t, and why that might change suddenly without warning, but I don’t try to figure myself out by sleeping with clueless men and hoping they magically know how to fuck me right. I figure it out by openly discussing those issues with partners, and in therapy if I really need help.

Before surgery, I was able to achieve orgasm after about half an hour of self-stimulation through anal penetration with toys. After surgery, I can achieve an orgasm in less than five minutes if I have my magic wand vibrator and the right mindset. Both of those didn’t come easily right away, but I held myself responsible for my own orgasms and found a way.

Sex is easy, except when it isn’t.

When I think about my major roadblocks in regards to sex, it’s not what gets me off or how my anatomy works or even finding someone who is interested. So frankly, an article that focuses on these aspects is just boring as hell to read. For my sex life, it’s about what relationship, if any, I want to maintain with my sex partners outside of bed. How much personal autonomy and emotional distance I need in order to feel aroused and not suffocated. What forms of communication are effective and what aren’t. How to express my sexuality and still be respectful of my non-binary partners. How to maintain a balance between indulging in fantasy but unequivocally respecting consent as a Domme. Why my sex drive is very high for some periods and then non-existent for other periods of time. Why I have such a difficult time allowing myself to be the focus of attention by a partner. Whether my methods of enjoying sex are healthy but unusual, or a sign of emotional issues I still need to work through.

At no point have I wondered “Is it normal to just feel like you’re rubbing on a carpet when a guy is eating you out?!”

Because regardless of whether it is a “normal” experience or not, it doesn’t mean I or any other trans woman have to put up with it.

Why Another Trans Woman Wants to Discuss Sex After Surgery

“Sir”: Misgendered as Dyke

CN: Reclaiming of queer-antagonistic slurs, misgendering, transmisogyny, lesbophobia

Like many people my age, I work many jobs to try to make ends meet. But although I have several side jobs, recently I’ve secured a primary job in retail where I actually receive benefits and insurance and other things befitting of an adult while I work toward grad school.

I like this job. I actually like retail better than other “customer service” jobs I’ve had. I totally grok sales, most of my coworkers end up being women or queer or both, and I love putting people and mannequins in outfits I would never wear, but still look great. It’s like dressing life-size Barbies and getting paid for it.

The last time I had a customer service job I was younger, “straight-ish”, and had a very feminine presentation. Now I am Grown, Gay, and have a very butch presentation. The job is still the same, with the same challenges and frustrations I expect and navigate while dealing with the public. Only now, I occasionally get called “Sir” after I’ve finished helping a customer. And it fucks me up sometimes. Continue reading ““Sir”: Misgendered as Dyke”

“Sir”: Misgendered as Dyke

Smooth Transition

Hello everyone, I’m Dori Mooneyham and welcome to The Orbit!

I am thrilled to be surrounded by so many talented writers who are both personal friends as well as role models from afar. This is a great opportunity for so many of us godless do-gooders to do a little more good together, and I’m so excited to be a part of it!

A bit more about me. I’m a trans lesbian psych student who loves pop culture and getting worked up about her academic queer ponderings. I’m also the former host of Secular Shethinkers, a now defunct podcast that gave me a good excuse to drink and go on feminist rants once a week. I’ve also written a few things for other atheist blog sites. I get around, is what I’m implying.

But as some (or most) of you may be unfamiliar with my work, I thought it best to include a little list to give you an idea of what I’m all about over here at Trans and Godless.

Continue reading “Smooth Transition”

Smooth Transition