An Alternative View of Labels

Like one of the authors of the articles below I have always wondered if labels concerning human sexuality do us more harm than good. I think there are arguments for both sides and I find the interplay of ideas particularly interesting.

Here are two stories of people who though they were stalwart adherents to a particular way of being until someone special helped them discover an unexpected truth about love.

I Came Out as A Lesbian – Then Fell In Love With A Man

How My Sexuality Changed When My Husband Became My Wife

As you can see by the titles, the first story follows a traditional view of relationships while the latter has a more non-traditional story arch. I hope you enjoy them and whoever you love now or come to love in your life, I wish you the greatest happiness.

How Against Me! and Donald Trump Helped Me Get a Grip on Punk Rock

Punk has changed a lot in the time I’ve been involved in the scene. I started going to Midwest shows as a teen in 1995. Back then the crowds were adorned with metal studs, safety pins and liberty spike mohawks. Unfortunately, at times it could be cliquish, violent and racist (skinheads). It seemed for many that the purpose of a mosh pit was about causing as much carnage as possible.

Punk has mellowed since those days. Now I’m living along the front range in Colorado which has a much larger punk scene than I’m used to. Braces, spikes, piercings and mohawks can still be seen (thankfully), but the scene is also replete with hipsters and beards. Moshing now isn’t just for the brawny, but for nearly everyone. The scene is far more inclusive and welcoming. Perhaps both the aging punks (like myself) and the millennial punks just don’t have time for that shit anymore. Thank goodness for that.

“gathering . . . is an act of defiance in a society that tries its damnedest to eradicate us.”

Somewhere along the line though I started to get the feeling that punk just didn’t have the social impact it used to have. While still political, punk is undoubtedly less political as a genre than it used to be. Bands make entire careers singing about relationships and while the positive side of that is a diversity of songs, the downside for me has been that the social urgency of punk has felt more watered down. I just didn’t know if punk had a grand purpose anymore such as I had imagined it having in the 80’s positioned against Reagan and Thatcher. I began to wonder if it ever had such a purpose or if that was simply my imagination.

And this is where my thoughts had remained for years until one Sunday night. On this particular evening I went to an Against Me! Concert also featuring the bands Mobina Galore and Typesetter (Represent Illinois!). This evening was different in an important way.

You see, generally my evenings are starting to look the same. One could say dismally familiar. Because life is inextricably political with human needs coalescing and contradicting as they do my nights have come to be politically charged. See if you will recognize the scenario. It is one in which the carnage of the day is paraded before me by news outlets. The always deserved and hard fought civil rights of the people of this country are rapidly being eroded. It’s another day in Trump’s America where diversity is seen as something to be feared rather than heralded. The unique among us have become scapegoats for the more vehemently conservative portions of our society.

I know you feel it too. If you’re racist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic, transphobic or a bigot in general you sense a surge in pride and excitement that the type of thoughts you nurture are no longer something you need to hide. You finally feel like things are going your way. You also don’t refer to yourself by those monikers but let’s call a spade a spade and move forward shall we. On the contrary, if you’re a Muslim, female, person of color, an immigrant, transsexual/gender, queer (like me), or a member of another historically marginalized group then you feel fear, sadness and anger.

It is in this atmosphere that I realized a punk show is politically alive and well. You see, it’s not that Against Me said anything political outside of their songs (which admittedly have plenty to say). Rather, it was what went unspoken. For those who don’t know, the singer Laura Jane Grace, is a transwoman.* What is beautiful (aside from her glow on stage)  is the way she and the rest of the band have just owned this reality from the very beginning. If you’re saying why wouldn’t they, then good for you. However, realize that not all people think this way. This acceptance, coupled with their songs, has created a kind of de facto safe-space. I’ve seen this in action before at one of their shows in Bloomington, Illinois but this is the first time that the gravity of what was happening became clear to me.

“There are those forces in the world that don’t want an open society.”

What I witnessed is awe inspiring and heartwarming. As I stood on a bench at the side of the venue and overlooked the crowd there was humanity in wondrous display. There were people singing their guts out to the band’s songs. The crowd was singing so loud at times that Laura Jane Grace’s voice could not be heard. It was amazing and I wasn’t the only one there who knew it.

In the mosh pit was a woman with “shoulders too broad for a girl” jumping her heart out (for the uninitiated that’s nod to a song lyric from the band about not “passing” as a woman, not me being a dick). The crowd was a smattering of people from a variety of identities and it was awesome (I’m old so I think I can still say that).

When my friend went to restroom she was checking for feet beneath the stalls in order to find a vacancy. In one women’s stall were a pair of feet facing the toilet. No one freaked out, no one cared. No one was checking birth certificates at the restroom door because fuck that noise. This punk show, at least, is a staging ground for how we want society to look and function.

I thought about the opening up of our society that had happened in the last twenty five years. Back when I graduated high school in 1995 I’m not even sure I knew what the term transgender meant. I’m pretty sure a transwoman could have never fronted a popular band without hyperbolic hysteria from a good majority of the public.

Then I thought about all the ways in which society isn’t as open as it should be and how we have so much more to learn. There are those forces in the world that don’t want an open society. They want people like Laura Jane Grace, and others at that concert, to exist in the shadows or not at all. Our presence offends them not because of who we are but because of who they are. We shine a light on their insecurities and make them uncomfortable. We force them to look inward. It’s easier for people to dismiss us, to marginalize us, to increase our disenfranchisement, to harm us and to kill us than it is to undergo personal growth or just be a god-damned empathetic human being. Art generally, and punk specifically, can be a good way to throw your own shortcomings in your face.

As these thoughts and sights paraded through my mind I was brought to tears. Yes, the 40 year old punk near the back was weeping tears of joy. The fact that so many people had gathered to rock their face off to a punk band singing about trans rights and issues was one of the most compassionate and intentional acts I have ever seen. These people and their spirits were beautiful. I realized that gathering in such a way and showing this unwavering acceptance is an act of defiance in a society that tries its damnedest to eradicate us.

Yes, punk rock is still politically relevant. It’s also much more than just apropos. Punk shows, much as they have probably always been, are places where we can come to recharge, to be safe, accepted and in many ways loved. This punk show is our society, our hope and our future. So if you want a place to feel accepted come on out to the show with us. When you’re here you can be and look however you damn well please no matter which way your feet face in the bathroom stall.

*I was going to say that Laura Jane Grace was a woman first and foremost and perhaps a transwoman second, but I don’t know her feelings on the matter. I don’t want to erase a part of her identity. I opted for the term that added context.

Don’t Mess With Texas: How conservatives proved transgender folks were right all along

So for those of you who don’t know there is a trans boy (born a girl but identifies as a boy) in Texas who has been undergoing hormone therapy for about a year and a half. His name is Mack Beggs and he wants to wrestle in the boys league. However, the governing body for high school wrestling in Texas has said that because he is listed as a girl on his birth certificate he must compete as a girl.

Because his hormone levels are equal that to other boys his age he has a greater muscle density than do the girls he is competing against. The other day he won the girls state championship.

I’m writing this because I think it’s funny. Not for Mack mind you. He just wants to wrestle in the boys league and since he has been on hormones for a year or more should be able to (just as olympic athletes can). It’s also not funny for the girls he competed against because they were at a disadvantage and one of them would have been state champion in his stead. Those are both unfair situations that shouldn’t have happened.

Rather, I think it’s fitting because the State of Texas forced this situation on themselves. They didn’t want to recognize Mack as a boy because that wasn’t how he was identified at birth. They were being dogmatic and pushing back against what they see as a progressive agenda and, if we’re being honest, probably something they think is against God’s will.

They thought they would punish him for choosing his identity. To be fair they did hurt him, but they also hurt the girl wrestlers and deprived the boy’s team of a teammate. What they also achieved though is to illustrate the idiocy of their policy. They got a girls wrestling state champion who is a boy with the physique to match. I’d like to congratulate them on a job well done.

Extend this lunacy to the situation with bathrooms and we end up with legislators who don’t want transmen to use men’s restrooms or transwomen to use women’s restrooms. However, none of those legislators (or people on the street who talk shit about transfolk) would be comfortable sharing their restroom space with someone who doesn’t look like them. Imagine a person who looks like and identifies as a woman walking into a men’s restroom because her birth certificate said she was born male.

These conservative legislators are so afraid of men ending up in women’s restrooms that they are actually going to force that very scenario into existence should they get their way. And that, Alanis Morrisette, is the original definition of irony.

Thank you Texas. You are leading the way in showing us the absurdity of policing identity. We owe you more than you know.

How Did Your Sexual Orientation Form?

I think for many people the premise that sexual orientation is not fixed, but can vary with stimuli, will be a difficult one to accept. However, thanks to trans folks (again) we have a wonderful new outlook on the world. Here are a couple of women who might just change the way you think.

https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/the-trans-women-who-become-lesbians-after-years-as-gay-men?utm_source=broadlyfbus&ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000050

Guys, You’re Doing Friendship Wrong

Sociologists have long known that the way we do friendship now is not the way it has always been. However, you’re not a sociologist (well not an employed one anyway) so check this out to start understanding that there is something contrary to human nature about how we do friendship then work to change that; both for your health all those other guys who just want someone to hang out with.

http://www.vice.com/en_us/read/why-men-lose-friends-in-their-20s?utm_source=vicefbusads

As I read through some of these stories it becomes obvious to me why I have tried to establish friendships with women recently.

Wait Till You See These Old Photos of Men

These photos are awesome and they will turn the very notion of what men used to be compared to what they are now on its head.

http://www.artofmanliness.com/2012/07/29/bosom-buddies-a-photo-history-of-male-affection/

Teaching Moments: Why you shouldn’t tell someone to Google it

Dating (and defining ourselves in general) can be a frustrating experience and often times when people don’t do the research into your identity terms it can be frustrating. However, don’t tell them to look it up. For one that makes you look like a giant dick so leave that shit off your dating profile, plus you don’t know what site they will use. If they go to the urban dictionary, which is complete shit, then they might come away with a pretty toxic view of who you are. Let them ask you if they want and look at it as a teaching moment for them to learn about you in your voice. They want to know about you from you. That’s pretty flattering.

http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/2016/01/why-telling-each-other-to-google-it-hurts-our-movements/

The link above has some other good reasons to stop you from telling people to just look it up. Take care and happy dating.

The Little Pink Bottle That Could

DSC_3842cThis may look like an ordinary water bottle (I don’t know anything about the bike shop so don’t ask) and you would be correct. However, at one time it’s symbolism extended far beyond its function.

I acquired this sports bottle semi- unintentionally. I had entered a mountain bike race at Kickapoo State Park in Illinois which was put on by a wonderful local group called the Kickapoo Mountain Bike Club. As is part and parcel of mountain bike races (at least in Illinois) the organizers were handing out grab bags for racers part of which was a clear or pink bottle. As you can well imagine, being a guy, I was handed a clear bottle. I took it and began to walk away from the registration table.

Then I stopped and began to think better of my decision. You see, ever since I watched the Giro d’Italia, which is a nearly month long bike race around Italy, I fell in love with pink as a color for cycling. In the Giro the leader’s jersey is called the Maglia Rosa and as the name might suggest to you the color is a brilliant rose pink. The pinkish hue is everywhere; on the cars, billboards, podium, bikes built especially for the occasion and on the confetti that falls precipitously at the finish. Yes, by the end of that twenty-some-odd day race I could never see pink again without seeing it for it’s flashy, race worthy badassery that is on display during that event.

The truth of the matter was I became hooked on the pink bottle as soon as I saw them, but until this very moment I had accepted the clear bottle as a matter of social conditioning even though I didn’t want one. I was about to remedy this. I turned around and asked, “Actually, could I get a pink one instead?”

That’s about all I remember. I don’t really remember the event itself. I think there was a little blood, a shitload of sweat from that good ol Midwest humidity and a mid pack finish for me.

At this point in my life, I had firmly accepted that I was pansexual but it seemed a rather academic point rather than a pragmatic one. I was married so exploring this newly realized identity was not exactly a viable option. I was comfortable with this. Plus, I didn’t solely like guys so being married to a woman didn’t undermine my identity.

If I can offer an aside, It’s important to note that I was also living in a conservative part of the country where being different isn’t exactly accepted. People aren’t wrong when they say the Midwesterners are nice. You can have a conversation with almost anyone on a whim. Just make sure to keep things on a superficial level or you may not like the topic once it shifts from the weather.

I always tell people that the Midwest (at least the rural portion) consists of a thin veneer of nicety concealing a seething cauldron of hatred beneath. At least every other day I had to back someone down from making some kind of horrible statement. Whether it was demonstrating xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, transphobia or what have you. It was tiring to say the least.

In fact, right around this time I remember a coworker/neighbor of mine taking a line of joking, that she started, the wrong way. Through the drags of her cigarette and with a good amount of hatred and disgust she called me a faggot as I parted her company. All of this before anyone aside from my wife at the time even knew that my sexual interest deviated from women.

I should say at this point that there are also some quality people in the Midwest and they deserve their credit. It must be admitted though that the small town mind pervades this geographical area more so than other parts of the country, save for the south perhaps.

I’ve lived in my new home state for almost two years now and I’ve been 100 percent out the entire time and have never had to back anyone down from anything racist, homophobic or the like. It feels like an emotional vacation, but I digress.

So now I had this pink water bottle which I loved, but did I dare use it in rural America? At first I began using it just as a way to haul extra water in my cooler on ride days. So when riding laps at my local trail I could stop by and refill my Camelback. I had to take a few friendly jabs about it but it was easy to say it was my Giro pink bottle even though the color didn’t match the Maglia Rosa. Then I started taking it to work daily as my go to bottle for the day. When anyone said something about it I quickly stated my fondness for it, “Are you kidding? I love pink, that’s my favorite bottle!” All of it was true.

What went unspoken was that in a weird way this became a means for me to push a boundary, admittedly a small one, on gender norms. This was literally the only pink thing I owned because as a man I wasn’t supposed to. If this sounds like bullshit, it is, but I swear to you this dynamic exists and is alive and well. Carrying this bottle was a way for me to signify that I was different.

Yes, I loved the color and I would have used it regardless of my sexual orientation. Even though the color pink has nothing definitive to do with being queer, it became a secret symbol of my queerness. It was a way for me to take that part of me out into public even if no one else knew what was going on. This gender-bending symbolism slowly gave me confidence.

Before I left the Midwest I came out to a few people close to me. It was the next step in my evolution and as weird as it may sound that pink bottle played a role.

Recently, I noticed this bottle was missing from my collection. I had long chalked it up as lost and had forgotten about it until my ex-wife walked into my place with it the other night. I had left it in her car and so it had remained for months.

As I washed it and placed it in the dish rack I realized that I still loved the color. A pink bike or team kit? Yes please. However, the bottle itself had lost it’s hold on me. I still like it but it’s no longer my favorite. It’s a bottle now, nothing more than a utilitarian object with a symbolic past.

I’m out! I’m queer, bisexual, and/or pansexual. I’m a faggot, whatever you want to call it I don’t really care. I paint my fingernails and toenails, I cross dress for myself and for my partners. You see, I don’t have to deal in hidden symbolism anymore. I am my own living symbol and that feels better than carrying around that pink bottle ever did.

 

Gender-splaining

I was having a conversation with a woman last week about me identifying as cisgender and it occurred to me that more than a few people still don’t know these new words that have cropped up over the years or the importance of them. For those of you who may have questions about the terms used to identify gender here is a short introduction that will have you up to speed quickly.

http://mic.com/articles/139805/cisgender-v-transgender-v-gender-fluid-here-s-what-these-gender-identity-terms-mean#.fu8X0x7sz

When I Say Feminism What I Mean Is…

This last month I went to get a haircut, naturally I chitchatted a bit with the stylist. As we were talking, she said she is not a feminist and believes in gender roles. My jaw must have dropped because she started to rationalize this statement, using horrifying example after horrifying example of times in her personal relationship where they used gender roles. I was too stunned to speak and I honestly didn’t know what to say. So I said nothing. I laughed in discomfort, we finished the cut and I left. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. How could anyone, especially a woman, not believe in gender equality? Being me, I decided to comment about it on my Facebook. The majority of my friends have a similar mindset to my own, surely we were all about to have a great conversation on feminism and banishing gender roles.
Oh how wrong I was. Instead I was sent down a deep rabbit hole to redefine my moral conduct and what the sexual revolution looks like to me.

So I posted my post and continued about my day when bing! a notification came through;
“The whole point of the sexual revolution and gender equality is to give people the choice to live how they want. If she wants to live a certain way, then what’s wrong with that?”
Being me, my initial response is usually emotional and all I’m thinking is EVERYTHING IS WRONG WITH THAT. It is my life’s work to change the sexual culture that plagues America so the thought of encouraging people to live as they want, even if it goes against my moral values, threw me for a loop. As an activist and sexual being I have adopted the mentality that all sex is good sex as long as it is safe, sane, and consensual. At this point, I was starting to question this philosophy. If she is aware of her gender roles, wouldn’t that make it consensual? Was she not agreeing to those terms? The idea that someone can not believe in gender equality and still fall into the perimeters that I had been laying out for the sexual revolution kept me deep in my own head space for days. Yes, I believe in people living the way they chose. The idea of me trying to take away that freedom from someone left a bad taste in my mouth. Then again, so did the idea of allowing these ideas to perpetuate.

At this point in my thought process, I began to think about all the sexual activities I am into and have ‘justified’ because they were safe, sane, and consensual. Consensual nonconsent, spanking, choking, and activities like these which many others may view as dangerous, crazy, or weird I find to be ok under the guidelines of safe, sane, and consensual. The more I thought, the more I fell into these mind loops that I wasn’t being supportive, that I was going against all that I stood for till a notion dawned on me. My sexual activities are just that, activities. Others can choose, or not, to take part in them. Gender inequality however, is not an activity we just get to opt out of. We don’t get to tell everyone else if we want to use gender roles or not. When we allow these societal norms of inequality to continue, we are allowing inequality to reign over ALL of us, not just a select few. There is not a way to pick and choose this kind of matter, it is an all or nothing sort of deal. That is one deal I won’t take.

Something I have noticed in my exploration of the American sex culture, is that using the word feminism almost always gets negative comments back… and I work in the adult entertainment industry. Never once have I been put down for doing porn but as soon as I say ‘feminist’, there is an uproar. I wonder why this word causes such strong, negative reactions. Merriam-Webster defines feminism as  the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. That’s it. Equal rights and opportunities regardless of gender. Somewhere along the way it seems this has been misconstrued. Feminists these days are made out to be unattractive, men hating woman who scream angrily and while waving cardboard signs in your face. I don’t see anything in the dictionary about that…
When I say feminism what I mean is…
I don’t want to live in a world where a short skirt makes me a whore and a target
I don’t want to live in a world where men are told they have no control over themselves
I don’t want to live in a world where boys can’t play with barbies and girls can’t play with dumptrucks
I don’t want to live in a world where a person’s birth given genitals make them superior or inferior
When I say feminism what I mean is…
As a woman, I should have the same rights and opportunities as men
As a man, I should have the same rights and opportunities as women

That’s it. It really is that simple of a definition.

 

~~Merasmin~~