Tag Archives: Queer

Finding Our Pulse

kind

Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.

Mark Combs, a friend of mine from way back, posted the above Voltaire quote.

I like the line quite a bit, even though I consider words like “guilty” and “good” to be counterproductive and ultimately vacuous, as are their antonyms, innocent and evil. The problem with such words is that they can too easily draw people into a cycle of focusing on assignation rather than pushing them forward into personal action.

And action, really, is at the heart of Voltaire’s words. A call to action.

A call to the realization that not taking action is an action in and of itself. A realization that there is no middle ground. A realization that you have a choice to act and that “if you choose not to decide / you still have made a choice.

With the Orlando massacre, there are analyses of cause by both professional and armchair intellectuals.  There are conversations about prevention ranging from passing stricter gun laws to saying everyone in the nightclub should have been armed.

But I want to approach it a wholly different way. Approach it at the individual level; at the level I go to on a daily basis.

What part did you play in the massacre? We all should ask ourselves this question, and ask it often.

And you did play a part. Of course you did. Remember: there is no middle ground.  So, phrased another way, did you play the part of someone trying to make things better for all?

Passing bathroom bills and engaging in other forms of hate speech is the antithesis of better. And doing nothing amounts to the same.

When I hear about violence, I tell my husband how much I love him. When I hear about animal abuse, I hold my critters close. When I hear about child abuse, I think of all the kids I work with and how much I want to protect them.

And then I expand that circle: say hi to a neighbor, pet a stray animal, think of another way I can help kids.

So phrased yet another way, at this precise moment, with your finite life running out, what “good” do you have left to do.

And what are you waiting for?

Two Foxes

Hi, there. I’m JD Fox.

And my husband of nearly twenty years, as of today, is Gary Alton Fox.

I am moved by this in multiple ways, including simply being touched and honored that he has taken my name. But I also can’t help but think of it in terms of queer history and its significance.

Non-queers have both the luxury and burden of a privileged status that already has rules of convention in place for not only what a marriage looks like but what happens to the names. This is not to say they are good norms — they are quite sexist in fact — but just that they exist.

They can be followed or not followed, but they are there nonetheless.

Gary and I got married at a time – 1996, the year of DOMA — when we weren’t recognized legally as such. We even battled with our religious organization over using the term marriage in our wedding ceremony; of using the term wedding.

The kind of battle where people take sides and our side was the minority; only a fraction of people showed up to our wedding, compared to a full house and unilateral support for non-queer unions.

But we got married, considered ourselves married, and winged it, having to create what it meant to us from scratch with little social support and no real point of reference other than our love for one another.

When we legally married in 2013, we kept our names. After all, we’d already been married in our hearts and faith for 17 years. So that year’s Justice of the Peace visit and subsequent paperwork was just a bureaucratic formality, right? Just a way of getting those 1000+ benefits…

Yet it didn’t feel like just a formality. Far from it. The kind of far that I’m not sure a non-queer person can truly appreciate. The kind of far that has little to do with matters of benefit and more to do with matters of heart.

We deliberately chose to be with each other all those years ago and reaffirmed that decision in 2013, winging it as well. We talked about names and hyphenated names without a convention to either go with or go against.

At the time, we each decided to keep our name.

But that was then and this is now, and Gary, by his winged choice, is now a Fox; we are Mr. and Mr. Fox.

Has a nice ring to it, don’t it?

Fostering Useful Labels

Labeling JD Fox (a blog video supplement)

There is a current nonsensical mantra in the queer and questioning community that chants some variation of “Don’t label me.” Like its equally imbecilic sibling “Don’t discriminate,” it has obvious good intentions with its attempt at breaking down assumptions:

Sexuality is fluid, so don’t make assumptions about my orientation; gender and gender expression are fluid, so don’t make binary assumptions about my gender; my identity is my own, so don’t make assumptions that you know me.

All certainly laudable goals; however, the “don’t” command is misinformed about human nature, misguided in its efforts to improve society, and ultimately self-defeating.

The catalyst for this particular post is the character Jude (nicely played by Hayden Byerly) in the TV series The Fosters. There are many wonderfully ambiguous yet queer positive scenes with Jude expressing his individuality (nail polish) and drawing homophobia out with specifics (what if I was gay?). However, I saw a scene the other night where Jude gave his friend Connor the don’t label me speech that is so common nowadays and walk away like he has made some major higher-ground point.

Such rhetoric misses an important fact about labeling — that we cannot help but label – and takes the conversation into an absurd territory: one of trying to not label rather than one of trying to develop the skill of using labels more wisely and realizing when we are not doing so.

Considering our evolution in simplified fashion helps illustrate this.

A one cell-organism “labels” (in quotes because no neurons yet to actually “think” this) its immediate environment as “hospitable” or “hostile”. Based on this label, it either stays put if the former, or, if the latter, tries to move to a different environment to the extent that its rudimentary locomotive ability allows.

Add some cells to give more specific sensory input. Such inputs have value because of the labels they encourage: In a hostile environment, the original “hospitable” label as being “a point away from here” becomes modified to distinguishing “Over there A” from “Over there B” with one or the other being assigned a label of “better”; i.e. more hospitable.

Onward we move up the life scale. Some of our first labels were sweeping, diametrically opposed ones: Edible, not edible. Will try to eat me, won’t try to eat me. Something I want to screw. Something that wants to screw me.

Over time, neural networks became more sophisticated, allowing labels like good worker, dependable, or that boy over there is hot. It also allows us to see how others might label us and act accordingly: if I do x, my boss will label me as a good worker; If I do y my neighbor will label me as dependable; or if I do z, that boy over there will label me as hot.

We are labeling machines by construction with discerning eyes and discriminating tastes. Our ability to simultaneously make fine distinctions and grand generalizations is one-half the trademark of our intelligence, allowing us to thrive.

The other half, which likely came much later, is the ability to continually revise both. Revision is key to everything. For revision is what allows us to recognize our labels for the expedient means they are and not mistake them for some sort of permanent truth.

Mistaking a label for truth is at the heart of racism, homophobia, transphobia, and any other type of labeling gone awry. It is not the labeling itself, but the inability – whether deliberate or otherwise — to revise such labels in a productive way that is problematic.

Connor, being human, will continue to label Jude in multiple ways, well beyond gay or not gay to encompass labels like “doesn’t want to discuss his sexuality” or “is touchy about his sexuality” or “someone who gets mad at me for trying to understand him” (just like Jude, also being human, will likewise label Connor as “homophobic” or “someone with a father who is homophobic” or “someone who is invading my personal space.”)

When conversations end like the one Jude had with Connor, the labeling doesn’t stop; it can’t in fact stop, which is the main point of this post. But the fruitful potential for revision does indeed get truncated.

What if instead, the conversation played out something like this:

Jude: Don’t label me.

Connor: Okay, okay. Sorry. I wasn’t trying to… it’s just… how do you feel about me?

The conversation – and subsequent label revisions – could go a hundred different ways from this new point of departure. The best path for revision is reversing label direction, going from the original generalization to the specific.

For you can’t tell me that Jude’s adversity here to being labeled by Connor means that he does not have internal labels of his own, such as one classifying Connor as a boy he likes in that certain way or doesn’t like in that certain way.

It is no longer the generalized label of “gay” or “not gay” but instead the specific label of “that particular boy” or “not that particular boy.” Out of such specifics new labels get built or old ones revised. That is why exposure to diversity and conversations about diversity and learning about diverse people transform our thinking — our label making — in positive ways.

“Don’t label me” is as useless as it is moronic. Far better, far more useful, is “Be cautious with your labels as you might mistake them for truth and lose your ability to revise them.” But that is not as sound-bitey as the former.

So maybe we should phrase it another, more inviting way:

“Hi, there. I’m JD. Tell me about yourself.”

Fireworks against a Stone Wall

Cause baby, you’re a firework
Come on show them what you’re worth
Make them go, “Oh, oh, oh”
As you shoot across the sky

Props to the folks from Vermont PRIDE who made the Third Annual Stonewall Commemoration happen. A nice blend of music, history, and personal reflection, it beautifully celebrated – and remembered – the night 45 years ago when some drag queens in a dive bar were being harassed yet again by the police, as they had been harassed time and again by pretty much all of modern society, and said “fuck this.”

They fought back. And inspired, on that significant queer night, for others to join them. Fought back and reclaimed a little piece of themselves that no one else has the right to take: their pride.

There is more to that night, of course. A lot more. And there’s more history before it, more after it, and the writing of such pages is ongoing. But I’ll save parsing of significant events and analysis to my political scientist husband who graduated summa cum laude and did his honors thesis on the gay rights movement.

For this little blog, and with the little time that I have before I go to work, I wanted to focus on just one aspect of the amazing, moving event: the opening song.

Trevor, an Outright Vermont youth, played an incredible acoustic rendition of the song Fireworks by Kate Perry.

I’m not a Kate Perry fan. Heck, I didn’t even know who she was till he played the song and mentioned her as being the songwriter. Afterwards, so touched by that song and it still resonating in my thoughts, I found her original version on You Tube.

I wouldn’t have thought that one could have a lyric like “Make them go, “Oh, oh, oh”” in a song without it sounding insipid. In Kate Perry’s version, I was right. So I clicked Perry off in mid “oh”, closed my eyes, and heard Trevor’s soft and soulful “Oh, oh, oh”; a voice that brought out the meaning of the lyrics – and here I will give props to Mrs. Perry for penning them — in a way such that tears came unbidden to my eyes.

Right now my current situation is very difficult and I feel oppressed, depressed, and stressed.

Perhaps ironically, being queer is the one thing in my life that isn’t brutally marked by those three things. Sure, oppression is still there; of course it is.

But what I mean is: I am now legally married to my spouse of 18 years and live in a progressive state. I am also out 24/7 and do not put up with homophobic bullshit. So although there is still much – much — work to do with regards to queer rights – especially for Trans folks – I feel mostly safe and secure in my sexuality. Maybe not yet safe as houses, but safe as at least a decent tent.

Right now it is poverty that is causing me the most anguish. I am one of the working poor: I work over forty hours a week at a low-paying, physically-demanding job and feel trapped; locked in an economic closet, as it were.

So trapped, disillusioned, and full of worthlessness, I almost didn’t go to the Stonewall Commemoration.

But Gary and I did and I heard Trevor sing.

The song is about being queer. It is about being poor. It is about being in any situation where you feel like others are in control; a song about feeling worthy no matter what others say or do. About knowing that you are inherently worthy despite circumstances that might make it seem otherwise. About showing that worth no matter what.

My writing is my attempt at showing.

My writing, though, hasn’t been as consistent as I would like it to be; that is, I haven’t been writing consistently. Hard financial circumstances and emotional exhaustion tends to dampen the fireworks of creativity despite the mythical and romanticized view of the starving artist.

My story thoughts have been disjointed and jumbled, all mixed together with trying-to-make-ends-meet ones; the latter casting doubts on the story ones being worthwhile at all. I have had a lot of starts and stops of new stories, fizzling out not because of no story left but because of the fire going out; extinguished by the dark water of despair that insidiously advised me that I wasn’t getting anywhere.

I recently installed the trial version of Scrivener to try to regain some order. It is a writing tool that allows for disjointed thoughts for when the linear is too overwhelming. With it, you can worry about coalescence and cohesiveness later; it encourages you to run with whatever story thread you have at the moment.

This morning I was thinking about how I could best use it when it occurred to me that one of those fizzled stories could have another view added, which would take it in a fresh direction. Using the flexibility of Scrivener, I could start working immediately on some scenes involving that view and worry about compiling them into the whole later.

But I’ll save the immediately for tomorrow, when I have a day off. For now, with the time counting down to the start of my shift, I will let this minor post be a little spark across the sky.

Our Queer Language

Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”

Speak my language

This post is about the difficulty of defining sexual orientation.

But it is also about the struggle to create a decent (that is, successful) resume for a tough economy. Indeed, it is even more broadly about the challenge of adequately presenting identity at all.

The word “queer” seems to be in fashion in Vermont. I see it used by RUI2, Outright Vermont, and many of the people I have encountered, especially youth. Of late I’ve taken to using the word myself, identifying as “queer” rather than “gay”.

The word “queer” of course has a mixed history, being both a pejorative as well as, perhaps ironically, a word of pride. Sometimes its status as either appears to ebb and wane through the decades; at other times it appears to possess both characteristics simultaneously.

In effect, it is a queer word itself.

Yet it also seems to be the best word we currently have.

The LGBT community has a serious letter problem. Or I should say the LGBTQ, or maybe LGBTQAA, or is it LGBTQAAI or LGBTQ*? Indeed, those of us middle-aged remember it as GLBT, the L and G getting switched somewhere along the way.

The addition of each letter is supposed to make it more inclusive, but in a way it defeats itself, especially if we are not careful in our thinking. It reminds me of the debate about adding the Bill of Rights to the Constitution of the United States, where it comprises the first ten amendments.

We have inalienable rights. The ninth amendment itself is very clear on just how broadly this should be interpreted:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Yet we tend to gloss over its stunningly bold and arguably sweeping statement of the individual and focus instead on the comparatively weak checklist quality of the other nine. Focus to the point that we give those other nine entries in the Bill of Rights some kind of comprehensive status rather than viewing them more accurately as emphatic.

Likewise with LGBT (or GLBT). Its original intent may have been to be more like the ninth amendment in its scope. However, Each letter represents a category that, like the Bill of Rights (with the exception of the ninth), inevitably leaves something out; leaves someone out. So the “solution” has been to add more letters.

But each of those letters becomes yet another unintentionally narrow category – another checklist box – that may or may not quite accurately fit the person. In many ways I am such a person, though I’ve commonly used “gay” as the best fit.

I have had sex with women. Two, actually, which is still plural, but is less than the number of such encounters I have had with men. Still, less or not, that sexual history is part of me. It is also a part of me that I could “get it up” for a woman.

Yet, I do not consider myself bisexual according to my understanding of the word. For the “getting it up” I mentioned has less to do with attraction, arousal, or desire, and more to do with the mechanics of body, blood flow to penis, and the manly urge to ejaculate.

Sure, there was some attraction, arousal, and desire present in the opposite sex encounters, but it was situation-driven rather than because of orientation.

“Gay” seemed to be a closer fit, encompassing my spontaneous thoughts of such things. With a woman I have to deliberately think about whether or not she is attractive, whereas with a man such notions arise automatically and instantaneously.

So I’ve usually described myself as gay.

But for whom is that term necessary? Defining myself as gay does nothing to facilitate my own understanding of self and it does not change my history in the least. I am still who I am, who I was, and who I will be.

Instead the definition is for the benefit of the world at large; an attempt at conveying who I am to others who are not me.

Yet, whatever word I use is going to be colored by the experiences of the reader, who necessarily can only understand it as a category; a category that will not – can never — have quite the same hue as my own understanding of it.

Such is the problem of language in general. It is adequately functional at best and highly dysfunctional at worst. If I say think of “chair”, we are both thinking of the same thing and yet not of the same thing. For your thought of “chair” brings to that particular neuronal firing all of your previous chair thoughts, constructing it accordingly.

Typically such disparity is close enough for government work.

If I asked you to sit in a chair, I likely wouldn’t find you sitting on the floor due to an intractable misunderstanding of the term. On a day-to-day, we can make corrections, too, that alleviate some of that discrepancy by being more precise: “Hand me a screwdriver… no, I meant the Phillips screwdriver.”

Neither my coloring nor yours changes the reality of chair or screwdriver. Likewise our back and forth refinement of such terms only affects our alignment of language to one another and not the underlying object itself being thus referenced.

Resumes present a similar issue. I have certain work experiences I wish to convey. Did I collaborate with team members or did I communicate with them? Did I coordinate that program or manage it? Did I write content or create it?

All of those action words are true, yet they fall short of the elusive whole truth. The unchanged reality of what I have done – the chair and screwdriver of my work history – gets put into a category that limits it, sometimes to detrimental effect:

The employer might assume you can’t do work A because the terms they associate with doing work A are not present in your resume. I’ve been trying – quite unsuccessfully so far – to tweak my resume with each new application in such a way that I can generate a favorable response; one that, in my eyes, more accurately reflects the breadth and depth of my capabilities.

A resume, at its core, is an expression of identity; a work identity. A sexual orientation is another one. And of course there are innumerable others, all of which get continually tweaked during communication as we attempt to convey who we are in the best, most clearly understood, way possible.

Queer is much broader and inclusive than the paint-by-letters of LGBTQA-Z. For me, it encompasses the entire spectrum of gender attraction, identity, and expression. For I cannot think of anything more wonderfully strange and beautifully odd than the underlying diversity that is inherently present by us each being unique.

Of course, that might instill the comment that “straight” people should fall into that category as well, indeed making everyone queer.

Well, yeah, in a perfect world I think they should and think they would. For in a perfect world, everyone recognizes everyone else as being sovereign of their own selves; recognizes and respects that sovereignty.

For now, though, the world is queerly imperfect.

So when I write “queer” protagonists I am writing characters “outside the norm”; however, for them queer is the norm, as it is for me. We’re just waiting for the world to catch up.