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Alrighty. We’ve had a day to digest the news about DOMA. By now, it seems, the breathless celebrating is mostly over – although I am willing to guess the Pride parade this weekend is going to be super extra glittery and rainbowy and celebratory.

As it happens, it was my husband who first told me. He’d spent the night rather than driving home tired (at my insistence), and had left to go to work earlier that morning. I was doing my best to sleep in when I got a text from him:

Wooo! Supreme court ruled against DOMA! Ruled same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional!

I think I just stared blankly at the screen for a minute. Then I started to cry. Which is a little weird, to be honest.

After all, I am already married. And, yes, planning to get divorced somewhere down the road. At this point I have my doubts about getting married again in the future. I’ve learned a lot about what a marriage is, how it works, what really makes it function. I’ve learned how far love can take you in a marriage… and I’ve learned the places love alone can’t carry you. If love was all it took to make a marriage work, I wouldn’t be separated from my husband. So I wasn’t crying because I could finally get married.

I’m sure there are many couples out there who have been waiting for this decision. Who have wanted legal recognition and protection of the relationship they already share. As a fledgling baby lez, a neurotic proto-queer, I don’t have that. There was not some woman for me to turn to and say, “Finally. Marry me.” If there is a wife in the cards for me, she is little more than a concept right now, a nebulous and far-off future. So I wasn’t crying because the love I felt for someone else was finally recognized by the government.

I have lived my entire life with a sense of otherness. Always on the edge, the fringe, different without really knowing why. Never really fitting neatly into any given category. Not terribly easy to define, or even to sum up. Set aside, set apart, something different, a mismatched piece of the puzzle.

But yesterday… yesterday I stepped into the bigger picture. Yesterday I was included. Along with millions of other Americans, I was recognized as fully equal and deserving of the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else. It’s not really about getting married, not for me. It’s about the fact that the government has recognized that they have no right to dictate who I should want to marry. It’s about the fact that this decision is a step towards ending discrimination, a step toward erasing the attitude that anything other than straight is wrong and shameful and must be kept hidden. It’s a step toward recognizing and celebrating love in its many and myriad forms. It’s a step toward understanding, a step toward acceptance.

I cried because, yesterday, I was recognized by the United States government as a human being.


I can still feel your hands on my skin.
The electric crackle through my core
leaves a distraction like the scent of ozone
after lightning strikes twice.

I can hear your voice
like a bell that’s already been rung.
The note lingers in the air.

Listen,
I don’t know where I’m headed.
I’m the captain of a ship with no mast.
My sails are filled with dreams,
but there’s nothing to hold them up
and I know there’s a storm brewing.
I can taste the rain
in the ai
and on your tongue.
The warning bell is ringing.
There are clouds on the horizon.

This may be the hurricane
that sweeps me away.
This could be the shipwreck
that lands me in a New World.

So bring on your lightning, your electric hands.
I’ll navigate the cliffs, drenched
in a monsoon of kisses.
Sound the bell until my bones start ringing.

I’ll sail into the black clouds, singing.


So I’ve decided to try and eliminate “I’m afraid” from my vocabulary. As in, “I’m afraid my date will find me unattractive,” “I’m afraid my girlfriend will leave me,” “I’m afraid of the dark.”

Instead, I’m replacing it with the phrase, “I’m aware.” As in, “I’m aware of the possibility my date may find me unattractive,” “I’m aware my girlfriend may someday leave me,” “I’m… aware of the dark.”

This serves two purposes. The first, and most relevant, is that it re-phrases certain fears. “I’m afraid my girlfriend will leave me” is a phrase laden with insecurity and anxiety. It’s ever-present; there is no time frame around her leaving. It could happen at any moment. It connotes a desire to hold on, to prevent the leaving from happening. It connotes a clinginess, a neediness, an ever-tightening grasp.

“I’m aware that my girlfriend may someday leave me” is not only a more accurate phrase, but also a calmer and less insecure one. We’re aware. It could happen. That’s kind of okay. Sure, it would suck if she left – but we were prepared. We knew. She’s free to leave, here. We can let her go. And we’ll survive being left.

Or let’s go with an even more literal version. “I’m aware my girlfriend will leave me.” Here we’ve directly swapped afraid for aware and left everything else the same. While the sentence itself is a bummer – she’s definitely leaving, we already know about it – it’s a much more confident voice that speaks than the one that says, “I’m afraid.” In fact, this sentence almost sounds like the speaker is making a choice. The leaving is a done deal, a foregone conclusion – so no use worrying about it or fearing it.

This highlights another purpose: the groundless fears. “I’m afraid of the dark” vs. “I’m aware of the dark.” The second sounds almost nonsensical – almost everyone is aware of the dark. Or what about “I’m aware that darkness may happen.” Also silly. Using “aware” helps pinpoint fears that are not exactly grounded in reason – fears that needlessly hold us back.

That said, here are some of the fears I’ve been wrestling with lately:

I’m afraid of living on my own and failing to pay the rent.

I’m afraid I’ll end up alone.

I’m afraid of being judged and left out of my community.

I’m afraid no one will believe me.

I’m afraid I don’t deserve to be happy.

I’m afraid I’ve wasted my life.

I’m afraid I’ve made a huge mistake.

I’m afraid of what everyone in my life will think when I tell them I’m gay.

I’m afraid the divorce will be hard.

I’m afraid I’ll lose my friends and end up lonely.

So, to rephrase:

I’m aware that I may fail to pay rent once I’m living on my own. (I will have to budget carefully, work hard, and remember that I have options if I can’t afford to live on my own.)

I’m aware that I may end up alone. (Part of me is almost comfortable with this notion. The other part of me thinks it’s only a very very remote possibility anyway.)

I’m aware that some people in my community may be judgmental and want to exclude me. (That’s life. They’re assholes anyway.)

I’m aware that many people may not believe me. (This is a lot of big heavy news to swallow. It may take some folks time to process. And if strangers don’t believe me, well… they don’t have to.)

I’m aware that I may not deserve to be happy. (Okay, that’s just patently untrue.)

I’m aware that I may have wasted my life. (Also patently untrue. I’m not done living it yet.)

I’m aware I may have made a huge mistake. (Yeah. Wouldn’t be the first.)

I’m aware of what everyone in my life will think when I tell them I’m gay. (Well, no. If I knew what they’d think, I wouldn’t be afraid of it now would I? But I can’t control it anyway, and I don’t know what they’ll think, so why spend the energy?)

I’m aware the divorce will be hard. (Truth. But I can prepare.)

I’m aware I’ll lose all my friends and end up lonely. (Wild hyperbole and also untrue.)

So there it is. I have a lot of big changes ahead of me, but they’re not quite as scary anymore.

And, yes, all of the above is true. About a month ago, I finally came out to my husband as a lesbian. The story behind why and how I know I am is one for a different time, and telling it will probably involve the consent of a few involved parties. Suffice it to say this is a period of massive upheaval for both myself and my husband, and I am currently re-evaluating nearly everything about my life as he and I navigate what will eventually be a separation and divorce. I am posting this publicly not to gather support or sympathy, but merely to give anyone who regularly reads this thing a heads-up. I do my best to post every Friday; there will probably be a period coming up here where I can neither vouch for the regularity or quality of these posts. I am aware that I could burn myself out on this, and I like this blog too much to blow it off and just let it die. I’d rather take it slow for a while.

If any of you writerly types would be interested in doing a guest post and giving me a week off, I am certainly open to the thought. Send me an email at pennypennybobenny [at] gmail [dot] com and let’s bounce some ideas around.

Thanks for reading, everyone. I’ll keep you posted.


I want you.

This wanting is an ember
I grip between my thighs,
a slow heat, creeping
sneaking upward, gripping my lungs, my heart
until I cannot breathe and so
I blush.

It is a quiet current
beneath the surface of a deep river
carrying strange secrets
inviting me to dip my fingers
beneath the surface.
Inviting me to drown.

This wanting is
a dark and wondrous thunderhead
building tall and silent, embracing the dry hills.
Waiting for a lightning strike,
the first drop of rain,
like kisses on my skin.

Forgive me.
It has been decades since my last confession.

I am afraid to hold you close,
afraid I’ll fan the coals
and burn us both to the ground.

I dare not speak
for fear the gates will break
and you and I will be swept away
on that mighty river.

I watch the horizon with worried eyes,
waiting for the forest fire.
Waiting for the flood.

In my hands, my blood composes songs of you
until my fingertips want to cry.
The melody is so perfect
because it is unsung.
It rushes through my core,
whispering your name.

Forgive me.
I want you.


Dad:

I’ve had some time to think about the things you said to me, the day I told you I was bisexual. I’ve thought about what it means, and what you believe, and where I fit into that picture. I’ve come to a decision.

I assume by now you’ve shared the news with Mom, if not my sisters. (One already knows, I talked to her privately.) I don’t mind if you have, or if you choose to in the future. It’s not something I particularly need kept secret. In fact, that’s kind of the point.

I’m not writing this to disprove your religious beliefs, nor to tell you you’re wrong for believing them. My intent is not to break your faith in any way. However, in order to state my message clearly, there is something I need you to understand: I do not believe in your God. I do not share your faith.

Because of this, I cannot agree with statements made on the basis of faith alone. Telling me “It’s wrong because God says so” is not a valid argument to me, any more than “It’s wrong because I say so” – which, to be honest, is all I’m hearing in those statements. I am a grown adult, and I have the freedom and the right to make my own life choices.

I am choosing to live my life out of the closet. I am not ashamed of my sexuality.

I am choosing to explore my sexuality. I am not ashamed of my desires.

I do this with the full consent and blessing of my current partner, who understands there are certain things in life he simply cannot provide for me. He and I are communicating better than we ever have before, we are more respectful of each other than we ever have been, and embarking on this journey has done wonderful things to strengthen our marital bond. I do this not to escape my marriage, but to enrich it. I do this not to tear down our bond, but to build it up.

Ultimately, who I build relationships with and how my husband and I manage our marriage is none of your business. I am not interested in hearing how you think I am Doing Marriage Wrong.

But there is something I need you to understand: I will not accept mere tolerance. I am tired of hearing the message “Well, it’s not what we would choose for you, but it’s your life to live.” That statement tells me that you’re not going to stop me if you think I’m making a mistake, and you won’t try to have an open and honest conversation about it, but in your heart of hearts you will always carry condemnation and judgment toward me. You will always be waiting to say “I told you so.”

I have yearned my whole life for approval from you. I have yearned my whole life for acceptance. I have made myself miserable to the point of desperation, trying to squeeze myself into the rigid role of model child, trying to be this mysterious perfect daughter that you could love without reservation. But I have always failed – maybe not in your eyes, but certainly in mine. I feel I have not gained your acceptance or your understanding. I do not have your support in being myself and following my heart: merely your tolerance.

The time has come for me to ask for your acceptance. I realize, given your faith, what a monumental thing it is I ask of you. I am asking you to consider that the Church may have it wrong on this one. I am asking you to re-examine your beliefs.

I would not ask this of you if it did not matter. If I was comfortable believing that my feelings were wrong, I would not ask it. If I was comfortable lying to you about this part of my life, I would not ask it. If I was comfortable with discrimination dressed up as loving tolerance, I would not ask it.

But I am not comfortable with those things.

You were right when you said it was not wrong to be attracted to members of the same sex. I believe that. But I cannot accept that it is wrong to be in a relationship with someone of the same sex. To accept that would be to turn my back on a wide community of wonderful, loving people; a community of which I am a part. I cannot accept that falling in love can ever be a sin – and I cannot accept that expressing that love, exploring that love, could ever be sinful, either. There may be times when it can hurt, yes – people are imperfect and as such can hurt each other – but that does not make it morally wrong. The full experience of love, in its myriad of forms, is an inalienable human right.

So here it is: the crucial decision.

I respect your right to religious freedom. I respect your faith and your beliefs, though I do not agree with all of them. Because of this respect, I will not demand your acceptance – even if I could demand such a thing.

However, I also respect myself. I respect my right to choose how I live my life, and with whom. Because of this respect, I will not subject myself to the pain of discrimination and intolerance, even from those who love me. Because of this respect, I will choose to lead a life that brings me joy and fulfillment, and choose the friends and lovers and partners that support me on this path.

I would like to share my life of joy with you. In order to share it fully, I need to know that you accept the life I live, without judgment. Tolerance (“It’s ok to feel that way, but not to act on it”) is not acceptance. If you cannot offer acceptance, then I cannot continue to share my life with you. I will not edit and hide parts of my life to show you a face you approve of.

You must either love all of me, or none.


I absolutely love Jamie Noguchi’s webcomic Yellow Peril. It’s smart, funny, damn good art, and unlike nearly every other webcomic I follow, doesn’t ever make me go “Oh. Ick. That’s not really funny if you’re a girl.” (Looking at you, LICD.) Seriously, go into the archives and start this one from the beginning. You won’t regret it.

I love this February’s story arc especially much because, well, girls. Kissing. What’s not to love?

I really should know better than to read the comments. I don’t know how this happens, but every time Noguchi posts a strip that I am particularly happy about, some asshole in the comments shits all over it. For instance, this strip about telling your boss to fuck off drew out a particularly creepy dude who figured it was totally okay to stalk your boss, learn where he (obviously he, no women ever run companies or oversee employees) lives and works, and then subtly drop threatening hints about his wife and family. I’m not kidding.

So why, then, should I be surprised that a commenter on the girls-kissing story arc had this to say?

I’ll be annoyed if she cheats + becomes bisexual because of this incident. If she’s not happy she should break up and I’ve already been through a few webcomics where a character becomes gay/bisexual almost out of nowhere enough times to be nervous about how this will play out. Hoping the next comic is a rebuff.

Right. Sooo annoying when characters that have clearly had a thing for each other for quite some time end up being the same gender. Or, uh, wait. I guess it’s more annoying when you miss the clues and are blindsided by this development because you’re hell-bent on assuming everyone’s straight?

(And, yes, she may be cheating on her boyfriend – does that make her a completely bad and unsalvageable character who we now must hate? Or would you rather the comic just be cleansed of everything that makes you uncomfortable?)

… It is not unreasonable to assume, until stated otherwise, that characters are straight. It’s not Disregarding bisexuals or homosexuals, it’s simply that typically characters are straight until it’s said so in a story. If she was bisexual the whole time and it was stated at some point before hand and was just monogamous and dating a man I wouldn’t have had any problem with this scene at all…

Actually, yes, it is unreasonable. The reasons here are twofold:

1) It is unreasonable to assume that everybody is just like you. That is, in fact, disregarding everybody who is not like you. It is assuming that there is a “default state” to being a human being, and that it is safe to expect that everybody, real or fictional, adheres to the default unless they specifically tell you they do not.

2) It is unreasonable to expect an artist or storyteller to hold your hand and gently lead you through exactly what her or his intentions are for his or her artwork. In this case, you are asking the artist to explicitly state to the audience, at some point, “Hey, folks! This here character is bisexual, and even though she’s dating a guy she could just as easily be dating a girl! In fact, I plan to do a story arc that covers exactly that scenario. Stay tuned!” That would make for some really shitty art. It is up to you, as the reader, to pick up on what the artist is putting down. And, as I pointed out with the linkspam above, it wasn’t exactly a subtle story thread. If you missed the fact that this girl was into that girl, it’s because you’re overlaying your own heteronormative narrative on top of the one the artist has actually written.

Why are characters “typically straight until it’s said so” in any media? What gives you the right to make that statement? How do you look at any given character and know 100% for sure that they’re straight, and not just currently in a hetero relationship?

Also, why the hell isn’t there more queerness in the media? (Because, Penny, it gets attacked the way Yellow Peril did. Oh, right. Good point, Anonymous Imaginary Reader.)

Unless it’s a “special interests” movie like Kissing Jessica Stein or Brokeback Mountain, LGBTQIA people barely get a nod in mainstream media; I was thrilled when the tech girl who was onscreen for five minutes in Mr. And Mrs. Smith mentioned her girlfriend. Media enforces heteronormativity in society, and in return society enforces it in the media. It’s this ridiculous self-supporting cycle that totally erases the experience of “non-normative” people in every quarter.

If am reading Harry Potter would it be considered odd for me to assume that Harry won’t be asking out Ron or Seamus or that Hermione won’t be asking Luna Lovegood out until something in the novels indicates it’s a possibility? I am taking the stance of assuming, until proven otherwise, that a person is the most common sexual preference (straight).

Um, yes, to me that’s odd. Maybe not from the standpoint that, I assume, many artists default to heteronormativity because they know what’ll happen to their sales if they don’t… but I still think it’s odd, yes. It’s the same weird “default state” assumption that leads people to thinking that being straight is normal, but being gay is a choice. And since when is “the most common sexual preference” straight? And if it really is the most common preference, why did you have to immediately qualify that statement with “(straight)” ? Why wouldn’t Hermione be interested in Luna? What’s stopping Harry from being into Ron? Did you know Dumbledore’s gay?

I’ve lived in Chicago all my life and met many gay people, but I’ve met a lot more straight people. That and most films and novels and games having a majority of straight people makes me expect to see more straight people in a story. Is this also odd?

Ye – oh, no. Actually no, that’s not odd at all. Of course you see heteronormative stories in the heteronormative media of a heteronormative society. What’s odd is that you look at those stories and assume that they’re all real and true to life.

I see superheroes all the time in the movies. Does that mean I can expect to move to Gotham and meet Batman? Should I try to get a job as a writer at The Daily Planet? Or maybe apply to work at Stark Industries so I can sue Tony for sexual harassment and comfortably retire on my millions?

Oh, and hey – have you actually met a lot more straight people? Or did you meet a lot of people you assumed were straight because they didn’t explicitly tell you they weren’t?

Obviously, this is just one commenter – who has already been roundly debunked by several others – but I am tired of this circular-logic merry-go-round. “This is normal because the media depicts it this way” + “The media depicts it this way because that’s what’s normal” is bullshit. So is “I’m annoyed with this story line because it doesn’t reinforce my narrow view of the world! The artist should change it!”

And the worst part of it all is that artists with integrity and vision, like Jamie Noguchi, are not only caught in the crossfire but are actively discouraged from making art. Actively shamed for not reinforcing the kyriarchy. Dude, he’s not making them gay AT you; he’s writing the storyline he wants to write. One that’s clearly been planned for several months, and is not an “ass-pull” or a “sexual deus ex machina.”

(Although, good job on the use of “deus ex machina.” Seriously. You even spelled it right.)

We need Yellow Peril. We need Annie kissing Ally, precisely because it surprises us out of the “everybody is straight” narrative. (Well, some of us.) Let the dude make some friggin’ art already.

 

As an afterthought: Who cares if she is a spontaneous bisexual? Does discovering your sexuality post-puberty somehow make it less valid? Because if so, I’m a big ol’ spontaneous queer, myself. Shame on me for… uh… stuff.


So, the other night I went out on my first-ever official date with a woman.

It was lovely.

It was lovely.

And it was different. In a very nice and refreshing way. It was much more relaxed and groovy than many of the dates I’d been on with men – no nervous back-of-the-mind commentary on a constant loop of “Oh my god what if he kisses me? What if he doesn’t? Am I pretty enough? Am I being too loud? Am I eating too much? Am I not eating enough? What does he expect tonight? Is he going to ask for sex right away? Will he stop seeing me if I say no?”

Get this: we talked. Like friends do. We got to know each other. Shared stories. Laughed, a lot.

It was awesome.

And because there were no scripts to follow, there was no fear of overstepping one’s imaginary bounds – of somehow ruining the evening by not living up to expectations. I didn’t have to worry about fitting myself into a role within the date: it was all about What Do We Want To Do Next? Where Do We Want To Go? OMG Did I Tell you About That One Time When I XYZ? It was like a night out on the town with a new best friend. Only difference being, I got to hold her hand now and then; and occasionally my brain would interrupt the conversation with a quiet Hey, Wouldn’t It Be Fun To Kiss That Girl? (Shut up, brain, I’m trying to listen. Take your fantasies and go play in the other room.)

How is it that I’m only learning what a good date is supposed to look like three years after getting married? Who is supposed to be teaching this stuff? Because seriously – someone is dropping the ball here. How much heartache would I have saved if I’d really figured out how to get to know a dude as a friend before jumping into boyfriend-girlfriend mode? Or even after that? Hell, I’ve moved in with at least one guy before figuring out whether or not we were actually friends. (He was manipulative and controlling, so short answer: no, we weren’t.) I’d had the “first comes love, then comes marriage” narrative drilled into my head so hard, I never really stopped to think rationally about how to approach relationships. I was just looking for someone, anyone, to love me. And with the cultural ruts worn so deeply into our gender identities, it’s really easy to trip and fall into a relationship almost by accident.

She and I get to create our very own, special kind of relationship from scratch. It’s sort of terrifying. After all, that means I am actually responsible for thinking through my actions and reactions; no knee-jerk gender roles to fall back on. For the first time, when I’m out with her, I am realizing what it means to be at least partly responsible for someone’s safety and well-being. Since there’s no social script for us, it means I have to do things like say, “Hey, I’d really like to kiss you goodnight, but I think it would be better if we waited. Is that cool with you?” and hope she doesn’t think I’m a total dork for asking. It means being conscious of my emotional baggage, and remembering that it’s mine to manage, not hers. It means asking ourselves questions like: Who takes the lead? Who makes the first move? What responsibilities do we have to each other? To the others in our lives? To ourselves?

But it’s freeing, too – for the first time ever, I don’t have this weight of expectation pressing down on me. I can trust she’s not just there to get laid. I can trust that she actually likes me for who I am. That I’m not just a pretty face, or another notch on the bedpost, or a trophy or an arm decoration. The fear is gone, in a way it never has been in the early stages of any of my other relationships. I’m allowed to just be myself – she likes me that way. And I get to delight in this kindred spirit I’ve found, to discover her and learn about her. We’ll get around to the physical stuff, I’m sure. There’s undeniably an attraction there – my heart gets all fizzy when I think of her and my brain has been sent on time-out for inappropriate interruptions on more than one occasion. But the impetus for sex-right-now-to-seal-the-deal just isn’t there. There’s no “This is what we’re supposed to do next, this is what we have to do next.” There’s no pressure.

We’re enjoying the experimentation, the newness of it. We’re reveling in the Choose Your Own Adventure style of romance. (If you kiss the girl, turn to page 4. If you announce your intention to kiss her at a later date, then run away in a whirl of giddy anticipation, turn to page 13.)

Taking it slow is awesome. Why have I never done it this way before?



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