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Guest Posts, Fiction, Fiction Fridays, Gender & Sexuality

Can’t

July 16, 2021
christine

By Lauren Anton

You’re turning thirteen tomorrow. It’s time to act like it.

She looked around her pink and white bedroom. Pink: her favorite color. Her journal, also pink, with a picture of a pretty little girl on it, surrounded by flowers. She had gotten her period, as if on cue, the day before. When she went to tell her mother, she had handed a pad to her, unceremoniously. Her dad had hugged her for no reason that morning.

It was all pretty awkward. But still. She took the event and her upcoming birthday as a sign that things needed to change.

No more being loud. No more tomboy. You need to be quiet and pretty.

She thought back to the times when she would hang out with Natalie, prowling the mall for guys.

At least that’s what Natalie was doing.

“Did you see that guy?”

Never.

“He’s so cute! I think he was looking at me.”

According to Natalie, they always were.

They would then follow the guy (or guys) around, while she became increasingly more anxious, when she would eventually duck into a bookstore to read magazines, not books. She was trying to figure out how to be a pretty girl who attracts boys. She would stand there for an hour, waiting for Natalie to be done with her guy-hunting, reading magazines like Seventeen, Vogue, and Cosmopolitan not for enjoyment, but for the task of research.

It didn’t seem to sink in.

No matter how many quizzes she took, she didn’t naturally have the eye that Natalie – and all the pretty girls in her class – had.

Even if she did attract a boy, she didn’t know what to do. She liked her guy friends in class, but never seemed to like the guys that she was told were “looking” at her.

She felt that she had been left behind in fifth grade, when they had “Family Life” – sex ed in Catholic school. She had hidden behind her book when they learned about “intercourse,” lest she make eye contact with any other human being.

“Intercourse” was defined as “a man placing his penis in the woman’s vagina, with the hopeful outcome of conception of a new human life, within a loving marriage.” The book went on to say that it was a “precious gift from God” and was to be “held with the deepest respect.”

Meaning never done outside of marriage.

The daydreams, as she called them, started when the “Family Life” classes started. She would spend hours fantasizing about being a boy in a relationship with a girl, having sex with her, getting married, having a family. Her imagination was expansive, which was important, as she didn’t know that girls could masturbate.

She thought only boys could do that.

In fact, the book had been so centered on the penis and ejaculation (and other words that made her want to die when she heard them), she didn’t realize girls could have an orgasm and that there was something called a clitoris.

She had no clue about her own body.

And so the daydreams where she was a boy having sex with a girl continued for over two years.

The penis was all she knew.

Her pen hovered and then drove into the paper.

You need to stop these daydreams.

Her sexual fantasies that she called daydreams because she didn’t know what sexual fantasies were or that she could have them.

She didn’t know why she had the daydreams. She just knew she couldn’t stop and found her mind on them, not even realizing how long she had been thinking about it. She just knew they were bad and had to stop. She had to find a way.

She remembered what happened two years ago in her pink and white room on her frilly twin bed. Her cheeks burned with the shame.

They had just started “Family Life” and her friend Christine had come over to spend the night. It had been a normal visit, nothing noteworthy. Dinner, playing games up in her room, talking, until her mother had told her it was time to get ready for bed.

When the lights were off, they continued to talk, as ten-year-old girls do, in the dim light of the nightlight.

The topic of “Family Life” came up and how embarrassing it was.

But she wasn’t feeling embarrassed.

She was feeling…like she did in the daydream.

“We should practice.”

Christine was nervous about this so she offered that they could leave out the kissing. She was secretly bummed by this but realized that compromise was needed.

And so, she lived out her daydream in her pink bed, in her pink and white room. At ten years old.

She didn’t know she could float, but she did.

When her eyes were woken by the sun shining through the split in the curtains, she looked over at her friend, still asleep. She shifted to her side to watch the ray of sun creep up Christine’s body under the covers, her blonde hair in wisps around her face, until at last the sun reached her eyes. She blinked herself awake.

“Morning.” She smiled.

“Hey.”

Christine immediately got up, taking her change of clothes in the bathroom. Her stomach had a tiny pang of fear which she quickly shoved away and instead got dressed, taking her cue from Christine.

When Christine came back in the room, she sat on the edge of the bed, her gaze on the floor. She sat beside her, a respectful three feet away. Her body sent off alarm bells.

“What we did last night was wrong. We should never do it again.”

There was a moment when she couldn’t really see and her stomach dropped to the floor. She thought she was going to faint.

Christine looked at her, expectantly. Waiting for her response.

The right response.

“Yeah…yeah…” She trailed off, her head nodding slowly.

“OK. Yeah. Let’s never do it again.”

You can’t do that. It’s disgusting.

Her pen dug into the paper of her journal, almost ripping it.

Turning thirteen would need to involve an entire personality overhaul.

And her sexuality would be the first order of business.

Lauren Anton is a registered dietitian specializing in eating disorders by day and a writer by night. She is a mom to her beautiful 8-year-old son, who is a constant teacher of what it is to be in love with life, feeling everything so, so fully. She enjoys hiking, yoga, piano, and her little rescue poodle, Bernie.

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Although each of Jenny Offill’s books is great, this is the one we come back to, both to reread and to gift. Funny and thoughtful and true, this little gem moves through the feelings of a betrayed woman in a series of observations. The writing is beautiful, and the structure is intelligent and moving, and well worth a read.

Order the book from Amazon or Bookshop.org

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Guest Posts, Fiction, Fiction Fridays, Gender & Sexuality

In the Flesh of an Apple

April 2, 2021
apple

By Mercury-Marvin Sunderland

Julius bit into a big red apple. He was groggy, and it was morning. He was lying around in his on-campus apartment at Portland State University, trying to ignore the cramping in his uterus yet again. He got them fairly often, and would try to medicate himself with weed occasionally. He tried not to do it because he didn’t want to be as addicted to it as he was in high school. Provided, he didn’t want to be addicted to weed in the first place, but cutting down on it was the first step.

It had been years since he’d last had his period. When he’d started testosterone it had thankfully stopped the bleeding, but he was still getting the cramps. For a lot of people, starting HRT meant that it took away both the bleeding and the cramps, but for others, it wasn’t so fortunate. However, Julius was doing his best to just be grateful for what he had, and he knew that there were many people who didn’t get the privilege to start testosterone in the first place. He was just starting to get stubble and that was exciting. His voice was just getting deep.

Just think positive, Julius, he reminded himself. Think positive.

When he was a freshman in high school he read online that eating an apple every morning had caffeinated qualities. That was probably bullshit but he’d gotten into a huge habit of eating apples every morning ever since. He liked to eat the entire fruit, core, and stem. It pissed off his friends but seeing their priceless reactions only encouraged him to do it even more. Besides, the cyanide in apple seeds isn’t really enough to kill anyone, anyway. They taste like almonds.

Ignoring the way that his pain was literally making him aware of where his ovaries were, he got to the kitchen and made his morning coffee. He grabbed a Nature Valley bar and some slices of disgusting bootleg Kraft Singles. If you thought Kraft Singles couldn’t get any worse, you’re wrong. You can find bootlegs at the dollar store that try to be Kraft Singles but somehow manage to taste even worse. Julius wasn’t much of a chef, and didn’t have much money to buy his own groceries. He just knew that he needed the starch and protein, and that he was going to take what he could get.

He noticed that these packages of bootleg Kraft Singles claimed to be swiss cheese, but it had absolutely no holes in it. That drove him bonkers but he ate it anyway. He hated to peel off the plastic but he never had the energy to cook.

He got dressed in jeans, sneakers, and a Legend of Zelda t-shirt. He hated morning classes but he had to get to his 9 AM computer programming class before it was too late. He grabbed his powder blue backpack and headed outside.

When he got outside there was melting snow on the ground. Portland doesn’t get much snow but it was well past the point where snow was exciting anymore. People thought it was weird that he didn’t wear a coat too often, but nobody really seemed to think much of it.

When he was a freshman in high school he once ate an apple that tasted exactly like water. He’d never eaten an apple like that again but somehow it managed to be one of the most unpleasant things he’d ever eaten. Which isn’t to say that water doesn’t taste good, or that there aren’t gross mushy apples which would taste worse.

The taste of water just doesn’t feel appropriate in the flesh of an apple. It needs that sweet sugar.

Mercury-Marvin Sunderland (he/him) is a transgender autistic gay man from Seattle with Borderline Personality Disorder. He currently attends the Evergreen State College and works for Headline Poetry & Press. He’s been published by University of Amsterdam’s Writer’s Block, UC Riverside’s Santa Ana River Review, UC Santa Barbara’s Spectrum, and The New School’s The Inquisitive Eater. His lifelong dream is to become the most banned author in human history. He’s @Romangodmercury on Instagram, Facebook, RedBubble, and Twitter.

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This past year has been remarkable, in the best and worst of ways. (Her)oics Anthology is a collection of essays by women about the lived pandemic experience. Documenting the experiences of women both on the front lines and in their private lives, this book is an important record of the power, strength and ingenuity of women. 

Pick up a copy at Bookshop.org or Amazon.

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Click here for all things Jen

Guest Posts, Fiction, Gender & Sexuality

Dan Chalmers

January 21, 2021
dan

By Christine Heuner

“He’s doing it again,” Gianna reported at lunch, looking across the cafeteria at Dan Chalmers, his eyes fixed on Rachel.

Gianna nudged Rachel. “Hey,” she said. “Look.”

Rachel flickered her eyes to see Dan’s eyes on her. When he caught her glance, he looked away.

“See,” Gianna said. “Told you.”

“Quit it,” Rachel said, looking down at her anatomy notes.

In anatomy class, Rachel and Dan, both high-school juniors, were lab partners. He took the lead in dissecting a cat, and she was grateful.

She hadn’t noticed him looking at her until hawk-eyed Gianna picked up on it. Gianna also heard from Allison Levy who heard from Owen Lehrer that Dan had a crush on Rachel, and Owen was always a steady, reliable source. The only interaction Rachel had with Dan other than the cat dissection was when she bumped into him in the threshold between the hallway and classroom. They moved to get out of each other’s way, but ended up shifting in the same direction. They smiled; Dan might’ve said he was sorry.

But Rachel couldn’t dedicate her thoughts to Dan. Only weeks ago, she and her best friend of one year, Val, had taken off their clothes in Val’s room while Val’s parents were out. Facing each other in Val’s bed, they made each other feel good. Rachel had never been attracted to another girl, and her lingering feelings about Val confused her. She tried to find other girls attractive, focusing on the swell of their breasts, their curves. She fixed her attention on eyes, lips, hair, but only Val’s dimpled smile, her full, glossy lips, brown eyes, and shoulder-length blond hair, loose and curly, snagged Rachel’s attention. Rachel noticed how good Val looked in her leggings. Her cut-off shirts revealed her belly button and light skin. When Val spoke, she gestured with her hands. Her laugh was as bright as her costume jewelry.

Rachel was excited the next time she and Val were alone in Val’s room; she sat closer to Val than she usually did while Val sketched and Rachel painted with watercolors. When they watched a horror movie, Rachel leaned closer to Val, put her head on her shoulder, and held her hand. They rested their arms on Val’s thigh. Rachel hoped Val might change her position, lean in and kiss her, but she didn’t. Rachel assumed Val was anxious about her parents coming in her room, but another day when Val’s parents were both out to dinner, Val didn’t come closer as Rachel hoped she would. Val never asked to touch her again, and Rachel wondered if Val thought their moment in her bed was a mistake or a distraction from boredom. Rachel’s stomach lifted when she thought of them together, and then fall with shame for what she wasn’t supposed to feel.

Rachel tried to keep a distance between her and Val. She lazed around the house, muddled through chores, watched romance films with tidy endings. She attended to her grades as a distraction and to keep her parents off her case. She memorized the limbic system, math formulas, irregular verbs. She fed and walked her dog Cinnamon, played with her ferret Stella, went out on two dates with Jonas Martino, a senior. He made good money at his part-time construction job and flashed his thick wallet, bulging indiscreetly from his back jeans pocket.

After dinner and a drive through the mountains, where Jonas pointed out his favorite estates, he parked his Jeep in a dark parking lot and pressed his tongue in Rachel’s mouth. He tried to go up her shirt. She pushed him away. “Stop.”

His eyes narrowed in hostile impatience. “If that’s the way you want it,” he said.

She wanted a slow kiss from soft lips, gentle fingers, hair on her cheek, the smell of lavender shampoo, vanilla and honeysuckle. “Keep doing what you’re doing,” she had told Val. “Don’t stop.”

Unable to restrain herself, Rachel cried.

“Holy shit,” Jonas said. “Sorry.”

Rachel wiped her cheeks in quick fury, snapping, “I’m fine.”

As Jonas drove her home, she recalled Val scratching her back, laughing as Rachel murmured, “That feels so good.”

Rachel shivered; chills raised bumps on her arms.

I’ll never be free of this.

I don’t want to be free.

Rachel hung out a few times with Gianna, but only felt an aching emptiness when they sat in her dull blue-gray room, listening to music, gossiping about bullshit. She imagined kissing Gianna, but the thought enticed her as much as kissing her own hand.

Tuesdays after school, Rachel stayed late for Key Club. Her mother wanted her to join more activities, and this was Rachel’s compromise. While she waited for her mother to pick her up, Dan Chalmers approached her in the near-empty parking lot.

“I fixed up my Corvette,” he said, tipping his head vaguely to the right. “Do you want to go for a ride?”

He was the only red-head she knew. He had small eyes and flecks of acne on his cheeks. He smiled hesitantly, as if the wrong word from her might destroy him.

“Sorry. I’m busy. I have all this homework.”

“Maybe we can study together then.”

“I don’t think so.” She shifted her backpack straps.

He came closer to her with surprising quickness. His body was long and lean. “I like you a lot, Rachel.”

She shook her head.

“I think about you all the time.”

“You’ll get over it,” she could have said, but he had been kind to her, slicing into the cat’s chest cavity while she gagged, giving her his notes when she was absent with strep throat.

“Won’t you give me a chance? I’ve had a crush on you for so long.”

And yet she had not noticed it other than what Gianna reported. Now, she wondered if Mrs. Moss, their anatomy teacher, knew about this crush and assigned them as lab partners, hoping for the best.

“I’m sorry. I really am.”

“Is there someone else?”

Unbidden, an image of Val, laughing, dimples pressed into her cheeks, rose to the surface. She shivered, remembering Val’s fingers on her skin.

She shook her head. “I’m just not ready.”

He kicked at the pavement with his black Nike sneaker. “Do you think you could ever be ready?”

“I don’t know.”

He exhaled a labored breath and slouched his shoulders. He was too thin. “Can’t we just go for a drive? The car is great. You’ll love it.”

She couldn’t tell if his persistence was more exasperating than her consistent refusals. It pained her to see his cheeks flushed, the acne more prominent.

“I can’t.” Why was her mother so late?

“You mean you won’t.”

“I guess.”

“Will you at least think about it?”

She nodded, but his expression fell, his hope gone.

As her mother drove home, Rachel imagined telling Val and the rest of her friends about Dan, but decided to keep his agony to herself. Another thought of Val intruded: They got out of Val’s bed that day, naked, a little shy with each other. They handed each other their clothes and dressed in silence. It was a complete moment, a fulfillment of a desire they’d hidden or didn’t know they had. But Val, somehow, stuffed it away. Rachel’s heart sank as if, instead of Dan, she were the one rejected, left alone to suffer.   

Val continued calling Rachel, asking to get together. Finally, Rachel gave in, accepting Val’s request to go to the Halloween bash as zombies. Val had been practicing makeup techniques online. “I can do wounds,” she said. “I’m perfecting the weeping sore.”

Rachel and Val spent hours in Val’s room getting ready. Rachel’s mother, Kate, came to take pictures.

“This is absolutely disgusting,” Kate said, wincing at the bruise on Rachel’s eye, the oozing gash on her cheek.

Rachel gave her mother a look.

“I mean it in a good way,” Kate said. “You’re talented, Val. You should do makeup for Hollywood.” Val beamed. Her lipstick, the deep-red of blood, made her lips look kissable.

At the Halloween bash in the school gym, all the chaperones made Rachel and Val pose for pictures in their ripped flannels and jeans and boots, their hair wild, teased with a comb and hair sprayed. Everyone agreed that if zombies walked the earth, this is what they would look like. The principal created an award for Val, giving her free cupcakes and snacks. She took her fairy godmother wand, a shimmery silver baton with streamers, and handed it to Val.

“Here, my dear,” she said. “You’re queen of the apocalypse.”

 Val laughed and took the wand. “Not sure you want me to be in charge, Mrs. Cullen, but okay.” She pointed the wand at her friends. “Now, who am I going to turn into a frog?”

In spite of the music, played at normal volume, not many people danced; Rachel and Val gathered with Gianna and Gianna’s friend Tara by the bleachers. Rachel startled to see Dan Chalmers, dressed as Pennywise the clown, by her side.

“You look really creepy,” Rachel said. “Who did your makeup?”

“My Dad.” Rachel imagined that Dan came from an intact family like her own. He might have told his father about her, plied him for advice about how to ask her out.

“Your dad did your makeup?”

“Yeah. He has a steady hand. He paints model airplanes and boats.” Dan rocked back and forth on his heels. He would have a good father. That sounded right.

“So,” Rachel said. What else could she say?

“You did a great job on your makeup,” he said. Val, seated not far from Rachel, looked up.

“It’s all Val,” Rachel said. Val turned and smiled. Rachel’s felt a warm pressure in her chest.

“Awesome job, Val,” Dan said, raising his voice and leaning in.

She acknowledged him with a wave of her wand. “I did it by magic.”

“Huh,” he said as Rachel felt herself grow warmer. She knew Dan wanted to speak to her, erase the rest of them.

Rachel noticed that Tara made eye contact with Gianna, opened her eyes wide and tipped her head to the left. Gianna gave a quick glance over her shoulder at Dan and said, “Hey, guys. Let’s get something to drink.” She still had a soda can in her hand.

Only Val looked back at Rachel, shrugged her shoulders, mouthed “I’m sorry,” and, swinging her wand, jogged to catch up with the others.

“That was subtle,” Dan said. Rachel had to smile.

“I didn’t mean to take you from your friends. I just thought I’d come say hi. How are you?” He had to raise his voice a little to talk over “Thriller.” He leaned in toward her, smelling vaguely of Axe. She wondered if he’d put it on, hoping to see her. To impress. He’d helped raise her grade from a ‘C’ to a ‘B+’ in anatomy, and she was grateful, but standing beside him all she wanted to do was escape. She wanted to be with her friends.

“I’m good,” Rachel said, looking away. It was hard to look at the clown makeup without feeling uneasy.

“So, maybe… I was wondering if you might like to go out sometime.”

“Dan—”

“It doesn’t have to be like a date. We could just go as friends.”

But we’re not friends. “I don’t know.”

His voice tensed. “What does that even mean?”

His eyes, black-rimmed, looked cruel; the red slivers of makeup, sharp against the white background, ran vertically from his forehead to the edges of his mouth like ribbons of blood. This and his red hair, thick on top, looked menacing.

“I don’t know,” she said again; sweat gathered on her forehead.

“You think I’m a loser, don’t you? You think I’m pathetic.” His voice was flat; dull.

“No.”

“I am, maybe,” he said, looking down. He tapped his black Nike sneaker against the base of the bleacher. “You know I’m crazy about you. I’ve made it so obvious.”

She looked down at her nails, painted black. Val had decorated her completely.

Crazy about you.

When she didn’t answer, he said, “This is going to sound stupid to you, but I feel like we belong together.”

“How could you possibly know that?” she said, an arch rising in her voice. “You don’t even know me that well.”

He spoke methodically, as if reciting a list: “I know you love animals. I know you’re a good friend, especially to Val. You work hard, you listen well. I like your clothes. Your hair—”

This hair?” she said, pointing at her ragged head, the raised strands stiff with hairspray.

He smiled, but she sensed his latent annoyance at being interrupted. He shifted his position and cracked his knuckles.

“I notice you. I notice everything about you. You’re beautiful, Rachel.”

There was no way to make her escape. She felt dizzy. Trapped. Yet she had an impulse to kiss him on his white, unblemished cheek. She almost smiled, thinking of the silly image: this zombie and clown sharing a moment of affection.

“I don’t like you that way, Dan. I just don’t. I’m sorry. And I can’t go out as friends, pretending… you know. Why waste your money on me?”

He gave her an actual smile. Combined with the painted-on grin, he looked like he wanted to rip her head off. She shivered.

“It wouldn’t be a waste. I’d be honored.”

She shook her head, knowing how ridiculous she must look with her weeping wound and her teased hair, so messy and fake amidst all this gravity.

“I’ve got to go,” she said. She turned around, walked a few paces, then turned back. “I just want to tell you: You’re the bravest person I know.”

After the Halloween bash, Val and Rachel waited outside the gym for Rachel’s mother to pick them up. Val told Rachel she had a boyfriend named Clay who she met online.

Rachel’s head spun and temples throbbed. “Online? Where online?”

“He follows me on Instagram. Does it matter?”

Rachel pressed her with questions: How old is he? Where does he go to school? What does he look like?

“He’s almost twenty-one. He works for a towing company. He has brown hair, brownish eyes. They’re light brown, sort of like maple syrup.”

Rachel looked at Val’s dark lips, the fake blood smeared on her cheek; it looked almost like a bruise under the streetlamps.

“What?” Val asked. “I thought you’d be happy for me.”

Rachel’s chest burned; her stomach lurched. She felt hot; even her scalp prickled. “What about that day with you and me in your room? What about that?”

Val looked away; Rachel could not sense of Val were angry, sad, or simply indifferent.

Rachel touched Val’s arm gently. “Val?”

“It was good,” Val said, though her expression belied her words, her mouth pulled down, her eyes askance. “But you know it can’t be more than that. I—”

“Why not?” Rachel spoke with a new confidence, born of anger. Good wasn’t a strong enough word. She pressed against it.

“Because we’re not gay, Rach. That’s why not.”

Rachel felt dizzy; nausea gripped her. “You know what, Val? You can just fuck off.”

She stepped away from Val just as her mother pulled up in her Escalade. Rachel got in the passenger seat, left Val to sit by herself in the backseat.

At Val’s house, Val said, “Thank you, Mrs. Downey,” and gave Rachel a weak good-bye that she did not answer.

“What is it?” her mother said as soon as Val closed the door. “Oh, sweetie,” she said. “Come here.”

Rachel shook her head; her mother handed her a tissue. Rachel wiped her face, the tissue smeared with red paint that looked like bright blood. Rachel shivered, recalling Val’s fingers on her skin as she applied the make-up, her warm breath on her cheek.

She imagined Val kissing over-aged Clay, her tongue in his mouth, her satisfied smile as she pulled away, gazing into his maple-syrup eyes. Rachel wished she could recall the feel of Val’s tongue upon hers, the taste of her, but she could not. It was as if the entire moment was a fantasy, fake as the costumes Val conjured for them.

When Rachel got home, she ran to the bathroom, stared at the face Val had created: the damaged cheek, the hollowed eyes surrounded with blue-and-purple shadows as if she’d been punched.

At the cafeteria the following Monday, Rachel approached Dan Chalmers at his lunch table, asking quietly if they could talk. He had just taken a bite of a whole-wheat sandwich. She could feel all of his friends looking at her.

“What’s up?” he asked as they stood by the vending machines.

“I’m ready to go out… I mean, if you still want to.”

He paused as if he hadn’t heard her correctly.

“You mean it?” he asked. “This isn’t some bet?”

“Of course not,” she said. “I’m sorry I put you off before.” She noticed his acne had cleared a bit. He wore a dark green Henley that accentuated his light green eyes. He looked almost handsome.

In the dark movie theater, Rachel settled close to Dan. He was hesitant, holding her hand like an egg. He told her she smelled good.

Rachel thought all night about whether or not he would try to kiss her.

In her driveway, he leaned toward Rachel in his Corvette, a barely perceptible motion. She moved in, uniting their lips, touching her tongue to his. She closed her eyes, and she was in Val’s room, Val’s bed.

It was Val’s lips she kissed.

Christine C. Heuner has been teaching high-school English for over twenty years. She lives with her family in New Jersey. Her work has appeared in Narrative, Philadelphia Stories, Flash Fiction magazine, and others.

Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Click here for all things Jen

Guest Posts, Gender & Sexuality, LBGQ, Truth

What is it like to be you?

March 2, 2016

By Nina Woulk

Someone asked why I am so interested in how transgender people, especially those who grew up with no transgender community and had to create their own identity in isolation, construct identity.  Here is an answer.

I date back to the times when it seemed possible to construct a lesbian community that would be a life-long support system for its members, and spent some years working on community-building. We were not simply discovering that we were lesbians, although that’s how it felt at the time; rather we were trying to create an enduring lesbian social/political identity that we could share, that would be embodied in the community institutions we were trying to build. This was ambitious of course but humans are often ambitious. Continue Reading…

anti-bullying, courage, Gender & Sexuality, Girl Power: You Are Enough, Guest Posts

Cut The Label

December 1, 2015

By Laurie Suarez

Today is December 1st. The start of the new month. The last month of ​the​ year. And today is the day a very important movement launches. It will be a small movement at first, but it will grow. ​M​y hope is that it will grow to be so big that it isn’t a movement at all, it is just the way ​we think.​

My name is Laurie Suarez and today is the official launch of Cut the Label®— the campaign I founded in honor of my daughter​.​ The aim of Cut the Label® is to end the practice of categorizing each other. Sometimes we assign a label without thinking, sometimes a label is assigned to be cruel. In either case, the result is the same: the person we label is reduced to quick categorization. But we are so much more than the labels we attach to each other. We are not ​just a​ ​Religion, a Sexual Orientation, an Addiction, a Disease, a Diagnoses, ​Formally Educated-Not, Republican-Not, Rich-Not.

We are so much more than that.

​​YOU ​are so much more than that.

A year ago today​ I had to face ​the​ ​world of labels ​the hardest way possible, through watching my child struggle. A year ago, my son told me that he can’t be my son anymore. That he knew ​in his heart and brain that he is a girl. I accepted this and understood that I quickly needed to learn about what we were now facing. I glued myself to ​the​ computer and researched ​LGBTQ and ​Gender Dysphoria. ​The medical community has recognized ​Gender Dysphoria​ as a condition that can be diagnosed and addressed. One of the ​biggest struggles ​to anyone who has Gender Dysphoria is ​feeling valued​ as a human, and not feeling defined by​ labels and terms that are used against them when they move around in the world.

​The son​ ​I raised for nearly 14 years ​is in the process of transitioning to the self she knows she is​, my beautiful daughter.​ Being a teenager is hard enough, and to layer the complexities of Gender Dysphoria onto it makes the struggle much more painful. ​I couldn’t possibly be more proud of her. My daughter ​has struggled, but she is ​t​he bravest ​person ​I know​. No doubt, she deserves to be a part of a world that sees her for the person she is and ​​not a label​.​

​T​his is why I started focusing on the world beyond my daughter.​

​After I sank into a world of acronyms and labels, it occurred to me that I have missed opportunities to meet someone who could have been my friend due to a preconceived label. Staying away from certain people due to a label attached to them is unfair. There are good people everywhere and if someone is an A**hole (and as Jen Pastiloff says #dontbeanasshole) it has nothing to do with religion, sexual orientation or any other label. Some people are just A**holes. But just because some may act that way, it doesn’t mean that everyone who is of the same religion, or sexual orientation, or whatever is that way. Period. My daughter ​is and will always be loved as part of our family, but she has a long journey ahead.

​The mission of Cut the Label® is to participate in the spread of kindness and love for Humanity.

While this message is not new it cannot be overstated. We can make this world a bit “Gentler” by sticking together, let’s stop pulling each other apart into categories. Ask me my name, get to know me. I can always tell you more about me, my culture or religion and so much more if we decide to chat. But, please don’t stay away from me, my daughter or anyone else because of a label. We all deserve to be recognized and valued as a Human first.

J​ust step away from ​assigning labels​ and​ stuffing people into categories​ and smile at a stranger today.​​ I promise you it’s not difficult. ​Together, we can do this. Together, we can make a world a more accepting place for everyone.

​Cut the Label® wants to give transgender Humans and ALL ​Humans ​​hurt by ​discrimination​ion​ due to a Diagnoses, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Political choice, Culture, Disease  – t​he ​most Gentle ​world possible. On this day, December 1st, ​2014, ​I learned I ha​ve​ a ​3rd daughter.​ I feel honored to help guide her and to promote the message of Love and Acceptance.

Thank YOU for your friendship.

Learn more about Cut The Label® here. 

Follow Cut The Label® on Facebook here. 

Follow Cut The Label® on Instagram here. 

Follow Cut The Label® on Twitter here. 

Also, listen for Cut The Label® on 97.8 LA Mega in New York and 100.3 Z100 also in New York. 

And don’t forget to follow #GirlPowerYouAreEnough on Instagram — because YOU ARE ENOUGH!

 

Join Jen for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Join Jen for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016.
Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was?
Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty.
Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

beauty, feminism, Friendship, Gender & Sexuality, Guest Posts, love

Beauty and Bitterfruit

November 24, 2015

By Renee Gereiner

There’s something painful about living in a world where the rules have never made sense to you, where the idea of following the rules breaks your own heart, so you start making bird calls in the middle of the night, hoping someone will hear you, hoping there will be someone else out in the cold night singing.  It takes so long for it to happen so that when it finally does the other bird is old, and she presents you with a bitterfruit.  Like no one you know, she speaks, “We are not of this world.”  And you don’t question her, because she holds you in the deep brown of her eyes.

When you bite it, you become the women you always knew you were.

You sneak into parties you aren’t invited to where the beer is cheap and the women are shirtless; you drink bottles of wine in fancy restaurants standing up; you talk about film and documentaries and both the history of it and all the bullshit of what happened to old fashioned picture taking like you’re a famous photographer who has an honorary PhD at NYU; you drink your weight in wine; you stay up all night literally burning your shit in a bonfire with hippies; and you finally start making those blue nude portraits that actual professionals compare to the late Francesca Woodman.

But, of course, the bitterfruit gives you diarrhea and you end up spending afternoons over the toilet bowl, and even so, you still go back for more.  Because the calling of the bird tickles you from the base of your spine all the way down the sides of your wings until you are flying.

The bird knows shit that women wish they didn’t know. Continue Reading…

courage, Gender & Sexuality, Guest Posts, Inspiration, Self Image, Self Love, Truth

What’s In A Name?

October 22, 2015

By Cassandra Pinkus

I never was very good at writing in cursive. I remember in the second grade hearing another student mention that the teachers in the higher grades didn’t care if your homework was written in cursive or not. Right then I figured, if they don’t care later, why should I do it now? I started turning in my homework in print on that day, and never wrote another word in cursive for years.

Sometime later in my childhood I learned that sometimes you need to put your signature on certain papers. It seemed that the only expectation for a signature was that it be written in cursive. I didn’t know what to do. It didn’t matter that much though, because I didn’t need to sign my name very often.

I thought of when I saw my mother or my father sign their name. Whether on a report card or a check, the pen-strokes were always quick. It was clear that it was not the letters that counted. When they were done, I could make out clearly the first letters of each name, and all the rest seemed to descend into mad squiggles. When I went to sign my own name, somewhere I understood that no one would read the letters.

A first mark to indicate the name’s beginning, followed by a wave of jagged ink. A second mark to indicate the name’s end, and another cacophony of squiggled lines. The signature was not a thing to be read, but an action to be performed. It was done not when it was received, the way one writes a letter. It was done when the signatory had left their essence drying on the page. Continue Reading…

Gender & Sexuality, Girl Power: You Are Enough, Guest Posts, Young Voices

In My Mother’s Bathroom

September 23, 2015

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station: This is a piece for my “Young Voices” series. I am looking for more young voices to publish so please submit if you have something to say. Please note, if you are under 18 you must have parental permission unless you are using a pseudonym. I am so excited to be working on the book Girl Power: You Are Enough, as well as the workshop for young women which has been a HUGE success so far. Please help me spread the word and sign up or sign your daughters/nieces/friends. I am also in the process of selecting ambassadors to represent #GirlPowerYouAreEnough. More information on this on my instagram at @jenpastiloff. Love, Jen

In My Mother’s Bathroom
By Emily Falkowski

Over the years I learned how to kiss girls without feeling like my abuser. This is one of the small ways in which my voice came knocking at my gut, demanding to be let in.

The first time I fooled around with a girl I was fourteen. I kissed Brianna up against the wall of the astronomy building at summer camp. I pushed my groin into hers and imagined Brianna pinned there against the brick, like moss.

“You’re so aggressive,” she said. “I didn’t expect this.”

“I’m sorry. I’m nervous. Should I stop?”

“No,” Brianna pushed her tits up at me when I grabbed her wrists with one hand and pinned them behind her back, “I like it. It’s like you’re a boy.”

When she said that I got intensely wet. I wanted to be a boy. I started to unzip her pants and imagined that I had a penis. How it would be hard and corporeal against her thigh, a real thing she could pull out of my pants. Then I would push Brianna onto the ground and make her fuck me with her mouth.

I pulled her left breast out off her bra and wrapped my mouth around the nipple. She said my name, and I felt my body go numb, I couldn’t feel anything below my belly button. This wasn’t surprising, I was used to this sort of thing happening when someone I was with said my name, or tried to touch me below the waist.

“Mmm, please don’t say my name right now.”

“Okay,” She giggled, “What do you want to be called?”

 

My earliest idea of womanhood is limited, defined by the sexual anatomy of a female. I’m four in my mother’s bathroom watching her dry off after a shower, wrapping her hair in a green towel and propping one leg up on the bath-tub. Continue Reading…

Contests & Giveaways, Gender & Sexuality, Girl Power: You Are Enough, Guest Posts

Essay Winner of Jen Pastiloff & Emily Rapp’s Vermont Retreat!

September 14, 2015

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station: 

This was not easy. This is not easy. I had one spot to give away to our retreat (and yes, we will do it again next year as this is our third year leading the Vermont retreat.) I had one spot which then turned into FOUR, thanks to various generous donors including Lidia Yuknavitch, Amy Ferris, Elizabeth Quant and three others.

And yet and still, we have 70 essays to get through. You read that right: 70. In just a few days, 70 essays piled in.

I sat reading through all of them with eyes spilling over. I was so moved that I decided I could not stop here. I would keep giving and finding ways to be of service. My teacher and mentor, Dr. Wayne Dyer, passed away last week- that was his big message. How many I serve? 

I intend to carry on that legacy.

I decided I could not stop at these 4 spots to Vermont so I am giving away 3 spots to my New Years Retreat in Ojai, California as well. Nothing makes me feel better than to do this.

I also have 20 spots to give away to my Girl Power: You Are Enough workshop for teens next weekend in Princeton and NYC. Ten available for each workshop. Email me for a spot. I want girls who could not afford the cost to be able to attend. Here are the details. Please note: the Princeton workshop is 13 and up and the NYC workshop is 16 and up.

And yet and still, there are so many others that were not chosen. There was not one essay that didn’t move me. There was not one essay that did not want me to push through my computer screen and embrace the woman who wrote it. Not one. I had a team helping me as I could not do this alone. I think we need to remember that more often: we cannot do this alone.

How bold one gets when one is sure of being loved.

Which brings me to my first winner. Her essay floored us but her friends also wrote in on her behalf, unbeknownst to her. How bold one gets when one is sure of being loved indeed. Jena Schwartz is the first recipient of the four scholarships and I am proud to share her essay below with you. She has been notified and will be attending the retreat with Emily and I next month in Stowe. She is over the moon. The retreat is sold out. Congratulations to Jena. I hope you all will be moved to share this. I know I was.

At the end of my life, when I ask one final, “What have I done?” Let my answer be, “I have done love.”

Love, Jen Pastiloff

sillhouette

 

Free Associating about Fear & Faith (Or, What I’ve Forgotten)
By Jena Schwartz

In this moment of sitting down to write, there’s the lump in my throat and the tears behind my eyes and the tension of holding them in. There’s fear. And behind that, faith. And there’s something I’ve forgotten that needs remembering. It has to do with connection, to myself, to moving slowly and having enough time and trusting that shit always work out in the end, and that there’s no end, only the unfolding of our days and the thank you. The thank you I need to remember to say, in the morning and at night.

Mani, my beloved wife of one year come September 27, is not feeling well this morning. She is shaky and nauseous. She drank an Ensure and rolled onto her side to try to sleep; she did not sleep well during the night. She is getting better. Two steps forward, one back. Like the two-step dance that magical weekend in Phoenix, when I flew out there to meet her and a whole group of us went to the Cash, my first-ever gay bar. Little did we know then, that we’d end up together, much less married!

Most of the time, I’m able to stay in a place of faith and trust. I’m able to stay in the light. I’m able to remember the partnership she and I discovered not only between us but with God, too — how when Rabbi Efraim witnessed and blessed our vows, God was there with us under that chuppah last September 27, the day before her 37th birthday and a few months before I turned 41.
Continue Reading…

Binders, feminism, Gender & Sexuality, Guest Posts

Carry-On Baggage

August 27, 2015

By Anna March

My husband, Adam, paraplegic, is waiting for a search of his wheelchair, and I am cleared but lingering for him. We are at the TSA checkpoint in the airport in Honolulu. The trade winds blow warm and humble. The sea sky and bowing palm trees frame us in the open air terminal.  I am staring at a purse the color of a ballet slipper in the window of a store just beyond the stark security inspection lanes.  Its Siren’s call: to feed my pocketbook-buying habit. I notice a federal guard with rigid posture frowning, staring at me. I point toward Adam, tell her, “I’m waiting for my husband,” and she says in a tone as crisp as the knife pleats in her blouse, “I know. I’m going to pass you his belongings.”  I snarl,  “I don’t carry his bags.” She puts her hand on her hip, bellows “EXCUSE ME?”  “You heard me,” I snap.

Adam, calm as ever, smiles, put his hand on the small of my back, “Why don’t you go to the store? Leave your bag here, I’ll bring it.” I lean my heavy carry-on on the wall in front of him, glaring at the guard, taking only my phone and credit card with me.  I was cracking with anger, disgusted by the agent treating me like Adam’s servant and choosing to talk to me about his things rather than directly to him.  This happens many times a week, people ignoring Adam and instead speaking to me about him, but only today am I enraged over it. Why is this particular exchange scratching me so harshly? I know it has something to do with the perception that I should carry my husband’s bags but why does that rankle me this much?

I huff into a coffee shop wafting fresh brewed Kona to mull. I know that what’s bothering me is somehow mixed up with gender. Questions I’ve spent my life asking are suddenly swirling.  What does gender even mean?  What is perceived as womanly, manly and why? Why are we all so screwed up about gender roles to the point that we still want to squeeze everyone into a narrow binary? What do power and ability really mean?

As a woman, my whole life I have been treated as less physically capable than men. The world’s default mode when I’m with an able-bodied man has always been that he is going to be the athlete, the one to lead, drive, carry the heavy things, and that if anyone needs assistance it will be me, the woman. In the world’s hierarchy man trumps woman but woman trumps disabled. Everything about the existence of these pecking orders repels me. Yet somehow I know that I am rankled today at least in part because I want everyone to see Adam as strong, capable, like I do. But why? Continue Reading…