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An inch

5 Nov

When I was fifteen, I spent a summer at Yale University and dyed my naturally dark brown hair black. When I returned home, my father and I had a fight about it.

“It’s my hair!” I said.

“No,” he said. “It’s not.”

Did he mean my hair belonged to him? or to God? or to society? Or was he just saying a reflexive and nonsensical no in the face of a teenager that had triggered a somewhat irrational alarm in him?

I never received clarity from my now-late father on what he meant. But the story — a bit funny, a bit awkward, a bit sinister — is one I’ve come back to over and over. My autonomy is my everything. It always has been. It always will be.

People who have known me a long time may side-eye this. What about that disaster of a relationship in your 20s? What about that BDSM thing you went through? What about Miss Hewitt’s and rich husbands? What about all the things you have tried to give yourself up to?

“A congenital defect,” I say.

One I shared with my father.

Like me, he was an obsessive and a seeker, even if we obsessed on and sought different things. Unlike me, he was not a queer and girl-like creature, ordered to perform a life of being a perfect possession. Sometimes, you must go deep into a thing to realize it will always be ill-fitting, that it will always be a form of poison.

Every year on November 5, I write about Valerie’s Letter from V for Vendetta. I write about coming out or politics or medical horror. I write about love or cadence or grace. I write about surviving the 1980s. Or I write about right now.

Last year, I wrote about the election that hadn’t happened yet. This year, I need hardly tell you what has.

So this year, I am writing about autonomy. I am writing about how so many of us — whether we pay attention to it or not — live our lives like we belong to our parents or our partners or our children or our jobs or our biology.

I am writing about how often this way of living is not the positive these are my people, this is my community, this is where I find home, but instead how often it is this is what limits me, this is what little I am allowed, this is the box and the pain and the punishment of what the world has made me at the hands of others.

All we have is right now. All we have is ourselves. Sometimes that seems lonely and like very little. But it is also power and freedom; possibility and resistance. It is ambition. And it is war.

2017 has chosen to be a certain way. So be it. I too — and in fact all of us — can also choose our own ways.

I don’t know who you are. Please believe. There is no way I can convince you that this is not one of their tricks, but I don’t care. I am me, and I don’t know who you are but I love you. I have a pencil. A little one they did not find. I am a woman. I hid it inside me. Perhaps I won’t be able to write again, so this is a long letter about my life. It is the only autobiography I will ever write and oh god I’m writing it on toilet paper.

I was born in Nottingham in 1957, and it rained a lot. I passed my eleven plus and went to girl’s grammar. I wanted to be an actress. I met my first girlfriend at school. Her name was Sara. She was fourteen and I was fifteen but we were both in Miss Watson’s class.

Her wrists. Her wrists were beautiful.

I sat in biology class, staring at the pickled rabbit foetus in its jar, listening while Mr. Hird said it was an adolescent phase that people outgrew… Sara did. I didn’t.

In 1976 I stopped pretending and took a girl called Christine home to meet my parents. A week later I moved to London, enrolling at drama college. My mother said I broke her heart, but it was my integrity that was important. Is that so selfish? It sells for so little, but it’s all we have left in this place. It is the very last inch of us…

… But within that inch we are free.

London: I was happy in London. In 1981 I played Dandini in Cinderella. My first rep work. The world was strange and rustling and busy, with invisible crowds behind the hot lights and all the breathless glamour. It was exciting and it was lonely. At nights I’d go to Gateways or one of the other clubs, but I was stand-offish and didn’t mix easily. I saw a lot of the scene, but I never felt comfortable there. So many of them just wanted to be gay. It was their life, their ambition, all they talked about… And I wanted more than that.

Work improved. I got small film roles, then bigger ones. In 1986 I starred in ‘The Salt Flats.’ It pulled in the awards but not the crowds. I met Ruth working on that. We loved each other. We lived together, and on Valentine’s Day she sent me roses, and oh god, we had so much. Those were the best three years of my life.

In 1988 there was the war…

… And after that there were no more roses. Not for anybody.

In 1992, after the take-over, they started rounding up the gays. They took Ruth while she was out looking for food. Why are they so frightened of us? They burned her with cigarette ends and made her give them my name. She signed a statement saying I seduced her. I didn’t blame her. God I loved her. I didn’t blame her… But she did. She killed herself in her cell. She couldn’t live with betraying me, with giving up that last inch.

Oh Ruth.

They came for me. They told me that all my films would be burned. They shaved off my hair. They held my head down a toilet bowl and told jokes about lesbians. They brought me here and gave me drugs. I can’t feel my tongue anymore. I can’t speak. The other gay woman here, Rita, died two weeks ago. I imagine I’ll die quite soon.

It is strange that my life should end in such a terrible place, but for three years I had roses and I apologized to nobody. I shall die here. Every inch of me shall perish…

… Except one.

An inch. It’s small and it’s fragile and it’s the only thing in the world that’s worth having. We must never lose it, or sell it, or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.

I don’t know who you are, or whether you’re a man or a woman. I may never see you. I may never hug you or cry with you or get drunk with you. But I love you. I hope you escape this place. I hope that the world turns and that things get better, and that one day people have roses again. I wish I could kiss you.

– Valerie

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I was born in New York City in 1972, and it rained a lot.

15 Nov

To write about Valerie’s letter, and then go silent, seems a special type of horror. This week has been a special type of horror. There isn’t, in some ways, much to say.

This isn’t, by the way, about policy. I am not, for example, concerned we are about to return to the Reagan and Thatcher years, as terrible as they were, as desperate and as full of death. I am concerned that we will return to what we thought the Reagan and Thatcher years were, that we will live in the literature and the songs and the films we produced in that time. That things will be like Valerie’s letter.

In the last week, what I have been struck by in moments quieter and calmer, has been a sense of continuity. I asked my father about his father, in case I am eligible for Italian citizenship. His name was Vincenzo when he came here. At Ellis Island it was changed to James. He married, had children, and then went back to care for a sister, before returning here again. We’re trying to figure out the years. We’re trying to figure out if my father – who complained when I moved back to Brooklyn because his parents spent so many years trying to get out of Brooklyn – can help me go back to Italy, if I need to.

So many people I talk to have this sense of return. Of continuity. Of generational wisdom, of the ways we can be buoyed by both children and loss.

If the end result of this political period is simply that I look silly, that I worried for nothing, that it was all just a bit crass and not to my taste, I will be overjoyed. But in the meantime, I am – like so many others – looking to who I once was to figure out who I will be.

We say, easily, that what is happening right now is not normal. In many senses, this is entirely true. In other ways though, we must acknowledge that this moment of uncertainty is entirely normal. Fascism seems to rear its head when we begin to forget its last appearances, and in times of trouble, people look close to home, to their families and their neighbors, in both worry and hope.

Because writing speeches is kind of what I do tonally, this piece should end with a call to action. I can tell you to volunteer, to donate, to speak up against hate, and to call your representatives in Congress. I’m doing all those things, and I hope you will do whichever of those you can too.

But my call to action today is simpler. Smaller. More basic. And vitally necessary:

Trust your gut.

The story is the most important thing.

5 Nov

Every year on November 5, I post Valerie’s Letter from V for Vendetta. I never meant for it to be a tradition — one year it was a whim, and for a few years after that that someone would ask about it or say they looked forward to it, and then it just became a thing.

Some years, I’ve just posted the letter. Some years, I’ve written more. But no year has been quite like this year, and I’ve been noodling at the edges of this post for months. Don’t get excited about that. That doesn’t necessarily herald fine writing, probably quite the opposite. It’s just a way of saying 2016 has been a long, strange, horrible slog for me too. And then on Tuesday we vote.

If you follow my Twitter you know I talk about this election a lot and work with data regards it, as I have for many elections previous. You probably also know that I love politics as a sport, and suffer from the same disease  much of our media does — a bias towards strong narrative, towards anxiety, towards running up to the cliff edge but not going over it.

Which makes it pretty hard to say, This is election is really scary. This is not hyperbole. You need to pay attention. Especially when half of the discussions about Trump seem to come down to whether he’s an actual fascist or just stylistically fascist as if one of those scenarios is going to turn out totally okay if he wins the presidency.

Look, 2016 has been a weird year full of heartbreak and loss. Change too — some of it good, and none of it that I’m ready for yet. Over and over again, terror felt like my watch word – medical terror, financial terror, political terror. The terror too of being left behind. Of not being enough. Of failing. And failure.

Meanwhile, Brexit’s a nightmare; Trump is unthinkable; and a regional political scandal involving someone I went to university with has forced me to relive the very chunk of time in which I first encountered V for Vendetta. That, too, was not a good year.

Valerie’s Letter – and Valerie herself – always fascinated me for how it, and she, are a demand for humanity against all evidence to the contrary. It is certitude in the face of gaslighting, identity in the face of how easily our bodies are discounted, dissembled, and dissolved. Valerie’s letter says, No. I am not who you say I am. I am who I say I am. I am who my story says I am. I may be a writer, but that is something very hard for me.

Writing is swimming against the tide.

It is for me I know I know I know I am not a person and I know I know I know I am not good and I know I know it is because I am queer and have a cunt and believe I am something other than the things that have happened to me and have a right to say all of it regardless of your contempt or the lack of simplicity and purity in anything that I’ve ever done or anything that I ever am.

It’s the drowning breath. It’s not yet. It is the reminder I am nowhere as near okay or as functional as I can mostly pretend to be. It is about mortality and precariousness.

So here’s what I want to say about Valerie’s Letter this year: The story is the most important thing. Your story is the most important thing.

Because stories are weapons. And shields. Tools. Strategies and tactics. And I believe they can help save us from all sorts of things – from this particular tide of political darkness sweeping increasingly from country to country, from the hatred of our neighbors, from our own self-doubt, and from our own despair. I believe stories are what give us the power to fight when there are no other options, and I believe they are succor against the coming dark when there are even fewer options than that.

How will stories matter as this year comes to a close? As 2017 dawns as a messy aftermath or a darker road? I don’t know. In a year like 2016 — when I’m just trying to get through, when we’re all just trying to get through — I am not really sure that I care.

But I do know that I still exist.

And so do you.

And so does Valerie.

If you are a person with a say in your government, please use it.

Please vote.

I don’t know who you are. Please believe. There is no way I can convince you that this is not one of their tricks, but I don’t care. I am me, and I don’t know who you are but I love you. I have a pencil. A little one they did not find. I am a woman. I hid it inside me. Perhaps I won’t be able to write again, so this is a long letter about my life. It is the only autobiography I will ever write and oh god I’m writing it on toilet paper.

I was born in Nottingham in 1957, and it rained a lot. I passed my eleven plus and went to girl’s grammar. I wanted to be an actress. I met my first girlfriend at school. Her name was Sara. She was fourteen and I was fifteen but we were both in Miss Watson’s class.

Her wrists. Her wrists were beautiful.

I sat in biology class, staring at the pickled rabbit foetus in its jar, listening while Mr. Hird said it was an adolescent phase that people outgrew… Sara did. I didn’t.

In 1976 I stopped pretending and took a girl called Christine home to meet my parents. A week later I moved to London, enrolling at drama college. My mother said I broke her heart, but it was my integrity that was important. Is that so selfish? It sells for so little, but it’s all we have left in this place. It is the very last inch of us…

… But within that inch we are free.

London: I was happy in London. In 1981 I played Dandini in Cinderella. My first rep work. The world was strange and rustling and busy, with invisible crowds behind the hot lights and all the breathless glamour. It was exciting and it was lonely. At nights I’d go to Gateways or one of the other clubs, but I was stand-offish and didn’t mix easily. I saw a lot of the scene, but I never felt comfortable there. So many of them just wanted to be gay. It was their life, their ambition, all they talked about… And I wanted more than that.

Work improved. I got small film roles, then bigger ones. In 1986 I starred in ‘The Salt Flats.’ It pulled in the awards but not the crowds. I met Ruth working on that. We loved each other. We lived together, and on Valentine’s Day she sent me roses, and oh god, we had so much. Those were the best three years of my life.

In 1988 there was the war…

… And after that there were no more roses. Not for anybody.

In 1992, after the take-over, they started rounding up the gays. They took Ruth while she was out looking for food. Why are they so frightened of us? They burned her with cigarette ends and made her give them my name. She signed a statement saying I seduced her. I didn’t blame her. God I loved her. I didn’t blame her… But she did. She killed herself in her cell. She couldn’t live with betraying me, with giving up that last inch.

Oh Ruth.

They came for me. They told me that all my films would be burned. They shaved off my hair. They held my head down a toilet bowl and told jokes about lesbians. They brought me here and gave me drugs. I can’t feel my tongue anymore. I can’t speak. The other gay woman here, Rita, died two weeks ago. I imagine I’ll die quite soon.

It is strange that my life should end in such a terrible place, but for three years I had roses and I apologized to nobody. I shall die here. Every inch of me shall perish…

… Except one.

An inch. It’s small and it’s fragile and it’s the only thing in the world that’s worth having. We must never lose it, or sell it, or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.

I don’t know who you are, or whether you’re a man or a woman. I may never see you. I may never hug you or cry with you or get drunk with you. But I love you. I hope you escape this place. I hope that the world turns and that things get better, and that one day people have roses again. I wish I could kiss you.

– Valerie

I enjoy being a girl… sometimes. Sort of.

13 May

I have a celebrity wife problem. As in, every time I crush on a male celebrity, I discover his wife is even hotter and more accomplished, and then wind up in this weird feeback loop with my gender presentation and my bizarreo Pride-and-Prejudice-with-different-dresses childhood (p.s. in this Jane Austen scenario, I’m Mary. In case you’ve forgotten, she’s the ugly one whose name you can’t remember).

So I was educated a certain way, to have a certain life — of heteronormativity, of wealth, of female endurance, and of utter accomplishment (although generally of the in-service-to-others-while-standing-in-a-shadow sort. Bonus points for helping to create the shadow).

And to be clear I don’t have and was never ever going to have that life. Like most everyone these days, I totally live paycheck-to-paycheck and not all the Latin classes and ballroom dancing of my childhood is ever going to change that. That doesn’t keep me from missing the fantasy though, from feeling as if I have always been in exile, even if the adult reality of my childhood upbringing would have strangled me dead.

But one thing that always made that exile both less relevant and easier to bear is my queerness, and, often, my masculine of center gender identity. Which seems perhaps a strange thing to say when I’ve been growing my hair out and wearing makeup every day.

Because my whole life, people have asked me if I’m a dude. It actually happens more when my hair is long, when I wear makeup. I don’t know if it’s because my femininity when I’ve got it going on is so performative, or if it’s just my willingness to take up space.

Basically I’m a person who often looks like a dude when she’s trying to look like a chick, and often looks like a chick when she’s trying to look like a dude. Are you confused? Sure. But try being me, at eight years old, when the other parents asked my mother how she got their son into the all-girls school we couldn’t afford. Please note, I’m an only child, assigned female at birth; there was no son.

At any rate. Being able to be both a boy and a girl has been — as an adult — one of the great blessings of my life. It’s an incredible amount of fun being me. And anything I’ve ever wanted in a man or a woman I’ve generally been able to find in myself. This has, in turn, lessened my sense of exile incredibly (if I am not just a girl, I do not just have to wait about to be chosen). It has salved me when I have felt like a failure.

Practically, through the years, what this has looked like to people outside myself is that I go through phases as said in that derogatory sense often leveled at the changeable. But we all go through phases — seriously, go look at what you were wearing in the ’90s; I’ll wait — and we all change a lot during our lives. Some of us more than others. But one luxury I do have now is to embrace it.

So, lately, I’ve been on this very feminine kick. And for that you can blame two things — celebrity wives and writing romance novels. In fact, I exist now in a world where it is often my job to consider and objectify men; hence those crushes and their lovely wives.

Yet the men I write are often less men I desire, and more men I am

Seriously.

In fact, Erin and I have a book coming out in March 2017 and I know my ex is going to see himself in one of the characters and it’s like, dude, no…no… that’s about me. I’m that guy. I’m Callum. Trust me.

So the outcome of writing down the men I am in these books is that I suddenly have all this room to be the women I am, or at least was raised to be. Just without the budget or the assistance or the rewards of even approaching the perfection all women — regardless of resources — are supposed to be striving for.

It’s kind of weird.

It sort of sucks.

And if I think about it too hard I become furious. At the rigged, unwinnable game; at how far women’s equality hasn’t come; at my recent collusion in it.  And at the inescapable black hole pull of it all. Do you know I actually got a beauty-related spam the other day about how curly girls like me should straighten and then re-curl their hair so they can look well-maintained and on-point?

Thankfully, I have my limits.

But lately I do wear eye shadow. I have perfume (Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb by day, Tom Ford Black Orchid by night. Not because you care, but because I needed to share the absurdity with you).

And I have realized than I am, actually, strikingly beautiful in all the too much of my face and my sadly-shaped eyes. I am that very creature of pride and endurance, elegance and sorrow, I was raised to be. But I am at least my own. And it brings me a lot of joy.

Except when it doesn’t.

Because unfortunately, this recent experience of being a girl means I have also become terrified of aging, am legitimately losing my mind over a dental appointment I have on Monday, and find myself in the middle of confronting for the first time in decades all the women I will never be.

My eyes may have a natural sadness to their shape, but I also have a natural melancholy to my soul.

Meanwhile, I scroll through my Instagram account, comparing the true but heavily-curated version of my life presented therein with those of all the celebrity wives I follow (and let’s reiterate, I don’t envy them their men, just their support staff, their relation to the world, and all their seeming surety).

I suspect, more often than not, that we cry about the same things. And so, as I keep trying to figure out how to be a girl, I often wonder if any of them have ever been boys — the way I was at 8 and at 28. In that wondering, my exile from the gendered obstacle course of my childhood feels less pronounced.

But of course, that’s the funny thing about exile. The cure and the disease are so often the same.

On unearned holiday greetings

7 May

While I was getting my face waxed today (I’m Sicilian and hairy) I got wished a Happy Mother’s Day, and I kind of wish it hadn’t happened.

Unlike many friends who are also grimacing their way through the the holiday, my mother is alive, we are not estranged, and I am not struggling with infertility or child loss.

But I am 43, childless, and deeply ambivalent about it. Ambivalence implies a lack of strong emotions, and to some extent that’s true. I mean, here I am, no kids, had other stuff to do. But lately my ambivalence looks like a constant yo-yo’ing between gasping relief at my freedom and locking myself in the bathroom at work to sob, because Erin and I have just written several novels with pregnancies and children in them and it’s been close to the bone for me.

In fact, I have a number of pretty spectacular essays about all this sitting on my hard drive. So why haven’t I posted them yet? Or submitted them? Or finished them?

Well, all sorts of reasons. Including wanting the books in question to be out first.

But I’m also cognizant that as a queer and genderqueer woman who has opted out (or simply hasn’t been able to secure) so many of the culturally rewarded milestones of womanhood, that when I say my experience of my womanhood is to feel like Hermione Granger with no awards to hang on her wall, three things are going to happen:

First, people will show up in the comments, express relief that I have no children, and call me either ugly or a narcissist.

Second, people with children will decide that my comments about my own psychological landscape are an insult to them. Maybe because I’ve been careless in my phrasing. But maybe because women are put in the constant position of having to defend their choices and circumstances no matter what they are.

Third, there will also be endless advice about late in life pregnancy and/or adoption that has nothing to do with me and my body and my life or all the research I did for the book with the 48-year-old heroine.

And it’s just going to be awful.

So what did I do at the face  wax? I sucked it up and said thank you, and then wondered if I looked old, and then wondered if I looked accomplished. In the end, I suspect, I just looked tired. And none of it did anything to dissuade me from my conviction that being a woman is, at core, about endurance.

 

Not-exactly-an-uptown-girl at the Zuckerbaeckerball

22 Apr
ball2

Zuckerbaeckerball 2016, Vienna

I’m currently in the slightly bizarre position of writing a personal essay in the voice of a person who doesn’t exist, because the two-book mini-series (surely someone will excoriate me if I use the admittedly absurd word, duology) Erin and I are currently writing involves, among other things, a travel writer who can’t get his manuscript about Vienna right.

I was in Vienna for my day job in January and February 2016, in the midst of ball season. I found out that ball season is even a thing that exists about a week before I got on the plane. While I was uncertain if I would actually go through with attending one (ticketing is somewhat complex, involving admittance, seating, and a number of other items, all assembled separately into a single ticket), I packed a formal gown (let’s be real, a multi-purpose bridesmaids dress), spent as much time on Google translate as I could, and then as the date of the one that seemed likely approached, wavered back and forth.

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Debutantes, Zuckerbaeckerball 2016

I don’t speak German, although I have gotten to a point where I can do social niceties and follow the gist of a conversation had in my presence. My contemporary social dancing is adequate at best, and while I can do the sort of waltz favored in the U.S., a Viennese waltz is completely beyond my skill set. Strangers scare me. Men, at this point in my life, are largely a foreign country. And Viennese social customs, as I am given to understand them, suggested none of this would even matter, as the let’s-make-temporary-friends with strangers behavior common in the U.S., and that I’ve often encountered in the U.K., doesn’t seem to be a thing there.

If I went to the ball I would be alone, confused, unable to dance, and with little opportunity to engage strangers should I have even found the nerve, which I tend to do once I cycle through the sort of fretting above.

ball3

Attendees, Zuckerbaeckerball 2016

In the end, though, I bought tickets to the Zuckerbaeckerball, as it was recommended to me by a random Tumblr person and was one of the few to fit in with a heavy work and travel schedule. Held at the Hoffburg Imperial Palace, a short walk from where I was staying, the Zuckerbaeckerball is put on by the sugar-baking industry (cakes not breads!) and like any proper ball has debutantes.

While I grew up with debutantes (I’m still not joking when I compare my childhood to Metropolitan), I was certainly not one myself. My family wasn’t that type of important, didn’t have those sorts of means, and didn’t really see me as part of the social whirl that was expected by the world in which I was educated. Sure, I went to balls, like the Gold and Silver Ball of the Junior Committee of the Junior League of New York (a name only typed here so you can experience the full ridiculousness of this stuff), but they were practice for events of the sort I never graced. It’s all useful fodder for writing now, but I might have been better served as a person if my parents had just said no.

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Debutante presentations, Zuckerbaeckerball 2016

At any rate, every ball in Vienna has debutantes. And, arguably, everyone in Vienna who wants to be a debutante can be. With hundreds of balls each year representing industries and social clubs, and with balls being unavoidable in the city’s social scene, young men and women who wish to make their debuts, most certainly do.

At the Hoffburg, alone, I crowded into the main ballroom to see their presentation. I watched as row after row of girls kneeled as their dancemasters and ball officials passed before them. On their knees for ten minutes at a time, maybe more, as their escorts stood beside them, some of the girls shook. One, near me, had a fabulous butchy undercut, that had been smoothed down with product and had tiny flowers clipped into it.

After the debuts, the main ballroom floor was opened for a Viennese waltz. My feet aching, and with no hope of a dance partner, I fled to sit, but without a purchased seat (it felt too weird, to be stranded at a table of people whose language I did not speak, who would not welcome a stranger), I had nowhere to do so until I found an out of the way bathroom on a mezzanine level of the palace.

From my cubicle I listened as girls sixteen to twenty slammed in and out of the bathroom, fretting about make up and shoes and boys and parents. I, meanwhile, fretted about the hundred euros I’d spent to hide in a bathroom.

So I put my shoes back on, stood up straight, and remembered that years of my life had been dedicated to how to comport myself in this entirely unlikely circumstance. And so I found a perch on the edge of the ballroom from which to watch the proceedings and wait for some serendipity to find me.

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Me, in my office before the ball

It came when the music switched to American standards, and the bandleader played Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl.” As I stood there, thinking about my Upper East Side childhood and how I was never meant to be — and never could be — the girl in that song, I wondered to what extent the song made sense in Vienna. Surely, no on there knew about the ten blocks that defined my childhood, but also surely there was a Viennese equivalent to it, and the song, and girls like me — with the song’s hot blood and wedged poorly into an an archaic social structure as beautiful as it is offensive.

I smiled as tears rolled down my cheeks. Serendipity. The most perfect moment. Even at a ball where I could not dance.

Today, I’m faced with describing a very different version of that moment as experienced by a lonely male writer, ten years my senior, who fit in exceptionally with the shared world of our childhoods, and for that, has managed far more contempt for it than I ever have, to his much greater happiness.

V for Vendetta: Please believe

5 Nov

I don’t know who you are. Please believe. There is no way I can convince you that this is not one of their tricks, but I don’t care. I am me, and I don’t know who you are but I love you. I have a pencil. A little one they did not find. I am a woman. I hid it inside me. Perhaps I won’t be able to write again, so this is a long letter about my life. It is the only autobiography I will ever write and oh god I’m writing it on toilet paper.

I was born in Nottingham in 1957, and it rained a lot. I passed my eleven plus and went to girl’s grammar. I wanted to be an actress. I met my first girlfriend at school. Her name was Sara. She was fourteen and I was fifteen but we were both in Miss Watson’s class.

Her wrists. Her wrists were beautiful.

I sat in biology class, staring at the pickled rabbit foetus in its jar, listening while Mr. Hird said it was an adolescent phase that people outgrew… Sara did. I didn’t.

In 1976 I stopped pretending and took a girl called Christine home to meet my parents. A week later I moved to London, enrolling at drama college. My mother said I broke her heart, but it was my integrity that was important. Is that so selfish? It sells for so little, but it’s all we have left in this place. It is the very last inch of us…

… But within that inch we are free.

London: I was happy in London. In 1981 I played Dandini in Cinderella. My first rep work. The world was strange and rustling and busy, with invisible crowds behind the hot lights and all the breathless glamour. It was exciting and it was lonely. At nights I’d go to Gateways or one of the other clubs, but I was stand-offish and didn’t mix easily. I saw a lot of the scene, but I never felt comfortable there. So many of them just wanted to be gay. It was their life, their ambition, all they talked about… And I wanted more than that.

Work improved. I got small film roles, then bigger ones. In 1986 I starred in ‘The Salt Flats.’ It pulled in the awards but not the crowds. I met Ruth working on that. We loved each other. We lived together, and on Valentine’s Day she sent me roses, and oh god, we had so much. Those were the best three years of my life.

In 1988 there was the war…

… And after that there were no more roses. Not for anybody.

In 1992, after the take-over, they started rounding up the gays. They took Ruth while she was out looking for food. Why are they so frightened of us? They burned her with cigarette ends and made her give them my name. She signed a statement saying I seduced her. I didn’t blame her. God I loved her. I didn’t blame her… But she did. She killed herself in her cell. She couldn’t live with betraying me, with giving up that last inch.

Oh Ruth.

They came for me. They told me that all my films would be burned. They shaved off my hair. They held my head down a toilet bowl and told jokes about lesbians. They brought me here and gave me drugs. I can’t feel my tongue anymore. I can’t speak. The other gay woman here, Rita, died two weeks ago. I imagine I’ll die quite soon.

It is strange that my life should end in such a terrible place, but for three years I had roses and I apologized to nobody. I shall die here. Every inch of me shall perish…

… Except one.

An inch. It’s small and it’s fragile and it’s the only thing in the world that’s worth having. We must never lose it, or sell it, or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.

I don’t know who you are, or whether you’re a man or a woman. I may never see you. I may never hug you or cry with you or get drunk with you. But I love you. I hope you escape this place. I hope that the world turns and that things get better, and that one day people have roses again. I wish I could kiss you.

– Valerie

I post this every year. Every year, I think perhaps I should not.  I think of the need to explain to Americans that Guy Fawkes Day is not about supporting revolution. I think about how the V masks get used in American politics. I think about the binary nature of this incredibly effective and affecting piece of writing makes it irredeemable and cruel for some.

And then I post it anyway.

Because I don’t ask it to speak for or to anyone but me.  But it’s become more and more personal to me over the years, wound in with my history, with my anxieties not just about politics, but with the medicalization and institutionalization of the marginalized.  My celiac symptoms developed the day I saw the V for Vendetta film.  I spent at least a week thinking the movie had merely traumatized me into illness because I trusted a story more than I trusted my own sense of my own body. This is what we are taught, that we are not our own.

So the cadence of this piece is, always, my posture and my grief.

That it is a backstage story is always less-remarked on than I think it should be.  All lives are backstage stories, after all.

It is strange how all its dates live in the past now. They didn’t once. And it was terrifying.

Exciting word related things

20 Jun

td-lakeeffect1400This weekend, Erin and I are in the deep edits from our publisher on Starling.

Meanwhile, our short story “Lake Effect,” is out from Torquere Press.

When Kyle and Daniel return to their hometown to get married, they find themselves facing an obstacle course of family drama and small-town misadventure in their quest to make it down the aisle.

Misbehaving relatives and a reformed high school bully, along with an ill-advised hookup in the wedding party and a weird late-night meal with a cabbie and his ex-wife, leave the happy couple doubting whether they want to get married at all. But a hot quickie before their walk down the aisle helps remind them that the most important part of getting married is being married.

You can purchase the story as a standalone at Amazon, Torquere, or any number of other major retailers. Or you can purchase it as part of the They Do M/M anthogy, which is also available at Amazon, Torquere, and lots of other retailers.  If you choose to purchase from Torquere, the code PRIDE will give you 20% off everything in your cart until the end of the month.  Please remember, this story does contain sexual content.

Next up, is a thing I can’t announce yet, but will be able to any day now. The information is floating around the ether, and I found out through a Google alert on my name.  I love the future!

Finally, I continue to blog at Romance @ Random, but this weekend I switch from the Penny Dreadful beat to the True Blood beat.

As soon as I can catch a moment (once these Starling edits are in), I plan to catch up here with pieces on Penny Dreadful, the Broadway show Matilda, and another bit of thought on House of Cards.

Blogging about this whole romance author process thing is happening regularly on Avian30, and if you scroll through the last few posts there, you have the chance to win stuff, so you might want to check that out.  Erin and I also have some readings announced in NYC and elsewhere during the Fall and Winter, so you can take a look at that, although I will update the information here once I catch that mythical moment.

Pretty Kitty

20 May

prettyMost people who know me on the Internet, know me, to some degree, as that chick that writes about death.  I write about a lot of other stuff too, but the death stuff increasingly tends to be how people first encounter me. It also tends to be a mix of my best stuff and stuff that gets me, rightfully, in trouble for not letting the ideas or feelings get all the way cooked or considered.

And, like everyone else on the Internet with cats, people tend to know my cats.  Alas, currently, that’s just Cricket, because Pretty died at 18 1/2 earlier today after an awesome and dramatic fight with cancer.   So, as much as I actually try not to write personal stuff on this blog anymore because I’m an exciting pop-culture thinky person or something, right now, you’re getting a eulogy for my cat, who was the awesomest pop-culture diva of a cat ever.

Three days after I got her as a kitten, someone I knew tried to drunkenly steal Pretty at a party.  She ran away from home several times — once being gone for days before returning (and this for an in-door only cat). Another time she hid in the bottom of a box for 36 hours before we noticed.  Being half-siamese, she screamed constantly.  She also liked to climb on top of the refrigerator, and sit creepily on the chests of her napping victims.

In fact, I can name at least half a dozen people who have had nightmares about her stealing their soul, and another two dozen more who would swear up and down she had a human trapped in her and you could see it.  That someone eventually figured out that her odd and very human gaze was the result of her being near-sighted is entirely besides the point.

Despite efforts to give her a non-embarrassing name (Aziz), Pretty Kitty was what she liked, and what stuck.  She also insisted on sitting between Patty and I whenever possible and was a ridiculously powerful presence for a cat that was rail thin and deeply eerie looking.

I had Pretty from the time she was 11 weeks old.  She saw a lot of boys, a lot of girls, and a lot of apartments.  She went from being a cat that hid under my bed for so long, so often that she was only referred to as “the other cat” to being The Cat.  Cricket is Cricket.  Little was Little.  But Pretty is The Cat, a sort of stand-in for all of cat-kind everywhere.

All pets are special.  But Pretty was otherworldly, and not right, and sometimes very beautiful and sometimes sort of ugly to some eyes.  She was a weird cat.  Spooky and neurotic, and she did this thing where she slept with her eyes open all the time. People also always pointed out how much alike we were all to an extent that’s hard to be comfortable with right now.

While it’s far from atypical, I am doing a lot of death work right now. Projects you do and don’t know about. Pop-culture interests that are obvious if you tend to see me around social media.  It’s all weird and somewhat comically tangled in my head right now.  Literally, I don’t even know why I’m sobbing at this point in the day — plenty of good reasons, but I’m a Libra and choices are hard.

Anyway, RIP Pretty Kitty, September 1995 – May 20, 2014.

Thank you for any kind thoughts in advance. It may be a few days before I can respond.

Starling, and now Doves

27 Mar

Since I anounced that Starling will be out from Torquere on September 10, 2014 there’s more news! Its sequel, Doves, will be out on January 21, 2015 also from Torquere.

While working frantically on more projects (seriously, I have a lot coming at you in multiple genres, I’m just waiting for the okay to speak to several of them) we’ve just started to plan some promotional stuff around Starling‘s release.

Erin and I will be on The Hummingbird Place, a romance novel podcast on August 18, 2014; we’ll be talking about characterization, which is the theme of the episode, which will feature several other great guests.

We’ll also be doing an interview with Raine O’Tierney at The Hat Party on September 10, 2014.  We’ll have giveaways around both, and I can tell you that the one for the The Hat Party will involve an actual hat crafted by Erin like the one that serves as a plot point in Starling.

For those of you that are members of Romance Writers of America’s NYC chapter or thinking about it, I’ll be the author of the month at their meeting on October 11, 2014. The topic will be collaboration.  As an aside, I can’t recommend the group highly enough.  They’ve been a huge asset in helping navigate this very fast moving process.  Meanwhile, I have a quick piece up on their blog about Velvet Goldmine, writing, and stardom.

As we move towards a cover reveal for Starling (this summer), Erin and I are putting together a joint blog for our coauthored work.  We’ll announce that soon, once we populate it with some content.

In the meantime, Glee‘s back, I desperately need to catch up on Vikings, and I need to do some serious processing with you all about House of Cards and various patron saints.  I know all the content right now is like “New content soon!” but truly, New content soon!