“let me but strike the world in a vulnerable spot, and I can take it by storm.”

When Mary MacLane was 19-years-old she wrote a book about her life and got it published. She then became something of a celebrity (the book sold 100,000 copies in its first month of existence) and a scandal and went on to a life as a writer, actor and journalist before she died in 1929.

The book wasn’t about very much, just about being her, and the pain she felt at being alone and stifled and puzzled and bored by other people as she waited for the Devil; he would have grey eyes, she always wrote and make her “his dear little wife.” MacLane’s desire to be small and cherished by a force larger than her own in a world where one didn’t seem likely to exist for her was something that charmed me deeply when I first read it, having never so much felt the feeling of being girls together with someone as I did in response to this desirous author.

The book is, by turns, redundant, self-absorbed, and deeply fascinating. It is, in some ways, blogging before there was blogging. It is deeply aphoristic, and often plagued by that “but what do we care what you ate for lunch” factor that we all often experience on the Internet if we are, in fact, fascinated by the lives of others.

MacLane first crossed my radar when I was just a few years older than the author had been at the time of the book’s writing in 1902. Someone, and I can’t recall who (an ex-boyfriend, I think, but I am not sure — if it’s anyone with whom I am still in touch and you are reading this, please let me know; it’s something I’ve treasured for years), gave it to me as a gift.

It was, in a way, a Illegitimi non carborundum (Don’t let the bastards grind you down) gift. Whoever gave it to me was someone I knew through Mindvox (I did not know until just now that it had merited a Wikipedia entry; gosh, that’s awkward), an early high-profile online community that dominated the social life of at least my early to mid-20s. I was well-known on the small site (Who wasn’t? But the fact is I also wound up in at least one major article because of it (in Sassy of all things) and worked for the service for a time). For every person who was engaged with what I wrote there were people who not only found me irritating, but someone who needed to be silenced — through bullying, pranks, and even threats. I was, without a doubt, irritating, confronting and self-absorbed, but on Mindvox, which was littered with a zillion petty and public dramas (many of which, yes, I was involved in), the sin was really that I wasn’t particularly ashamed of this.

Which isn’t to say I was running around with great self-esteem or anything. I wasn’t. But then again, neither was Mary MacLane, who wrote of her genius, her remarkableness, her loneliness and her unlovableness. MacLane, who as the 38-year-old I am now I feel as if I should disavow for her overwrought self-aggrandizement was a lifeline for me. Ironic, perhaps, when in her lifetime MacLane had to respond to accusations that her book had led at least one girl to suicide (a matter on which MacLane declared, “I read of the Kalamazoo girl who killed herself after reading the book. I am not at all surprised. She lived in Kalamazoo, for one thing, and then she read the book.” Although later she also noted that, “It is with pain that I read of the dire effects of my book upon the minds of young girls.”)

MacLane and my relationship with her work, echoes back to the post I made the other day about liminality — MacLane was a real person, but one who was also performing herself (as we all arguably are with different levels of awareness and intentionality). By the experiences I described the other day, her non-fictional status should have made her a harder to achieve imaginary companion and self to me; but, rather, I have to argue that MacLane’s life and mode of living that life only underscore the arguments I make for the use of the fictional/non-fictional dichotomy over the fictional/real dichotomy; that is, if we must have dichotomies at all.

Mary MacLane has long been a quite, distant interest of mine. It takes, generally, too much work to explain to you that her assertion, “I do not see any beauty in self-restraint,” was not something I read as license to my excesses so much as acknowledgment that the world is cruel and hard when it demands secrecy about things common and shameful only because we have made secrets out of them. It takes, generally, more work (and the enduring of more jibes than I prefer) to talk about the truth I find in her thoughts on fame and happiness and the maw within her: “I want fame more than I can tell. But more than I want fame I want happiness.” And it takes wasting a lot of time on assuring people that I don’t think all that of myself, when I am enraptured by the emotional pain she seemed to feel at her own intellect: “I am a genius. Then it amused me to keep saying so, but now it does not. I expected to be happy sometime. Now I know I shall never be.”

Oh, how I wish Mary MacLane had had the Internet! She might not have been so lonely. Strangers would have sent her gifts, and people would have bullied her. Her hypothetical contemporary fate is so remarkably clear in her actual historical experience and narration.

The first complete collection of MacLane’s works, A Quite Unusual Intensity of Life, collecting for the first time MacLane’s complete works, is to be released in September 2011. The book will, no doubt, be met with a certain degree of dismissive criticism — why not just read overwrought blogs on the Internet, after all? But the material is, I suspect, valuable, even if just for how the world doesn’t change very much.

When I first read MacLane, I wondered if I should lament that the Devil I was longing for didn’t have grey eyes. Now, nearly twenty years later, when I consider the hand MacLane held out to me, even if she would have never have meant to, I lament merely that I myself don’t have grey eyes and am, as such, inadequate, no matter how much I claim her as one of my own.

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pageants and beauty/gender certification

As I write this, I’ve just gotten myself set up for watching the Miss America pageant, which, I confess, is one of my television highlights of the year. I know that probably sounds weird, and yes, I know lots of reasons why pageants can be and are problematic (fat phobia, racism, and certain types of ableism being obvious and legitimate complaints about Miss America; misogyny in the existence of these things at all also being a more generalized discussion that pageants legitimately provoke), but I was a pageant competitor as a teen, and I find them interesting. I also find them complicated. And this year, Miss America looks like its going to be an intersection between the two for me because of Miss New York‘s platform and because of why I did pageants.

Pageants are, at their heart, a weird sort of public job interview, the job in question being model, spokesmodel or spokesperson for the pageant’s sponsors and agenda issues. Pageants are also agents of extreme normativity (and heteronormativity), to a point that the ideal of femininity idealized and desired by them can seem caricaturish and bizarre (this is less true of a pageant like Miss America than of many smaller and regional pageants that have developed their own standards and looks. If you want to get a sense of this, do some Googling or take a look at a magazine called Pageantry.

My own participating in pageants (I was in the Miss New York State National Teen-Ager Pageant 1987, in addition to some other stuff) sprung from a number of sources, none of which were parental or peer pressure. Rather my parents and peers thought it was weird and inappropriate, not because of the issues I’ve previously identified, but because it wasn’t done — not as a New Yorker and not as someone raised in the class I sort of kind of was.

And I’ll be frank, a great deal of my participation in pageants was about my own insecurities. Some of those were the typical insecurities of a teen girl: I didn’t feel pretty, and I entered pageants in hopes of winning so I could tell my peers they couldn’t tease me for being ugly, because look, there was proof, I wasn’t anything of the sort. But my participating in pageants was also, inextricably, linked to my own sense of non-normativity both as a queer person and a New Yorker.

I grew up in New York City, with parents who are artists, but I would come home from school every day and watch The Brady Bunch and wonder what it was like to be an American — to go to school with boys, to worry about learning how to drive, to care about football, and homecoming. Pageants innately fascinated me because they seemed an element of and gateway to the country I was supposed to be a part of, but everyone always told me I wasn’t.

I also grew up knowing I wasn’t like other people. Strangers would tell my parents what a well-behaved little boy they had, and I was always cast in all the male leads in the school plays (which was sort of awesome; how many girl-born folks do you know who can say they played Ko-ko in The Mikado and Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, before they were twelve?). Harassment I received at school about my appearance (I was thin to the point of illness (undiagnosed celiac disease), gangly, and sort of awkward) was based around gender and sexuality. Why call me an ugly girl, when it was just easier to say I wasn’t a girl at all?

This stuff bothered me for a few reasons. The first was simply that mean people sucked. The second was that I thought my parents would be angry; they asked me often enough what I had done to make people be so mean to me. The third was that the remarks both felt remarkably true and not. I wanted to be gorgeous in an evening gown and an hourglass figure. But I also wanted to be Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica back when he was a boy (yeah, I like me some bad TV, ok?). I was a boy. I was also a girl. And I was really scared I was ugly either way. Mostly though, I didn’t want people to be mad at me or make it hard for my parents or friends to be around me, because I wasn’t right.

Pageants were a way not just to have my beauty certified, but my femininity. It was a way to hide what I was, and a way to make up for it. And I hoped that being around girls performing girl-ness meant that someone would teach me how to be pretty and sit the right way and say the right things and smile at the right time and be less weird and New York-y.

That didn’t work out for me, not really. I was not a great pageant competitor (although I do have a few sashes and crowns), although I can still do a three-diamond turn. But pageants were the first time I ate McDonald’s and went to Chuck E. Cheese. They were the first job interviews I ever did. And the first time I had to learn how to be photographed or make decisions based, not on who I was, but who I wanted other people to think I was. In other words, pageants gave me some professional skills, taught me how to pitch myself, and also taught me that hiding who and what I was would be hard. It wasn’t in my makeup.

Did I come home from Miss New York National Teen-ager 1987 and come out? No. Officially speaking that didn’t happen until my freshman year of college, after I read Valerie’s Story in V for Vendetta. But pageants let me know, through my failure at them, that I was going to have to. In college, I toyed with trying to do Miss America local pageants and coming out once I won one — would they kick me out for moral turpitude for being queer? They might have, back in 1990 or 1991, but I don’t know.

All of this, however, is why pageants interest me. They are a world both known to me and forbidden to me. They are performative, heteronormative and yet, also, weirdly queer, because who knows what everyone else up there is trying to hide.

This year, the Miss America pageant actually brings my own pageant story full circle in some way: Miss New York’s platform is LGBT equality, because her sister is a lesbian. Miss New York just reached the semi-finals. One day, maybe we’ll have an openly queer Miss America, although with the dwindling viewership of the pageant on television, I don’t necessarily know if it will last long enough to happen.

Right now though, I’m a little bit teary for how scared I was at 13; how angry I was at 19; and how strange the world seems now. Because it’s not just that Miss New York’s platform is that I’m human, it’s that the pageant keeps playing that Pink’s Raise Your Glass. Is it really possible that they actually know that song is about people like me?

Yummy yummy trash day goodies

Later year over 3,900 projects were successfully funded by Kickstarter to the tune of more than $27,000,000. Dogboy & Justine was just one tiny piece of this. I personally also support a lot of crowd-funded projects both through Kickstarter and through other sources. As part of today’s trash day, I’ve got a few to share with you.

Hate doing dishes after parties? Hate what disposable cups do to the environment? Dreaming about beng able to serve cocktails in vegan, gluten-free, flavoured, edible cups? Jelloware wants to make all your dreams come true, even if they are going to have to change the name.

I love the past as it never quite was. I also love photography. Which is why I’m supporting The Fifties: A Tale in Black & White which seeks to create photos that borrow from iconic 1950s imagery while speaking to African and African-American history and culture.

Another photographic project I’ve pledged to is Dirt Floors & Stone Walls, a photojournalism project about India’s public schools. India has a large presence in the life of me and mine and this artist’s work really jumped out at me.

Finally for today’s crowd funding items, Kendarra Publications is raising funds to publish its first novel. I haven’t read the book, and I haven’t actually met Tessa, the press founder. But I do know her from LJ, and I find her to have an excellent critical eye for writing and the absolutely fortitude to run a small business in a challenging space.

Yesterday’s report on Frosty, the pit-bull found dead in the trash, was originally going to be part of today’s links, but I wound up writing about him when the story of the rescued pitbull came to light. I can now report that the rescued dog as found a forever home.

Rats are smart, clean creatures who make great pets. But they also live in New York City’s subways and they are afraid of nothing. Why not to doze off on the subway, part 542,356: Rats. The truth is, I find this rat oddly charming, and I keep watching the video in rotation with the Craig Ferguson Doctor Who show opener routine when I feel down. Intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism! And, even if you hate Doctor Who or don’t know what it is, the Ferguson thing is a freakishly accurate and hiliarious summary of the program

On the acafen front, I’ll be working on a possible submission for Transmedia Sherlock over the weekend. It’s about queer theory and Sherlock Holmes’ reception both by other characters within the narrative and by the audience. If anyone happens to have any good bibliography items related to queer theory, textual analysis and asexuality they want to share, it would help me out for a small section of the paper.

the story of two dogs

I’m afraid of dogs. Nearly always have been, although I don’t really know why. We had one when I was a baby, apparently (the neighbors poisoned it, but that’s another story), and I never had a bad experience with one until I was in my 20s when a misunderstanding between myself, a friend’s St. Bernard and an obnoxious neighborhood stray led to a really scary situation that I still have a few small scars from.

But I feel bad about my thing with dogs. It’s not the fault of dogs. Dogs are just doing what they know how to do. And because I’m jumpy around them, I weird them out. In general I don’t think your dog is a bad dog; I just think it’s better for your dog and for me if we don’t have too much contact (an on-leash dogs who follows commands, I can handle and warm up to and can eventually be around in a chill, non-leash way).

Unfortunately, I’ve also been made to feel bad about my thing about dogs in some really toxic ways, and I will probably regret for the rest of my life the moment I did not get out of the car when, after discussing my fear of dogs, the man I was with said to me, “You act like you were raped by a dog.” Uncalled for doesn’t begin to cover it.

But here’s the thing. Dogs seem pretty cool. I kinda wish I could deal with them. They’re smart. They are loyal. They’re warm. They do amazing work as service animals. There are even bed-bug and gluten-detection dogs! Dogs are rad, and people should be nice to them.

Unfortunately, two terrible dog stories have come out of New York City recently, although both stories have also shown human excellence in the end. They’re both about pit bulls, and you’d think that as someone who is scared of dogs, I’d be really, really, not okay with pit bulls.

Actually, I love pit bulls, and I want to take a moment to speak in defense of the breed. My old landlord had a pit named Tyrone. Tyrone was awesome. He used to come to the parties I had at my flat. Once he accidentally lapped beer up off the floor; that was bad. He’d try to play with my cats, who would swipe at him, and then he’d go whimper in the corner. He had a really big skull, and a friend once said he was like a lion. But the best thing about Tyrone was that he knew I was a little scared of him and tried to make it better.

Everyone else Tyrone knew he’d run up to and jump up on in greeting. Me? He’d run up to and then skid to a stop and then look at me meaningfully as he made an exaggerated show of sitting and waiting for me to pet him. Tyrone was a gentleman dog. Totally awesome. Pit bulls are cool and smart.

Which is why I am so sad about two stories of dogs left out in the cold here in the city.

First there was the dog found already dead in a trash bag during a snowstorm. He was nicknamed Frosty by the person who found him and tried to make sure he had some dignity in his passing. Frosty, I salute you.

Then there was the dog someone chained to a bridge and left out to die in the same storm. She, luckily, got rescued. But she needs a home, and re-homing pit bulls because of their image problems is really hard. So, I hope someone out there can help her.

Dogs and me? Not so good. But I’m rooting for them anyway.

the country of yes

Liminal is one of those words I never used very much until I started doing independent scholarship. It’s not just just that a lot of the work I do addresses, on some level, liminal space, it’s that it’s just one of those words academics really like. It’s a pretty way to talk about a whole bunch of different things that fall into a bunch of different categories, including the magical, the complex, and the vague.

But liminal was never a word that I felt like I owned particularly, until my friend AnnaLinden responded to a few of my posts back on LiveJournal with a certain intensity about the intensity with which I inhabit liminal spaces. It was pleasing to me, because it meant that I and the way I experience the world was being heard. But at the same time, why call it liminal? It was just my life, happening at the moment in an ugly New York winter, and not some existence in the mists of faerie.

But yesterday it occurred to me that this January 9 was the first time in years no one had wished me a happy birthday or given me an odd trinket for a lonely boy. See, my birthday’s in October. But Severus Snape’s is January 9, and among my friends that’s a thing that stuck with me for years. Because of course it was always sort of a joke. But it was also always a recognition: of childhood ostracism I still struggled with, of desires beyond my class and ken, of chin-length black hair and a body too thin. Of a particular relationship with filth. And of the way I’ve always looked to books to save me. So my unbirthday always felt a little bit like love.

When I talk about character and creation and writing and liminal spaces, I like to talk about Anne Rice. Lestat has been real for her in some way that I could try to explain or analyze for you, but that wouldn’t be very effectively. We’d digress into a critique of the work (“she may be channeling a real 300-year-old vampire, but he still needs a damn editor”) or, more unfortunately for the point I’m slowly getting to, an analysis of her mental health. The point is Anne Rice wrote some books about a vampire and she’s described the experience in interviews as him dictating his words to her; she has described the time she spends with him; she has described him as a real and true thing.

I read Interview with a Vampire and The Vampire Lestat as a tween and young teen, and they were books that meant a tremendous amount to me. They said that my intense emotionality, and my intense sentimentality, were not, as my parents reasonably frustrated by an odd and artistic teen girl said, lies. They were not manipulations. They were just how I experienced the world. So Lestat wasn’t just Anne Rice’s friend, he was mine too. Before I told other people to be grand, I would lay in bed at night and feel Lestat’s fingers brushing the hair from my face as he whispered to me to never, ever let anyone shut me up. He’s been gone from me for decades now, but I always remember my friends.

The thing about the liminal world, at least for me, is that it’s not a space defined by the things it represents a border between. It is not about whether Anne Rice channels a 300-year-old vampire or not. It is not about either/or. Rather, the liminal world is, as far as I can tell, the country of yes.

It is the place where when people ask if I am a boy or a girl, I can say yes. It is the place where when I fly alone I am still squeezing someone’s hand when the plane takes off. It is the place where I don’t dress up in certain costumes at cons anymore because the wounds I bear in those other lives have become too private. It is the place where I can feel the absence of people who never were. It is the place where I do not always remember, or have to remember, to speak in the third person about characters I’ve played on stage or written in stories. It is the place where my hand gestures shift when I’ve spent days deep in something I’m writing in a way that tells my friends I am not just me. It is a place of signs and signifiers that leads us, not back out of the mists, but further in, to whatever the mists are guarding.

Without the liminal world, time runs in order, stories only happen to other people, and I struggle, desperately, to be here now as fantasy and personal narrative threaten to call me away from stuff like work and laundry and remembering to eat dinner. But the liminal world, no matter how disconcerting or how much it seems like just play to folks that don’t also have this particular experience of desire, allows me to be present, both here and in the other spaces I have used to build myself.

The liminal world allows me to say yes and to slay dragons and not to fail at being a girl or a boy or a hero or a villain, because in the liminal space which is here and now and far away, I am only one thing, and it small and perfect, and it is yes.

PSAs

While I have a growing list of slightly odd things in my head (e.g., the liminal world and Severus Snape’s birthday) I want to share thinky thoughts with you about, that’s not going to happen today.

What is going to happen today is a couple of PSAs:

Item 1: Know the warning signs of stroke and TAKE THEM SERIOUSLY.
Strokes have affected my friends, acquaintances and family. Taking 30 seconds to read this information could save a life. And really? There’s no harm in refamiliarizing yourself if you already know this stuff. Because no one wants to call 911 and because the adrenalin gets going in these situations, it can be a whole lot harder to act in this situations than you ever would have expected. The more you know this stuff, the more prepared you are.

Item 2: Australia is underwater. Well, not all of it. But a lot of it. 75% of Queensland has been declared a disaster zone; Brisbane is in acute crisis and flood watches are in effect for Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales. If you don’t know Austraila, one of the things you should know is that there’s a lot of land between settled areas in some places: lots of towns are cut off. Things are really bad and no one knows how bad in many cases. Power has had to be cut in many places because it’s too dangerous to have electricity with the level of flooding. The most severely affected areas are not in the parts of the country I’ve been to, but Australia is a place I really love, so aside from the “helping people is good” factor, I would particularly appreciate it if you can donate or spread the word on this one.

metaphor, violence, and bullying

When I started this blog, I had no reason to think that I would keep making posts that have been, at their core, about the power of words, bullying, and emotional violence towards ourselves and towards others. But a quick survey of my first posts sure do seem like I’ve got my teeth into something and don’t quite want to let go.

As someone who’s been a target of nastiness on and off the Internet because I’m terrible at keeping my head down, this preoccupation is hardly surprising. But the truth is that I’ve been talking about these issues because of my own propensities for cruelty, not just, as I’ve already written about, towards myself, but also towards others.

It is, frankly, hard for me, because of my own insecurities, to be happy for others when they succeed in fields of endeavor that I also pursue. It’s far, far far too easy for me to think that should have been me and then dwell on why I think someone doesn’t deserve success or why that success isn’t all that. It’s a nasty vicious habit, even when indulged in solely in the privacy of my own skull, and one I’m committed to stopping in myself and in others. What is, after all, the cost of more joy?

We seem to be, and in fact I can only now hope, at a moment in our society wherein we recognize and address the power of words. Teen suicides in response to anti-gay bullying, a phenomenon that’s been going on for years, are finally getting media attention. Conversations like It Gets Better have led to broader discussions of bullying behavior, as well as the tenor of Internet discourse on both news sites and social networking venues. There is, in my own reading of this coverage and discussion, a sense of understanding that has seemed absent in the past that words have consequences.

Today is one of those days where words have had consequences, horrific ones. A gunman shot 19 people in Arizona, killing 6, including a 9-year-old girl and a federal judge. A congresswoman is in critical condition after sustaining a bullet wound to the head. At this moment little is known about the shooter, although his online writings have surfaced. Those writings do not reflect mainstream opinion of any major party and are also hard to make grammatical and logical sense of. However, law enforcement officials have disclosed that they feel the shooter did target the congresswoman explicitly.

That, even as an act of a lone individual, makes today’s tragedy, among other things, an act of political violence. And that act of political violence has occurred in the midst of rhetoric that has been extraordinarily heated.

Now, to be fair, heated political rhetoric isn’t necessarily anything new. And the use of metaphor, especially war metaphor, for political combat is also nothing new. And I hesitate, always, when I find myself making any argument that speaks out against metaphor. I’m a writer; I love metaphor; metaphor is an awesome tool. So is, to be frank, the power of rhetorical extremity — it’s the difference between “sometimes I think my mother never loved me” and “my mother never loved me.”

But words have consequences. And when political violence has occurred (and let’s be clear, by the way, that political violence occurs every single day in the US, it occurs, among other occasions, every time someone is assaulted for their race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity), we must pause to consider the consequences of our rhetorical flourishes.

Sure, rational people of all political persuasions can probably agree that Sarah Palin’s crosshairs graphic wasn’t meant to actually advocate shooting people. We’re probably also all relatively certain that Sharon Angle wasn’t advocating an actual armed insurrection when she discussed the possibility of a “second amendment remedies.”

But violent rhetoric does have consequences. It ups the stakes. The metaphors that enrapture supporters for their linguistic art or demographic cleverness and are meant to encourage proof of loyalty through campaign contributions and peaceful activism also make room for other, misguided, proofs of loyalty at the fringe. Yes, without violent political rhetoric, political violence will still happen. But with it, each of us who engages in it, and stays silence in the face of it, bears some fraction of culpability for the political violence that emerges from the climate we have fostered.

Words have consequences, and so each of us walks this world with the extraordinary power to hurt ourselves, our loved-ones, our peers, strangers on the Internet, and our broader society. But, of course, and we hope more importantly, we also have in our words the extraordinary power to advocate for civil discourse, the democratic process, love, and possibility.

So don’t advocate political violence. Speak out both when people you do and don’t support engage in rhetoric that you feel thrusts us into a climate that allows even those at the fringe to view acts of violence as legitimate expressions of loyalty or dissent. And accept that a panoply of opinions defines not just our society, but also any sub-grouping of which you may also be a member. (To be extra clear, this isn’t about restricting speech or the idea that some words or expression should be banned, this is about think about what comes out of your damn mouth before you say it and when you see crap that you think is toxic speak the hell out about it.)

And on a smaller, more private scale that has nothing to do with politics but certainly everything to do with how we live now? Try allowing yourself more joy for the successes of others. Your mileage may vary, but for me, it’s proving to be a path to being gentler, not just with other people, but also with myself. And that’s lovely; no matter how wounded I have been, I never, ever want to be the worst bully I know.