Dance.

Gender, what a concept!

This is an essay I wrote but never shared after *last* year's #ComingOutDay. I touched it up a little, but it's still very rough (I've learned a lot since then and am still learning!). I tried to keep it personal, about myself, and not making proclamations for others (I can get carried away, though). And then I was like, where the hell would I ever post an entire intact essay in this day and age? Unless...

(hi again, LJ)

Gender is a ridiculous concept, on the face of it. These toys/clothes/jobs are only for people born with this set of genitals, and these other toys/clothes/jobs are only for people born with THIS set of genitals (lord/lady/liege help you if you're born with both). And the distinction is VERY important and NE'ER the twain shall meet.

The whole idea, viewed from the outside, is laughable. It's ridiculous and a complete social construct, like capitalism or national boundaries. And yet, we're not on the outside, and societal constructs have real impacts. We live in a society that is deeply, frustratingly, idiotically, and yet incredibly stubbornly persistently gendered. The absolutely arbitrary, completely made-up and farcical rules are rigidly, constantly, vehemently enforced by people who very definitely have better things they could be and probably need to be doing.

I, personally, have never had a use for gender. When I was a kid, I found I was equally able to play with G.I. Joes and Barbies; they both worked just fine in my hands (though I found the Joes made better dancers, due to the articulation). They didn't break or melt or fly from my hands the moment I touched them. I had friends of both genders (both of the ones I was aware of) and those friendships also worked just fine. The boundary lines were always obviously made up and one of those things only adults seemed to really care about. My contemporaries only seemed to care as far as appeasing adults on one of their many, many bizarre fascinations/obsessions; it always seemed as if they made up elaborate games (more 'rule systems,' really) to fill up their time and compensate for the fact they couldn't get away with just flat-out making-believe the way we kids could.

As I grew older, and started attending grade school, other kids seemed like they had started buying into the charade. We gotta do this thing so the adults will take us seriously, maybe? Others were learning they could get a little power from enforcing adults' rules. And then you get peer pressure to stop being so girly or acting like a 'tomboy.' Since I've always been a legendary contrarian, I sided with the Girls when my 3rd grade class decided to do their "Boys vs. Girls" prank war. I think I was mainly excited to have an opportunity to play the spy, because I was already bored by the whole War of the Sexes thing. And like, it pretty much stayed that way, that girls were my best friends / my best friends were girls. I never got into the whole toxic masculinity thing, not til later, at least. I think I saw that I was never gonna be the biggest or the toughest, shrugged, and decided not to bother. Tedious, tedious, tedious.

I didn't realize until way later (way, waaaay later) that there were alternatives. Mainly due to a lack of sympathetic representation in media. At some point, I thought to myself, what do I actually identify MYSELF as? And the response was silence. Like many things in life, I compared it to a moment in Batman the Animated Series. Batman escapes the villain's mind control because, as he reveals to us (by way of his sidekick), that he doesn't think of himself as "Bruce." He identifies as Batman. For me, I realized I don't identify as a gender, any gender. I've always existed in this weird, omni-liminal state of not belonging. Neither fully Black nor white, squarely in between Gen X and Y (I won't use the 'm' word), left-handed but fairly ambidextrous (ambi-sinistral; fuck you, righties). I'm not used to belonging in categories or to labels; what I actually is used to *not* belonging in either. Why should gender be any different? And gender, for me, has always been an external concept; something imposed on me by whoever's viewing me. Gender exists in your perception of me; it occurs in that moment when you observe me and make whatever judgement you're gonna make, and act according to your own perceptions and biases.

That's not how it is for everyone, though. I said earlier that gender is a ridiculous, completely artificial concept, but I also said that we live in a deeply gendered society. As long as that's true, people are going to experience dysphoria, or run up against those imaginary boundaries, or have to fight for their right to self-determination. Just because *I* don't identify as male doesn't mean I don't still benefit from male privilege; I do, and I acknowledge that (I also acknowledge that it's fucked up). But, y'know, it's complicated. As someone AMAB who doesn't put much effort into presenting differently, I make more money than I would as a woman. But as a Black 'male,' I make less money than I would as a white woman. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I'm not out here trying to co-opt someone else's struggle. But I have learned to spot the commonalities in the struggles many of us face. I remember reading about manspreading, and hearing from my friends how it made them feel, and the pressure to always feel smaller, the feeling of not being entitled to take up space. And I realized that, I too, felt that way most of the time. Both as a Black American and as someone not socialized with my male privilege. I'm not as loud as I might be, I don't speak up when I maybe ought to. I identified with a lot of the things women around me were saying. Because they're all of our struggles. I thought to myself at one point, "I don't identify as a woman, but I do identify *with* women." Because unless you're cis, white, male, and rich, we're all downhill from the shit coming out of the top of patriarchy's totem pole (totally appropriated, by the way). And, to me, "queer" as an identity is more about acknowledging that we're all on a spectrum and we're all fluid on that spectrum. It's celebrating our differences and affirming each other along our respective journeys towards living authentic lives ("our truth"). It's a condemnation not of heterosexuality/cissexuality but of heteronormativity/cisnormativity; it's a commitment to a world where there's no such thing as "coming out."

So when they come for trans/non-binary/gender non-conforming/intersex people, don't hide. Don't yell about how "this is a distraction" or try to change the subject. Because America has always pretended to be about self-determination. You don't have the right to happiness, but you can definitely pursue it. I know they're out here trying to pull up the rug, haul up the ladders, laugh at us for believing the lie, but we've seen it. We know it's a lie, but we've seen the idea the lie presents, which was their mistake. Because we've seen what could be and we are not going to let that good America, that America (and world, and eventually Federation, hashtag #StarTrekTimes) that could be just vanish. We know it's possible, and THEY know it's possible, so they're terrified, because the lie is how they control us.

So we're gonna lock arms and step forward into the future. One step at a time, but millions of feet with every step, trampling anyone who would stand in the way of that future of justice, and happiness, and self-determination. But it's gotta be all of us. We won't hide, we won't be erased.

Vengeance on Two Wheels

Where ya from? :)

The following piece is a monologue I performed for "The Griot Show" last weekend:


I get asked this question a lot:

"Where are you from?" [multiple times, variations]

It's a simple enough question, but there's so much in it.

It's less common now, but when I was a kid, there was almost always an undercurrent of "what's your nationality?" to it.

Or: How did you come to be this particular shade of brown?

Or: WHAT are you?

Even before I knew the concept of a 'microaggression,' I used to get really indignant at the question. My thinking was this: My mom's side of the family has been here since the Potato Famine. In her hometown across the Hudson, there's a grave for one of her earlier ancestors who died in the Civil War. My dad's family has been here a whole hell of a lot longer than that. Where are YOU from? Oh, your family came through Ellis Island? Well, welcome to America. Please try to respect my country while you're here.

At my most self-righteous, I'd identify myself not merely as an American, but a QUINTESSENTIAL American. I AM the melting pot. My family's been here longer than yours, put in more work, and if you're talking Geography (it's clear no one is talking geography by this point), I'm from the dead center of the continental U.S.

I'm glad those questions, or that subtext, rather, has faded with time. At a certain point in my late teens, I noticed a demographic shift. As far as the 'nationality' undercurrent, it was coming mainly from darker-skinned folks who were, in fact, seeking kinship. A lot of people assumed (and still do, since I live uptown) that I'm Dominican. I'm not, but I get it, and the question doesn't make me as angry or exasperated as it used to.

"Where are you from?" [multiple times, variations]

These days, it's more often just simple small-talk. Basic "getting to know you" stuff. Although that still presents plenty of problems for me. Even absent the microaggressive subtext, it's still a deeper question than it seems on the surface. It's another way of asking part of a larger question:

"WHO are you?"

Absent the racial subtext, my youthful self's indignation cools. The nearest I can come to an answer to this version of the question is, "I have no fucking clue." (But that's just between us here, right now.) You can't really get away with that at a bar or a party, not if you want to keep things light and moving along (i.e., not somewhere where you're monologuing, for an audience). I can give a factual answer if I'm OK with coming across as boring:
[mime the pulldown map] I was born in this geographical location, and moved to these various points on the map, and now I'm… here. No, I wasn't an army brat. We just moved a lot. Dad had a job where he got transferred from place to place a lot. Nope, not military-related. In the slightest.

There's no short-yet-engaging version that isn't simultaneously jokey or flippant. I can say I'm from New York, but no, I wasn't born and raised here. (It's more complicated than that.)
Or I can say I'm from the Midwest or Kansas City, but then I have to explain I didn't grow up there, either. (It's more complicated than that.)
After years of trying variations on all of these, I'll often just go for a simple temperature check: "[CHUCKLE] How much time you got?" — and sometimes that suffices as an answer, without having to go down the well-beaten path of the various standard dialogue trees.

But man, few questions put me in my head as effectively as that simple one. "Where are you from?" What I really want to answer is something along the lines of: "That question is not the right one to get the information you really want, friend; let's try a different tack."
That, but snappier, cleverer, and funnier. In a way that will make people who've just met me think: "Here is a funny, clever fellow I'd like to get to know more."

Instead, it gets me thinking about my lack of roots. Just last month, I visited Southern California for the first time since my dad lived out there 2 decades ago. I drove out to a little town called Moreno Valley where he lived when I'd visit for the summer. Drove right up to the house where he'd lived, and nothing. I mean, it's still there, just….
I have a ton of very strong memories from that time, but they were all cold, distant. You really can't go back home.

And, just like everywhere else we'd lived, I don't have any roots there, no people. It's the same in Kansas City, or Louisville. So where DO I say I'm from? Where the heck DO I come from, if those places no longer exist? And I don't have an answer. No "home is where the heart is" or like platitudes. Because my heart is in all those places that I can never go back to.

So instead I go back to basics. A home is a structure built to shelter yourself from the elements, to afford you a minimum of safety and security. Sometimes, you have to build it yourself, and as an amateur you're going to make mistakes. Any homeowner can tell you the upkeep is non-stop; things are always failing on you. And, if there's time, you can set up a garden, put down some seeds that might take root. It gives you something to work on with your own two hands, keeps you busy. It's real. It's here, it's now, in the present.

But that still doesn't answer the question.



I'm trying to write more.
Rise

Coming to rest.

Copied from facebook (sorry, but it's something).

One of the topics I was researching yesterday was sundive trajectories. It may be surprising, but it takes a fair amount of energy to travel to the Sun. You can't just fall in. Even if you leave Earth on an escape trajectory directly opposite the planet's revolution on the ecliptic, you still have a ridiculous amount of velocity just from being dragged around by the Earth's gravity. Which means you will keep falling at nearly the same speed as Earth (i.e. a near-Earth orbit, ~1 AU out from Sol). To stop and 'drop' into the Sun, you need to kill just about all of the orbital velocity you picked up just from starting on the Earth (or do something like slingshot around Jupiter, like the Ulysses probe*.

Which is a really long and overly-nerdy way of explaining how much energy it feels like it takes me to come to a stop and hold myself in stillness. It's not a question of just 'relaxing'; it is a very strenuous exercise.

* I later amended this post on facebook:
"a better example would've been the Helios satellites, which at their closest, barely got closer to the Sun than Mercury's orbit (0.29 AU / 43.432 million kilometers, still waaaay closer than you'd ever want to be). As an indication of the paradoxical nature of travel within the solar system: at perihelion, Helios-B was traveling at 252,792 km/h relative to the sun (aka 157,078 mph), making it possibly the fastest-moving manmade object ever?

The point is: It takes a SHIT-TON of energy just to "come to a stop" relative to the solar system."
Starless

NO SALE

having one of those "no one wants what I have to offer" lifetimes

having trouble even giving it away for free
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A Solitary Mine

Missing

I miss you.
Not in the "I hate being alone" way
Not in the "I don't want to die alone" way
I am missing —you— specifically.

I miss waiting for you to wake up.
I miss messages from you first thing in the morning.
I miss being away from you but with the knowledge
that we'll be back together soon.

I miss trying too hard to make you smile
and annoying you instead.
I miss debating in my head whether you're cuter
when you smile or when you frown.
I miss your ups and downs.
And knowing that I love you
and that that will be enough to fix things when I fuck up.

There are things that I don't miss,
but I miss understanding them
And that we can't be all things to all people.
I miss trying to be anyway.

I miss telling I love you in ways no one had ever before thought to tell you they loved you
for reasons I could never fathom.
I could never fathom the idea of not loving you,
or the idea of people who could.

I miss your storms.
I miss your arms.
I miss your stories and pretending like I hadn't heard them before—
just because I have a good memory doesn't mean I have to act like a jerk.

I miss my mission to make you the most special person in the world
because it was the easiest thing ever;
over before I even started.
I miss only having to make you realize
what I already knew
what is glaringly obvious to me
and has been from the start.

I just wish
that I could miss
missing you, instead
for a moment,
as just a thought
at the back of my head.
And then it's gone,
like a dream taken by dawn.
Forgotten that it was ever forgotten,
wisps of what was.

Instead,
I just miss
you
(specifically)

Good Grief!

I could be more cliché, but it would require serious effort.

In my sleep, I reached out for someone who wasn't there. Only, my fingers found her and she woke me with an appreciative sigh as they ran through her hair. Startled by what I expected to not find there, I kicked myself up a level of consciousness and woke up for real to find an armful of pillow.

Yep, couldn't even make it up. Or, I could, but what would be the point?

There was so much contained in that moment, that brief instant of contact. The affection, its appreciative reception, the joy of having someone to care for, the feeling that you matter. That you make a (positive) difference in someone's life. Cause for all the aphorisms about loving yourself etc. etc., at the end of the day, it's still a closed system, and you can't get more out of it than you put in. You can make it run more efficiently by minimizing negativity, but it'll never get over unity.

I'm also kind of bummed because my intern shift at the theater is ending tomorrow, and I didn't get much warning at all. It hasn't been quite a full year, but then I put in some extra shifts (like during the NYMIF), so I'm at about my limit. Though they might bring me back for the festival later this year (whereupon I'll be rusty and all kinds of things will have changed in the intervening 8 months?). At least folks have been unilaterally positive about my work, and I even got props for my (improvised!) lighting work last week. Maybe folks'll raise such a stink that they'll have to bring me back.

Oh well, at least I get my Tuesday nights back, and I won't be such a zombie on Wednesdays (and Thursdays, and Fridays...).

I'm still working on me. And working on making 2014 the year where I find my voice and work on my projects. Uh, after I figure out what I'm doing for employment in a month... =| (Ahh, contract life!)
I'm working on it

werk

Man, what am I going to do about work?

My contract is up in Feb. And, well, they actually like me where I am. Like, now that I have my CPAP and my medical shit under control, I'm actually a competent employee. Which... opens a new can of worms. Because now I can start to ask for what I'm worth. And start to think about what works and what doesn't work (since it's not necessarily "me" anymore that's the problem). So now I need to figure out what that means.

I like the place I'm at OK. It's not great, but it's a job. There are a few things that are not working, though. For one, they've got me working in a call center. Like, I'm still a writer, but I am in a place where phones are constantly ringing and people are coming in to pick up and drop off equipment (and I am the 2nd closest to the door, hooray) and people are shouting across the room about Priority Ones and there are big flatscreen monitors playing a 24-hr news loop along with a call center metrics/analytics dashboard and and and.

It's just not the right physical space for me. They keep saying there's no room, but we have one and a half entire buildings (not to mention the East Side office, which I don't want to move to if I can help it). But if I'm going to stay, I don't want to stay where I'm sitting. Too much of a demand? All I want is an actual cubicle (which I had when I started, before we got moved down a floor). That, or let me work from home 2-3 days a week (now THAT'S not too much to ask for).

Believe it or not, that's the major stressor. I pretty much literally can't work while I'm at work. Gotta wait til people leave or work when I'm home. Which... screw that. But while I'm making hypothetical demands, I've started to think about switching fields/careers.

For a bit now, I've been thinking about switching to UI/UX design. It's what initially got me interested in psychology: studying affordances and the way people interact with stimuli. My first exposure to real, actual psychology (as opposed to psychiatry) was a seminar at Stevens when I was in high school where we looked into some human pattern recognition testing software and learned about how the mind interprets stimuli (including some pre-processing that happens in the eyes themselves!). My second exposure was the Perception class I took 2nd semester of my freshman year. And, of course, I ended up majoring in it.

Of course, the place where I work doesn't really design its own software with any UI and stuff. Well, the mobile app people do, but that's an entirely different thing. So I think what I'd need to do is define my own job title and position. Which, well... while I've definitely impressed people in my year there so far, that's a pretty heavy thing for a contractor to ask for. I think, if I'm going to pitch it, I'll have to frame it as a "Client Interface/Interaction Designer." I mean, they're already asking me to do way more than was in my original job description (which says nothing, btw, about communications; if I'm going to draft company emails (the part of my job I like the least), I should at least get recognition (and compensation) for it).

Of course, this means also laying out what my new job responsibilities will be, which... I guess I should google some buzzwordy stuff about what a UX designer does? And then I can graft that to the stuff I'm already doing, and say: "Hey, anything that is client facing, from web pages to emails to documentation already goes through me, so let us make it official, k?" Also, money. Also, bennies. And pls. start my vacation accrual and all the seniority-type stuff based on my original hire date a year ago. Cause you know how these companies are; it'll be six years before I'm getting the extra day or whatever vacation they give you when you've worked somewhere for five years.

So I need to put all this together, plus fix my resume, plus start looking for jobs (both tech writing and UX) so I have something to fall back on if they call my bluff. And I had a dream about my boss just going ahead and renewing my contract without talking to me, which is totally something he'd do. He'd get to be the hero who keeps me on board (at the same pay rate, for his corporate masters) because I'm too talented to let go while totally sidestepping any messy negotiations.

Which is the funny thing about our society. It's my job to ask for more money, almost always/universally. Meanwhile, the system is set up so that they try to pay me as little as possible. In a society/economy where my entire worth is tied up in my income/compensation. No wonder we're all so depressed and miserable. And no wonder we're all fucked.
IBOJDPCANT

Damn, it feels good to be an astrophysicist

So after a lot of hemming and hawing, I decided to do a costume yesterday after all. But instead of stressing and sweating the manufacture, I decided I'd only do it if I could rig it up using office supplies.

I've had the idea to do the NdGT reaction/badass meme since maybe last Nov.? I wanted to rig the arms with wire or whatever to make them stay in place. Instead, I came up with the idea of making a mustache out of post-its colored in with black marker, and then rigging the arms with paperclips... so that my hands would be free for drinking/dancing whatever. I also figured I'd print the caption so it was a little more obvious what I was doing.

You can judge the final result for yourself, but people on facebook (and those in person who got it) went nuts for it. Which I hadn't really expected, but whatev. If it makes you laugh, job done!

I of course have a tendency to pick costumes that are somewhat obscure (Red Right Hand). The nice thing about this one was that it worked if you recognized NdGT, even if you didn't recognize/weren't familiar with the "watch out, badass!" meme. So, as a guy who likes his jokes to work on multiple levels (as an exercise unto itself), I'll probably work to layer my costume references more distinctly in the future.

I'm not usually much of a party person (though I like dancing... when there's room), but I do like it when I'm at a party and someone comes up to me and references an ongoing conversation about the ontology of time (or whatever you'd call it) and then about my glow-in-the-dark t-shirt and how it has common names for the various constellations (Strongman, Big Bear; it's a test print). With a guy who, by the way, is wearing a mask of himself (that was made for someone else at another event; unrelated meta-ness!). I'm doin' alright in the Life Dept. right now. =)
Roland, The Gunslinger

Wait a 2nd

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"What happened here was an unavoidable tragedy," he said, before all the microphones and cameras and the backdrop of flags. Several reporters in attendance fired their guns into the air in assent. "There was no way," the commissioner continued, around a pull of Jim Beam, "to prevent this exercise of individual freedoms." More gunshots, these unrelated, sounded in the distance. "We can take comfort in the pride these individuals must've felt, sacrificing themselves for our American values." More whoops and hollers, punctuated by the bang! of small arms fire (the heavier weapons having been left outside; this was, after all, a press conference). “What matters most," he slurred, swelling with patriotism, "is that we do not, in any way, let this tragedy—this celebration of individual liberties--open a conversation about our collective freedoms and rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. because we all know that the point of forming a Union in the first place was to ensure and enshrine the rights of‘ the individual, and not in any way to elevate our society and populace as a whole; what could be more antithetical to the individual quality of life than raising we average from me muck? Let us not undermine the bold sacrifice of those who died here today with such talk."

The noise from the crowd was terrible and wondrous.
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Axe to Grind

Not. Sold.

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My head swims with negative voices, before I've even begun. I don't even have an idea and already it's not good enough. "It's been done to death," I'm reminded, "and by better writers than you'll ever be." Which may be true, but without even an idea, how can I ever know?

Even if it‘s been done, what am I to do about that? I cannot change the past. And though I can change my perspective and examine my beliefs and even influence who I will become, I cannot change who I am right now. And I am the sum of my unique experiences. I must have a story. I must have something to say. Even if it'll been said before. Stories are made to he told and re-told, handed down and amended, mended and reused like a hand-me-down blanket.

It's only our current (and very recent) system that demands originality (yet familiarity) so that something can be trademarked, copyrighted, bar-coded, packaged, and marketed. It. is no longer enough to be a storyteller, someone who gets paid for the craft of the telling, the recitation (but so much more than just a rote repetition!) of the classic tale. Not if you want to make a living.

And so we are held hostage by this idea of the original (yet safely, marketably familiar) tale. Our keyboards and pens and tongues sit idle, our stories (and our histories, for what is less original than something which has actually already happened?) inert and unprofitable. But stories are made to be told, not sold.

So now let this become my mantra, my aegis:
Stories are made to be told, not sold.