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Shame

Today I felt more shame than I have ever felt before in my life. I felt like a failure to my lesbian and educator identities.

While on last period bathroom duty today, I was drained, sick, and ready to go home. (Bathroom duty involves collecting bathroom passes, being wary of students cutting class, and making sure students don’t try to go in the other gender’s bathroom to get into trouble.) My colleague and I had just finished dealing with rambunctious students, and I was looking down at an assignment a student had handed me. A student came up to me, gave me their bathroom pass, and started to walk towards the women’s room. I had barely glanced at the student, and I pointed in the direction of the men’s room.

“I’m a she.”

I looked up and took a second look at the student, apologizing profusely. She continued into the bathroom, and I felt a wave of shame wash over me.

I regularly defend and comfort my own fiancée when she is mistreated in the women’s room when we go out in public. I spent my years of undergrad and grad school purposefully using unisex bathrooms and educating myself on trans* issues. I’ve gotten into arguments with complete strangers over people going into the “right” bathroom, and what that means.

So what the heck caused me to become as ignorant as those I have argued against so many times? Was it the fact that my activist roots have remained closeted in my sometimes closed-minded work setting? Was it my femme lesbian privilege? Was it my place of power as a teacher in a school setting?

While the student used the bathroom, I questioned these things, as well as tried to gather my thoughts on how I could sufficiently apologize– or assuage my guilt– for doing the exact opposite of what I stand for.

When the student came out of the restroom, I called her over and said, “I’m really, truly sorry. I always get upset when people give my fiancée problems in the bathroom and mistake her for a guy, and I feel awful. I’ve been trying to think of how I could possibly apologize to you for the past 5 minutes, and nothing is sufficient. I feel like an asshole. I’m so sorry.”

The student’s entire demeanor changed, and she said, “It’s okay. Wait, your fiancée…? You’re gay…?” I pulled up a pic of V & I at her sorority formal, her in her tux and I in my gown, and the student started telling me her life story. I learned how she had been disowned by her family after coming out, and how she couldn’t get over how others at our school couldn’t express their true selves or be out.

I will never be mistaken for a man going into the women's bathroom. I wish I could say the same for V.

I will never be mistaken for a man going into the women’s bathroom. I wish I could say the same for V.

“I don’t get upset or angry when people start to yell at me I’m going to the wrong bathroom. I choose to dress this way. I cut my hair. I wear boy clothes. But I can’t choose who I am. All that matters is I know who I am,” she told me.

She then started asking me questions, trying to dispel rumors from the truth.

“Is it true girls can’t go to prom with a girl? And that girls have to dress like girls, in dresses? My friend said that (somebody with power) said so.”

I felt an inexplicable anger flowing through me, and I gave the girl my name, email address, and the day and classroom I stay after in. “I don’t know you, but if ANYONE gives you trouble, I will stand up for you and fight for you. None of what you’re saying is legal. You stay in touch with me.”

The girl thanked me, and said she was going to email me after school today. I wrote her a pass back to class, and we went our separate ways. I’m sure we were both thinking about our conversation when we said goodbye, a conversation that would not have had happened if I hadn’t made an ignorant, shameful mistake.

I am a white, middle-class, feminine woman. I have received a college and graduate school education. I have a lot of privileges that I am aware of, and I have some, like my gender-identity, that I sometimes take for granted. Compared to society as a whole, my lesbianism makes me a minority. Yet, I am able to hide my differences. I put on makeup. I wear feminine clothing and jewelry. If you saw me on the street, you would probably assume that I am an average, heterosexual white girl. Unlike my “butch” counterparts, nobody would assume that I am gay and “different.” I have faced little discrimination in my life. I cannot imagine being judged for my sexuality solely based on my appearance, and I cannot even fathom how the intersection of race and gender-identity would come into play if I were a African-American teenage butch-or-androgynous-appearing lesbian.

I am so incredibly grateful for reality checks that remind me of how fortunate I am, and reality checks that make me feel shame for making assumptions or taking things for granted. I am so continuously amazed and in awe of all of the gender non-conforming, atypical, defying-the-stereotypes individuals in my life, particularly my more masculine, “butch” fiancée, friends, and loved ones. Thank you for always being strong, and thank you for being unafraid to be who you are. You show me what it means to be a better person and woman.

Darkness

Today I had the privilege of being part of a writing workshop led by James Lecesne, co-founder of The Trevor Project. The workshop was about writing to our younger selves, something that was beautiful, poignant, and tear-inducing. It really left me reflecting on my own life, my voice, and how far I’ve come in the past 6 or 7 years.

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James Lecesne signed my copy of The Letter Q, the book he edited in which the workshop was based.

During the writing portion of the workshop, we wrote letters to our younger selves. At one point, I found myself writing about my Grandpa (Buster)’s death, and the impact it had on how I’ve responded to deaths in my life since.

I also started thinking about Lauren, my friend who took her own life two years ago.

Perhaps this is cheating a bit, but for today’s writing prompt I was asked to write about a social issue, touching upon “light” and “dark” stuff. The poem I wrote the weekend after Lauren’s death came to mind… so here it is.

“La Mort de la Lumière”
KB (copyright 2011)

At night I feel the warmth of your fire in my fingers;
the light flickers as golden embers slowly fall.
To my heart I hold you close–
an evanescent moment of serenity–
as the cold, bitter wind blows fiercely
and threatens to make you disappear.

I realize your time is fleeting, and your glow will disappear,
yet I expect you to stay ‘til the last of the wax drips onto my fingers.
When you first came to be, you were held fiercely–
protection for a single flame destined to fall.
Until then, I embrace your serenity
and let your beauty stay close.

I wrap my hands around you, holding you close,
not knowing that you are fighting to disappear,
not knowing that you have a plan to find serenity,
and simply uninformed that you are slipping out of my fingers.
I continue to hold you, trying to protect you from the fall
as you continue to fight time fiercely.

Your flames begin to burn me fiercely–
a sign that the end is close–
but I do not know you are about to fall.
I do not know your light will disappear,
and I do not know you are escaping my fingers.
In this moment, I find only your warmth and serenity.

I sit in the shadows, your glow creating my serenity
as the night winds begin to hit me fiercely
and I start to feel tremors in my fingers
as I fight to hold your warmth close.
You fight back, wanting to disappear
and already beginning to fall.

I wail as I realize you have started to fall,
and an eerie brightness confirms your serenity
as you lose the last of your oxygen and disappear.
I bawl and weep, sobbing fiercely
as the existence of your light comes to a close
and I learn I will never again feel your flames in my fingers.

Once you disappear, I slowly begin to fall.
My fingers search for a sign of serenity,
but with the loss of your light, I fiercely cry. Your time has come to a close.

I’m freaked out that I can get married.

Soooo on Thursday night, one of my best friends got engaged. (Congrats J & R!) She’s the 3rd person I love dearly to get engaged or hitched in the past year, and I was beyond excited for her…. and beyond freaked out. By ways of reasoning, I was the only person left in my close-knit circle of friends in a serious relationship. I actually breathed a sigh of relief that I was gay and didn’t have the right to marry yet, which meant that even if I did get engaged, I would be able to take it slowly and not have to deal with being an adult right away.

Yesterday it was announced that gay marriage will be legal in NJ starting October 21st.

Shit.

It’s not that I don’t want to spend the rest of my life loving the woman of my dreams. I’m just waiting for my wonderful governor to veto this decision.

heyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy-no-gay-marriage-for-you

 

When I was a baby dyke, around 19, marriage equality was a big issue in New Jersey. My then girlfriend asked me to go to Garden State Equality meetings with her, and I did, but I was ambivalent about the whole thing. Maybe it was because I knew in my heart she wouldn’t be the one I would be “gay marrying,” or maybe it was because I was just a kid trying to get through her sophomore year of college and declare a major, but when the NJ Senate rejected the legalization of gay marriage in January 2010, I was sort of relieved. I wasn’t out to my family yet. I didn’t see marriage in my immediate future. Heck, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to get married one day. For a while, I was a closeted gay supporter of the lack of marriage equality.

A year and a half later, in June of 2011, same-sex marriage became legal in New York. I was excited that I could potentially get married one day “only one state over.” However, once again, I was ambivalent. I had just gotten out of a bad relationship. Marriage wasn’t in my immediate future. I started day dreaming of meeting my dream girl one day, but I didn’t want to envision a marriage. It just didn’t seem possible to me.

Another year passed, and I volunteered with the NOH8 campaign. I was about to graduate from college, and the whole marriage thing seemed a little more important. I suddenly saw my peers getting engaged, and it frustrated me that, even if I wasn’t in a relationship at the time, I couldn’t get married, even if I wanted to.

NOH8

 

Now, in 2013, I can legally get married in my home state.

I’m going to let that sentence sink in for a minute because it’s a sentence most of America doesn’t have to worrying about saying with awe and disbelief.

I don’t believe this is real. I’m waiting for someone, especially Chris Christie, to tell me that this isn’t real. I’m waiting for the idea of getting married to be ripped out from under me and thrown away. I’m waiting to be told that my life is unconstitutional, and that I don’t deserve to declare my love to one person for the rest of my life.

I’m not ready to be allowed to get married because I’m in denial that I have a Masters degree, that I have a full-time teaching job with benefits, and that I am in a committed relationship filled with love, respect, and happiness. I’m in denial that I’m adult because, if I let myself believe that I can get married in New Jersey, I’m going to act like a child and throw  a temper tantrum when that right is taken away from me.

A month into dating V, I knew she made my eyes sparkle.

A month into dating V, I knew she made my eyes sparkle.