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Friday, July 29, 2011

Staten Island Rules

How I manage to get such great guest bloggers - I dont' know.

Here's another one from J.L. Mecum:

I used to regularly volunteer at the Manhattan LBGT Center a few years ago. I was working an emotionally exhausting job and was looking for a queer community outlet that didn’t involved getting shitfaced and having drinks spilled on me while I waited for the bathroom at Cubbyhole, crushed up against the jukebox awkwardly. Serving pizza and manning the popcorn machine while a fabu drag queen called bingo seemed like a good change of pace. I became friendly with the volunteer coordinator at The Center (probably because I was always available on short notice) and he began asking me to help with other events.

When June rolled around, I agreed to help The Center hand out information (and apply temporary tattoos to sexy revelers!) at the various borough Pride celebrations. I mean, when else was I going to go to Queens? (Hint: um, NEVER. BK. All. Day.) I even agreed to help with Staten Island Pride, mostly because I had a friend who had been living there for years and hadn’t convinced me to actually make the trek out to his ‘hood. Thinking I’d kill two birds and all that, I made a plan for my buddy Paul to meet me at the Pride site so we could go to his favorite restaurant-slash-dive bar on the island post-Pride. I was excited.

June in New York City = hot as balls. The gymnasium hosting Staten Island Pride predictably was air-conditioning free, so there I was, in my Birks, cargo shorts, and Center t-shirt with sleeves sheared right off. Completing my Dyke in the Summer uniform was the comfy sports bra underneath it all. Gimme a break, okay? It was Staten Island in 2008. I was…younger than I am now. Go easy.

Paul came to meet me. The first thing I said was, “dude, it’s 90 effing degrees. Long sleeves and jeans? You crazy.” He just shook his head (I’ve never seen him in shorts…) and led the way to Book By Its Cover Restaurant and Bar*.

BBIC was a divey dive, with a parrot painted on the side of the building to rival Jimmy Buffet’s trailer. In what I can only assume was a flimsy attempt at “classin’ up the joint,” a hand-lettered sign was posted on the door: NO SHIRT NO SHOES NO SERVICE. NO BASEBALL HATS. MEN MUST HAVE SLEEVES. I chuckled as I glanced through the window and saw an overweight middle-aged man with his sleeveless Champion-brand sweatshirt shooting pool with his also-sleeveless tween son.

The petite bottle-blonde hostess stopped us in our tracks. “You can’t come in here like that,” she said. Like what? Brunette? Sweaty? LIKE WHAT? Paul asked her. She stared at me, then at Paul, then back at me. “You have to have sleeves. You can’t come in here like that.” Now, Paul’s a very traditional guy. He started to step up for me, his friend who happens to be, very much in his mind, a lady, and I don’t think he fully understood what was going on. I knew. I knew from the moment she laid eyes on me: MUST HAVE SLEEVES.

You could almost see the wheels turning in Paul’s head. He looked at the riffraff at the bar. “Those women are wearing tank tops,” he countered. The hostess glanced over at the deflated barflies, “Yes, those women are wearing tank tops. But your friend has to have sleeves.” I told her that the only other shirt I had was a ribbed tank top. Even after speaking to her in my decidedly unmanly voice, the hostess did not change her position. During the course of this awkward encounter, she never used a male pronoun. I fully believe that she felt she just needed to stand by her original judgment and not back down, though by this time she was clearly questioning her appraisal. I have to say that this is a poor life choice and I sincerely hope it
bites her in the ass someday.

Finally, exasperated, she decided, “It’s fine, it’s fine,” and seated us. I am not exaggerating when I say that not one other soul was having a sit-down meal in that establishment. She handed me my menu without making eye contact. In fact, the hostess never looked me directly in the eye again. Paul was livid. He couldn’t understand how anyone could mistake me for a man. I couldn’t understand why, if I was indeed a man, I would be singled out over other bar patrons. It felt very much like “we don’t want your kind here, whatever it is.” Which is lame and so un-New York is makes me sad.

The food was unimpressive and the mood was a sour. The conversation finally started flowing until I had to ask Paul, “Um, uh, where is the bathroom? Should I just use the men’s room?” Without hesitation, he replied, “The men’s room here doesn’t have a seat on the toilet. Don’t use the men’s room here.” I glanced around and made sure no one saw me steal away to the bathroom. But wait, what? I had to make sure no one saw me HEAD INTO THE BATHROOM? This was just ridiculous. No one should ever be made to feel ashamed of getting up to use the bathroom in a restaurant. I was angry at the hostess for her cursory judgment; I was angry at myself for allowing her to affect me; but mostly I was angry at the hostess’s clearly sheltered idea of stereotyping: if I was fitting into any mould, I was ripped from the pages of How to Spot a Lesbian 101. Psssh, get some culture, Improperly-Prejudiced-Hostess-with-Dumb-Hair-Nobody-Likes-You.

I haven’t been back to Staten Island since. I wonder if that make me better or worse than that hostess.
*the establishment's name has been changed to a more fitting moniker.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cutting It All Off

In high school I got really obsessed with a Team Dresch song called Growing Up in Springfield. These are the lyrics:

when i was fourteen i fell in love with her in metal shop she said kaia come pray with me we sat on her bed and we held our hands together she told me i needed god i told her i just needed her when i was fifteen i liked to start fires and i drive my parents truck to the jasper store things were out of control i couldn't stop to see others the ones like me were not far from reach when i was sixteen she said to me you have a demon possession i said what the fuck does that mean she said she couldn't be my friend those were the worst days of my life and all the hick boys loved to harass me so i flaunted my hatred of the flag my mother cried when i shaved my head

Honest and unfiltered like most Team Dresch songs, I especially fixated on the last line about her mother. Instead of writing my first name and a boys last name all over my binders, I would write that lyric. But, no one cried when I shaved my head. There were critical reactions far and wide, but never tears.

My mom was not happy about the news that I was rejecting compulsive straightness, she was not happy that I was starting to dress more and more masculine, she was not happy about my hair being short on my head. Her unhappiness was unselfish and in regards to safety and family. But I was still offended and outraged at what I took to be fake liberal ideals and a lack of support in what was already a difficult and confusing situation. But parental disapproval of queerness is generally expected, so I complained to my friends a bit, listened to Team Dresch as if I could relate to religious indoctrination, and then hunkered down to wait out the likely evaporation of motherly disappointment.

I can't remember the first time I shaved my head. I think my friend Abbey may have done the dirty deed since her excitement and support for my changing self was eternal. I could always count on her for a mohawk or a tight buzzcut, but mostly for the encouraging words that went with such a dramatic haircut that asked for at least a little bullying and snickering. Her goodwill overshadowed what could have been pure mess.

There was a day when my hair was starting to grow back into a wavy blob of ugly and somehow it was decided with my mom that I would go to a hair salon for a professional cut. She was hoping I would get a haircut that promoted a less radical look and somehow I felt guilty enough to agree.

We went to a place called The Yellow Balloon that was definitely for children and for children only. I was 17 and way too old to be going to a place that had a Claw Crane game and literally handed out yellow balloons to their patrons for being well behaved during the haircut.

The hairstylist was talkative and dismissive. She sat me down, threw the cape over my body, and asked me what kind of cut I wanted. Just a trim, I said. And that was that. No further questioning, she just took out her shears and went to work while chatting with my mom. Minutes later, she unbuttoned the cape and I met my mother's eyes as we reviewed the haircut. Something was off. It was too short on the sides and too long on the top. My face was unflatteringly elongated.

Unfortunately, my mother and I both lack the natural instinct (backbone) to demand customer satisfaction. But after our shock dissipated, we briefly discussed the issue sitting on my head and concluded it was too bad not to try and fix. Shamefully walking back to the hairstylist, my mom told her that I looked too much like a boy. Which, wasn't exactly the issue, because I didn't mind looking like a boy. It's just, some haircuts for men don't suit my womanly facial features. And this was one of those haircuts.

Now it was the hairstylist's turn to be stunned. She stammered: Oh, I thought she was a boy. It was awkward. Everyone was embarrassed and all for different reasons. My mom came up with a solution: Shave it all off, she said. That was her idea and THAT was how bad this haircut was.

After this happened I couldn't even possibly conceive of re-telling this story to anyone, much less of having a blog to laugh over these types of incidents. But now, I know why this happens and I'm prepared for it. I give specific instructions to people who are going to cut my hair, buy me clothing, or point me in the direction of the restroom.

The hairstylist obliged, and for what Abbey could've done in five minutes and for free and with love and affection, my mom paid $20.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Shamrock and Fuschia

Guest post from J.L. Mecum!

I am a law student, a Godfather, an only daughter, and a queer. Bieber-doppelganger-extraordinaire. I've been asked if I was trans, had a girlfriend, had a boyfriend, if I'm Native American, if I'm Jewish, if I'm lost (in a public bathroom), if I'm lost (in the little boys' section of Daffy's). Just like Lauren, the proprietor of this blog, I live at the intersection of Sir Street and Ma'am Avenue.

Recently, I had been asked to be in two upcoming weddings for two very dear friends. I was given the gilded title of "Jen of Honour" in one; a happy bridesmaid in the other. Jen of Honor was asked to wear her smartest suit and sharpest tie, and to simply be "comfortable." The bride-to-be, Alexandra, knew my eyes would light up as soon as she said "summer suit." Visions of cotton and linen danced in my head. Maybe even a madras tie?! Perchance to dream!

Amanda, on the other hand, had a plethora of bridesmaids and groomsmen lined up. "Sorry, dude, but Rick's already got seven guys walking with him. If you don't walk on my side and wear a dress, we'll be uneven." I could've balked or complained or begged off, but this isn't about me, it's about my good friend, her marriage, and quite frankly, her wedding album. So I said sure, I'll wear the shamrock and fuschia
dress. Whatever you want. It's your day.

But wait - hold the phone. I haven't worn a dress since the late '90s. What's an andro-butch-boi to do without her trusty knit tie, a sparkly tie bar, those patent leather wing-tips that look strikingly like Gene Kelly's tap shoes? WHERE WILL MY POWERS COME FROM? I took a breath and reminded myself that this day was not about me. Then I took two trains to Church Avenue in Brooklyn.

The dress had been ordered and now it was in. I had returned for the fitting. Being June and the swell of wedding, the place was packed. I sauntered in, alone, with my swoopy short Beatles bangs and my chinos rolled up to my calves, showing off a prominent boat shoe tan. A gaggle of preteens (where are your parents?!) was gathered in front of the dressing mirror, generally being obnoxious, pre-hormonal, and as terrifying to 29-year-old me as they had been in the fifth grade.

The saleswoman expressed her complete disappointment at my inability to produce my receipt; I countered with a glower at their non-computerized record keeping system. "She's going downstairs to find it. It'll just be a minute," she said.

Then I was completely alone.

The preteens stole glances that became less and less stealthy. I shifted my weight back and forth, sweating into my Brooklyn Industries shirt and wishing I were somewhat invisible, or at least translucent. A shadow, perhaps. Peter Pan's shadow would be a dead ringer. They whispered and stared and pointed a little. I dissolved from the inside out. I mean, where the hell was Wendy when I needed her?

After an eternity, the saleswoman reappeared with my dress. I could see the shamrock mocking me through the plastic covering. I slipped inside the changing room and stepped into the glowing green puddle of the dress, drawing it up around me. The long zipper closed and I was snuggly inside my costume.

My emergence from the dressing room must've been like a butterfly from a cocoon, judging by the look on the preteens' faces.' "That's a pretty dress," one said. "Do you want to stand up here?" offered another as they all made way for me in front of the mirror.

I stepped up on to the fitting pedestal. The first preteen made sure I knew just how lucky I was: "That is a pretty dress," she repeated. "Thank you. It's for my friend's wedding." The second piped up, "Are you a bridesmaid?" "Yes," I said, "I'll tell her you think she made a good choice."

The girls stared at me. No more sniggering; no more whispers; just open-mouthed admiration. I've never felt so pretty in all my life. And I owned it. It was possibly the only time I've ever been happy to feel like a princess instead of having one on my arm. But why? Because I'm still me, in a dress or a suit or a
cowboy hat or a banana costume. Those preteens knew it, too. They did not point and laugh at the awkward girl-boy in a dress; they wished they were me.

Now, I know not everyone feels good, or confident, or even comfortable in feminine clothing. I know I usually do not. But I've finally gotten to a place in my life, my identity and my sense of self that I am wearing the clothes, the clothes are no longer wearing me.

Photo by Mary Lou Quillen