Friday, January 28, 2011

Music & Identity

In college, music became a central aspect of my identity. I lived for shows on the weekends – from San Diego to San Francisco – I made mixed “tapes” at least once a week. I remember listening to Blueprints for the Black Market and Never Take Friendship Personal o my way to the Antelope Valley every weekend one summer. Play me “Sun” by Mae and I automatically think of driving along Pacific Coast Highway at one a.m. my freshman year of college.
                I loved the self-induced anxiety of being at the front lines of a show – watching Anberlin andSaosin at a crammed pool hall in Lancaster, watching The Used for the first time in San Diego (hey, no judging of my past musical taste, please), hearing bluegrass boys jam it out at local fairs. Back in 2005, I wrote (albeit not greatly) about the raw energy inherit in a good show:
                The first show where the sweat raining out of my pores floods my body and matts my hair to my face. My arms and back are slippery with the wetness produced by the heat and energy that is all around the room. My legs get confused with others as my feet try and find a stable spot on the floor only to get pushed and moved in an erratic formation as soon as I feel I have a place.

It is amazing.

Amazing to feel others' slick bodies rub against mine, to feel the bass vibrate throughout my body and make my heart skip a few extra beats, to feel the energy escaping from those on stage to those of us in the crowd in a swirling, chaotic collision of sweat, emotion, and love for music. The anticipation that was once in the air has now evaporated and disappeared as though it had never existed at all. Now, all of us just live in this one moment, feeling the words course through our bodies and the strumming of guitars heat our blood.

Five years ago, and obviously a much more novice creative writer, this was my connection to music. But, somehow, music’s centrality has faded. I still love music. I listen to my swing, my Regina Spektor, and my Jill Tracy whenever I’m out and about on my own. But my days of scouring the internet for new music and gifting my friends “mix tapes” have come to a halt.
                I know part of this is interests shifting – starting a graduate program where my friendships are focused around academics, not taking as many road trips where music is the sole entertainment, becoming a new mama and being in throes of new mamahood everyday. But there’s the problem. I want Droidlet to love music; to be exposed to everything from The Ohio Players to The Black Keys to Nickel Creek to Explosions in the Sky and sift through all of it to find whatever music it is that touches his soul, that makes him want to dance in the sunlight and the dark, that makes him want to sing.
                Maybe, I’m being a little hard on myself. In utero, Droidlet went to a Killswitch Engage show and a Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings show. We listen to at least one musical a day and he loves dancing to “Do You Love Me” and (of all things) the Tarzan soundtrack.
                Maybe this is more a reminder to myself to listen to the bands I love. To blast Voo Doo Glow Skulls when I drive to class, to introduce Droidlet to jack when he’s in the car. Or maybe, I’m just long overdue for the self-induced anxiety of a show.  

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

In Defense of a Princess: Leia

In my Disneyland blog, I do alot of ragging on princesses. After more thought, I've realized that it's not "princesses" per se that are bad but the current ideology that surrounds princesses. As Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girly-Girl Culture, writes how the new culture of princesses "instead of being about a girl's empowerment and effectiveness in the world, it's actually about her self-absorption and spoiledness." Rather than being about asserting femininity, which is fine, it becomes about over-sexualization of childhood and definition by external looks.

Enter Princess Leia from the original Star Wars trilogy. A non-diva, kick-ass princess. A princess who doesn't wear a tiara all of the time and actually rocks some pretty awesome pants. A princess that I can get behind.

When we first meet Leia, she is part of the Imperial Senate and acting as a spy for the Rebellion. A spy princess! Later, she's tortured by Vader for information but resists and doesn't give up anything. She's definitely not the stereotypical portrait of a passive princess waiting for her prince to come.

With that said, I do need to acknowledge that Princess Leia does have a tendency to get herself captured and then rescued by Han, Luke, and Chewie. However, one of these captures (in Return of the Jedi) is because she poses for Jabba the Hutt as a Bounty Hunter in order to save Han Solo - hooray for role reversal! The princess goes in to save her "prince" and gets thisclose to succeeding. Granted, she ends up in a super sexy metal slave outfit because of this, but at least the outfit is shown being forced upon her rather than her choice of wearing it. Therefore, can I say it's a sign of oppression? AND she ends up strangling Jabba with the very chain he tried to keep her captive by. HELL YES. Even when she's getting rescued, she isn't passively standing by looking pretty, but being an active participant, kicking ass and taking names.

And yes, there is still the love between Leia and Han Solo, but it is one filled with sarcasm, great one liners, and mutual rescuing.

This is what I love about Star Wars. Leia is just as much a hero as Luke. The Jedi order has just as many awesome female characters as males and look at how many great bounty hunters have graced the Star Wars world (hellllooo Zam and Aurra Sing (my personal favorite)). 

So, again, I need to be careful with my definitions and assumptions. "Princess" itself is not a bad word - it's the commercialization, sexualization, and narcissism that comes along with certain modern notions of the princess. If one day, Droidlet (or any other future children, male or female) decide they want to play princess dress up, I'll throw them a Jedi robe and let them pick their color light saber. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Subcultures in the Classroom

As part of my first day of class, I like my students to get to know one another. Combine this with our first essay topic about how a specific place (example: a specific coffee shop) is a location for a subculture (let's say, a poetry group) within its community (Camarillo) and you get a great discussion about what "subculture" means and finding out which subcultures the students in my class identify with.

Today's discussion started out like it usually does - talking about subculture through the lens of mainstream society, the idea that to be "sub" means to be a cut out of the "popular culture." As usual, my students took cultures to mean races and ethnicities. Multiculturalism got brought up (which is great) but it wasn't until I asked: "But what happens when people of a mix of different races and ethnicities find a common interest and all hang out together because of it?" Did the light bulbs beam on top of their heads. And then the learning began - from teacher to student and from student to teacher.

Initially, music tends to be the easiest place for students to recognize subcultures. My students cited underground hip-hop and rap as some of their main subcultures and a few of my students interests in Dub-Step (am I even spelling that right?) taught me a new musical genre I have never heard of. Some of them, however, have never heard of Punk, or Rockabilly, or Gothic. This reminded me how my students regional and ethnic backgrounds do influence their subcultural ties. The curtain drew even wider when we tried to move out of the scope of subcultures defined by music. I brought up Queer Culture (citing West Hollywood (WeHo) a place most of them are familiar with because of the university's proximity to LA) which led students into brainstorming about other cultures not normally recognized such as Deaf Culture and Geek Culture.

I was impressed by my students openness to share and explore, even on the first day of class. I learned about a student who considers herself part of a Robotics subcultural (she competed in robotics competitions in high school and loves the conventions), I have an international student with a love for comic books, a student who identifies with a culture surrounding the TV show, The Office, another who listed "a group of adventurers," and yet another who noted he was from the Bay Area which lends itself to its own subcultures. He even joked how people know he is from northern California because he uses the term "hella." This launched a great discussion about how subcultures don't only share music but sometimes are more centralized around certain language or a certain way of dressing.

It's wonderful because every semester, I am reminded of the diversity of the people in my different communities. It's great to be able to show my students other ideas and cultures; and learning just as much from each of them.

Hopefully, they put as much thought and enthusiasm into their first essays as they did into their first day of class. Part of my job as their instructor is to make sure this excitement and interest is sustained throughout the semester. So, cheers to the launch of Spring Semester 2011: a reminder that my students have alot to learn... and just as much to teach.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

My Disneyland Hypocrisy

On a normal basis, I am very pro-small business. I actively try to attend the Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning to get fresh, local produce (and use public transport to get there – yay!). I stay as far away from Wal-Mart as possible. When the bank allows, I try to shop at all my favorite mom and pop stores. We love supporting local, independent breweries and I try my hardest not to waste (we recycle, use cloth diapers, that sort of good stuff). When we eventually have a yard, I want to grow my own veggies and practice composting. I always make jokes about “the man” and corporations, yet…
                I love Disneyland. LOVE Disneyland. Love as in the we-have-annual-passes-even-though-we-really-can’t-afford-it, any-time-we-come-to-Long-Beach-we-go, smooshy-ooey-gooey, unicorns and rainbows, kind of way. And Disney, well, it basically is the epitome of consumerism and waste.
                I don’t even like the whole “rescue me, oh prince, because I’m a helpless princess”story lines. Or the fact that all the princesses are unrealistically thin and have to be saved by a man in order to be happy. I mean, where are all the queer, genderfck princesses at?
                Yet, when I enter Main Street and hear the Disneyland band playing a tune and walk up the middle of the street to that big, pink castle, I’m filled with giddy happiness. I love the Buzz Lightyear ride and geek out on all the Star Wars merchandise. I spend way too much money on one ear of corn from Frontierland and love my ride through hell on Mr. Toad’s. The carousel is always a must and I am ever so excited for the opening of The Little Mermaid ride in the near future.
                But I know it’s all fake. And I know the Disney corporation both makes and spends copious amounts of money all so that people can indulge in these fantasies that usually reinforce heternormative, patriarchal society. You should have seen me go into a gender theory reading over the Tiki Room. I could write a whole blog post about the phallic symbol of that burst of water in the middle of the room, about how all the birds that actually talk and have names are male, and that the only female birds we see don’t have individual voices but sing, in unison, in over-feminized costumes and are beckoned from the ceiling by the main male bird. Yet, I still skip and dance right past the Tiki Room on my way to New Orleans.
                I guess it’s hard to always, no matter what, practice what you preach. I recognize the hypocrisy in my love for Disney but I also recognize how it is yet another example in my life about how everything is not just black and white. On one hand, Disney can be seen as evil reinforcement of societal norms and the constant need for more-more-more. On the other hand, Disney does donate to charities and brings happiness to lots of people. And maybe it’s good to get alternative culture into the middle of something so big and so mainstream to start changing it from the inside out (like the LGBTQ weekend at Disneyland every October. It’s not technically Disney sanctioned, but oh man, is it practiced). We’re obviously a long way off from seeing a gay princess and his prince but by people participating in the Disney culture in their own unique ways, we’ve begun our process of storming that pretty, pink castle.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Mom-As-Best-Friend Dilemma

I know many women, and men, whose mom and/or dad are their best friend. It’s great to see the closeness – going out on weekends together, talking every day, constantly at one another’s houses – if that is what’s healthiest and best for that relationship. Maybe these friendships budded in adulthood or maybe they’ve been there since childhood.
                However, I’ve always needed my mother to be just that – my mother. She is the only person in my life who can be that for me and I desperately needed her to fill those shoes. I’ve had best friends throughout my life (even if some of them were imaginary) so, I had that covered. What I needed more than anything was a mother. And this didn’t mean perfection. I didn’t need a 1950’s housewife, everything-is-wonderful-no-matter-what mother. Just someone there to set up a foundation of trust and security.
                I want to remind myself of this desire and need as Droidlet gets older. That what he needs me to be (whether he knows it or not) is his mama. Someone who sets up that foundation of trust and security; a stable foundation that he can jump from and explore, on his own or with guidance. One of the greatest gifts I can give him is a stable, safe environment from which to catapult into the world – a place he knows he can come back to but allows him the freedom of exploration and experience. The only way I can offer up an environment like this is by being his mama; by doing the not-so-fun aspects of parenting, such as discipline, right along with the wonderful aspects of parenting. Hopefully, this means he will come to respect me and know he can come to me for advice. I want to be affectionate and playful, show him ranges of emotion, but I never want him to feel like he is responsible for me, that he has to take care of me, or that he has to worry about what I’m doing with my life.
                Now, this doesn’t mean that I’m not going to cuddle Droidlet, or play board games, or build forts, or run around like imaginary animals or have all of the other, wonderful, creative experiences with my son. I mean, where else am I going to put all this crazy love I have for him? It also doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore what he, as an individual, needs from me. If he turns out to be the kind of kid that needs a kick in the butt, I’ll be doing the butt-kicking; if he turns out to be the kind of kid who needs lots of emotional support and a shoulder to cry on, I’ll be there. I’m going to be his number one supporter of whatever he chooses in his life. Motherhood, like most things in life, seems to fall on a spectrum. I’d like to be somewhere between the complete-hard-ass-no-emotion-showing mama and the I-just-wanna-be-your-friend-do-whatever-you-want mama.
                 I’m not delusional. I know I’m not going to be perfect. I’m going to be far from perfect. I’m going to slip up and make mistakes. But I’ll learn from the mistakes and try again (another great lesson for Droidlet). Then, maybe in adulthood, we can share a few beers over dinner and while we reminisce about awesome camping trips he can also tell me, “Mom, I hated it when you [fill in the blank with some sort of parenting wisdom awesomeness I hope I eventually have], but I’m so happy you did.”

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Vegan Super Hero

It always sends a little zip of happiness through my body when I make a food dish for a shindig/get together and after everyone has eaten it (or someone asks about it) I say, “Oh, and it’s vegan.” And then I hear, “No way!” “Seriously?” “This is too good to be vegan.” Sometimes, this makes me feel like a vegan super hero. Like I should be saving the city at dinner time, one plate at a time, with delicious vegan food that they wouldn’t be able to tell was animal-free unless they knew. My unitard and cape would be animal friendly, too, of course.
                The thing is, I’m not even a very good cook. It’s not like I sit in the kitchen for hours, crafting over a bubbling cauldron, adding super secret vegan deliciousness into every morsel. I have a four month old and a hungry Funk at home. My time in the kitchen is usually limited and with my extremely slow knife skills, the time for cooking can get pretty short. And I don’t buy into the whole “if you can read, you can cook” thing because, quite frankly, this is the girl who (pre-veganism) burnt break and bake cookies. Break and bake. And burn.
                It really is all about practice. The more I cook, the better it gets. Did I ever think I could make chile cornmeal crusted tofu and it would be easy? Hell no. But that’s what we had for dinner a few nights ago. A huge step up from the watered down, too much oil, with lilting vegetable tofu I was making a year ago.
                There seems to be this misconception that all us vegans eat are bamboo shoots, grass, and some seeds. This is a fallacy. Vegan food is delicious. Just ask my friend over at Idle Hands Baking Company. Or ask Funk about my blueberry fudge brownies. Chili and lime rubbed tofu, shepherdess pie, chipotle bean burgers… all vegan, all delicious, all the time. And now I sound like a cheesy commercial.
                But seriously, vegan food gets a bad wrap when not only is it delicious, it’s animal friendly, earth friendly, and when prepared right, ridiculously healthy. Different health problems I had ranging from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (gross, I know) to fatigue to yo-yo weight gaining are all gone with the elimination of meat and dairy. It’s a whole new body, and not, may I add, in that ultra-sickly skinny looking way (Trust me. If I looked malnourished my Nana would drug me, drag me to a hospital, and tube feed me until I was nice and plump), but in a healthy, my body is functioning properly, kind of way.
                So, maybe I need to make one day a week a vegan day on my blog where I post food porn of the recipe I made that night and/or other vegan adventures and elicit vegan challenges to the interwebs world. Whaddya think? I can put on my super hero mask and channel Superman. After all, he is a vegetarian.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

An Engagement Without the Ring

Whenever I mention anything dealing with “our wedding plans,” I see people flash to my left-hand “ring finger” and say, “But you don’t have a ring.” I even had one friend ask, “Aren’t you moving a little fast?” Which just made me laugh out loud because Funk and I have a four month old and we have been together for a year and four months. Moving fast? Well…
                This, of course, led me to ponder what makes a fiancée. Apparently, in our culture, an engagement ring makes a fiancée. Or maybe, a facebook ‘relationship status update’ and a ring make a fiancée. For me, I’m engaged without an engagement ring. However, when I was younger, I had envisioned the traditional scene. Girl meets boy. They fall in love. Boy gets down on one knee. Girl squeels, pops her foot, cries, says “yes.” Wedding bells ring. Make babies. As I got older, some variations got put in. Girl meets boy or girl. They fall in love. One or the other pops the question, on or not on, one knee. Both are happy, maybe cry, says “yes.” Time to party. Make a baby (through biology or IVF) or adopt.  And now I find myself in a different situation.
                Funk and I have decided we are getting married. We have even decided that it will be in June 2012 on the CSUCI campus in the morning. We’ve had late night, or during Droidlet feedings, discussions about how we want the décor to be both Steampunk and Dungeons and Dragons inspired. We’ve asked Funk’s brother in law to officiate and I’ve already been gathering ideas about how we want to write the ceremony with him. But I don’t have an engagement ring.
                I almost wish I had some awesome philosophy behind why I don’t have an engagement ring – like, I was the one who proposed to Funk so we forewent the ring, or that I don’t follow the tradition of having a symbol of betrothement to someone else, or that I think engagement rings a lucrative waste of money – but, I don’t. I’ve joked about “officially proposing” to Funk (he loooooves the idea and wishes I would) because I do think that it’s awesome but I guess there is a little bit of old-fashioned romanticism left inside of me. What it boils down to is that we found the perfect ring/wedding band. It’s from Jewelry by Da'Oud, who we met at the Renaissance Faire last year. He uses wax mold castings, recycled metals, and second-hand diamonds from conflict-free areas. FOR THE WIN. And the ringset is amazing. And we just don’t have the funds for it right now. But when we do, we’re going to buy it, along with Funk’s matching band, and have some sort of “official” askance awesomeness.
                Does this mean we’re not engaged yet? No way. I am in the beginning stages of wedding planning and child-raising and at the ending stages of my Master’s program and dating days. Just because I don’t have a ring on my left hand doesn’t make me any less entitled to planning my wedding than anyone else. So, all of you ladies, and men, out there rockin’ the no engagement ring or even no wedding band, more power to you. It’s not a ring that makes a wedding and it’s not a wedding that makes a relationship. Here’s to rising above the signifiers.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Do You Heart Boobies?

I heart boobies. And I’m all about promoting Breast Cancer Awareness. Whether it’s Relay for Life, Breast Cancer Awareness walks, or sporting an awesome “I <3 Boobies” bracelet, whatever gets people talking about and educating is awesome. Especially, for teenage girls.
                When I was a teenager, I had no idea that breast self-examinations even existed until I went in for my first gynological appointment when I first started having sex. And guess what? Breast cancer doesn’t have a time limit.
                On Christmas Eve, a friend of the family, who is fourteen, was sporting her “I <3 Boobies” bracelet and complaining to me about how the bracelets keep getting taken away at school. This same fourteen-year-old has a breast self-examination guideline (with pictures!) on her wall. Awesome? Yes! I asked her about the chart and she told me that after seeing the “I <3 Boobies” bracelet, she wanted to know more about breast cancer and in learning about preventative measures, came across the self-examination information. If that’s not awareness then I don’t know what is.
                The real problem with this campaign is not thebracelet’s statement  “possible double entendre” but how much our American society has over-sexualized breasts (it is for this same reason that breast-feeding, especially in public, is so taboo here. How can a woman show that sexual object in public?! *gasp*). The rise in cosmetic surgery of boob jobs shows how much our culture focuses on breasts as physical aspects of sexuality – rather than as a reproductive part that actually does some good work. America tends to be a society so afraid of sexual content that we then over-fetishize parts of our body to compensate. It goes so far that in one of the court cases where two middle school girls sued the school for suspending them, the lawyer asked the girls if “boys had a natural attraction to breasts” and “couldn’t the bracelet mean something else?” (I won’t even touch the heterosexism inherent in these statements). Of course, the girl responded that, in the context of the bracelet, it couldn’t mean anything else other than what it is: part of the Keep a Breast campaign.
                What's also very interesting is how "sex" is used in advertising all of the time - to sell everything from beer to a website helping people make their resumes "more seductive." Yet, this campaign gets attacked. And, yes, my younger brother (who’s eleven) giggles a little bit when he sees someone with the bracelet on. But him seeing the bracelet was also the first opportunity we had to have an open dialogue about breast cancer that he started.
                So, I say, rock the bracelets. If someone is offended by the bracelet or deems it “inappropriate” then that is on them. Those who wear the bracelet are supporting a cause and raising awareness. And maybe, at least a little bit, bringing education, instead of over-sexualization, to the fore-front.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Small Delights 2

One of our herptile children, Jadzia.
She eats upside down. It's pretty rad.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Life After Self-Inflicted "Mama Death"

One of those topics not often talked about is when women have a negative, initial reaction to pregnancy. I always thought mine would be flowers and unicorns and rainbows. However, my initial reaction actually was: "Holy shit. My life is over." I thought that was it; my life as I knew it was done. I would never have fun again, I would never finish my education; I was stuck – in this town, in this relationship, in life.
                Of course, I was very, very wrong. But women don’t often talk about those reactions. People would ask me “Are you excited?” and I wanted to say “Actually, I’m scared shitless and kind of depressed.” Not every mother is immediately in love with her child from the moment of conception – or even the moment of birth – but it is something that grows. There was so much I had to work on. It took a large dose of perspective and a dash of “growing up” on my part to realize that no, my life was not in any way over.
                The problem was the image I got from society of what a mother is “supposed” to be. That “good” mothers were ones who stayed at home with their children and made their children the sole focus of their lives – the ultimate self-sacrificing mama – who gave up her sexuality as a woman, gave up her hobbies and interests, stopped pursuing her goals, and gave her life over to her children. I’m not saying that this is a horrible decision but one that would have driven me crazy, making me very unhappy. And an unhappy woman equals a less effective mama.
                Also, I never want Droidlet thinking that the world revolves around him. I want him to learn compassion and that he is a part of a global society and that begins with how he is treated in the home. He is not my prince to be doted, he is not the king of our roost, and he will not dictate our lives. (And please recognize, I am not saying that this is what all mothers who stay at home do). He will have a voice, we will respect him, listen to him, foster learning and growing, and give him so so so much lovin’. He is my son, I love him with a fierce, unexplainable love, but he is not the sun to my mama earth.
                These revolutions are part of what contributes to tensions while growing up. I never understood parents making their children feel guilty for everything they “gave up” during their upbringing. Yes, there are things I’m going to sacrifice for Droidlet – I can’t just pick up and drive to the East Bay to visit my friends on a moment’s notice (or maybe I could! Just bring him along!), I can’t randomly sneak off to a movie on a whim, when I’m exhausted I can’t just put Droidlet down and walk away. But these are all little, unimportant things.  As Funk’s sister said “You are not entering Droidlet’s life, he is entering yours. He will adapt.”
                Now, I’m not saying this means I’m going to go out, get drunk with friends, and then come home and try to take care of Droidlet. I’m not talking about irresponsibility. I take my responsibility as Droidlet’s mama very seriously. But is it irresponsible for me (if I have the funds and it no way affects Droidlet’s survival) to get a half-sleeve tattoo? Nope. Is it irresponsible for me to finish my education? Hell no. Is it irresponsible of me to don high heels and pin-up hair to have a few ciders and play a Pub Quiz while Droidlet is home, safe with Funk? No way.
                The best gift I can give Droidlet is to show him that no matter what turns life took, including the beautiful surprise that is him, I adapted and finished my goals, stayed true to aspects of life that were important to me. And along the way, I got the awesome privilege to be his mama.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Queer Marriage

Same-sex marriage is a no brainer for me. Of course I agree with it. So, what the rhetoric of Proposition 8 did for me was make me question marriage’s purpose and why I decided to participate.
            “Back in the day” marriage was a construct to keep “bloodlines” clean and help with the perpetuation of the species (too much interbreeding equals the tribe or colony dying out). Through property rights, marriage created a “secure environment” for its participants. It was another social construct that maintained order. Marriage, in essence, maintained order. Then, sometime in the 1500’s, the proverbial “They” decided marriages needed to be attended by a priest and witnesses, making marriage “sin-saving” and blessed. At one point, love even got thrown into the mix.
            Now, it’s the 21st century: where couples meet in virtual realities over the internet, where government has granted rights, from citizenship to tax deductions and inclusion of benefits, for married couples, and where love seems to have become a central aspect. Men and women both earn educations and paying jobs and can *gasp* own their own property! So, what really is the point of marriage anymore?
            Benefits, of course. But there seems to be a general frowning upon marriage for convenience. For the majority of the population, marriage takes on some sort of faith-based role, whether it is seen as a sacrament like in the Catholic church, or as the ideal state for a man and a woman in Jewish tradition, or practicing a ritual such as handfasting in pagan culture, many people view marriage as a part of their faith/spirituality. But what of us who do not view marriage as part of some sort of spiritual faith? Why do we do it?
            If you type into Google “reasons to get married” the top five reasons, across websites are:  1. Companionship, 2.  Romance, 3. Household support, 4. Family, and 5. Financial security.
            This is interesting. I have a life-long companion that I trust and love, who I know is faithful and will be. We even have a family, under one roof, together and although our finances aren’t legally tied, we share our incomes. And we aren't married.
There seems to be this misconception in our culture that if you don’t “put a ring on it” there is no security in the relationship. And, in certain cases, even when a ring is put on it, there are pre-nuptials, just in case. This says a lot about our society’s view of trust and its issues with monogamy (of course, I’m not taking into account polygamist/polyamorous/open relationship marriages -  how they subvert and redefine stereotypical notions of marriage is a post for another day). One website read, “Marriage provides security that part of the couple can’t just leave.” The divorce rate in the US defies this statement.
            There has also been a trend recently where people have decided not to get married until their same-sex couple friends can. Although this action has a great sentiment, and can help raise awareness, there are better actions to take. Rather than deny yourself a celebration of love and commitment (or whatever your reasons), why not take a percentage (or all) of your wedding present money and donate it to the FCKH8 campaign or Marriage Equality USA. Or, cut your $5,000 wedding budget to $1200 and donate that money. Gather donated weddings dresses and sell them at auction and donate the proceeds. The activist possibilities are endless and I feel that cancelling the wedding becomes something passive that does nothing to change the system.
            Really, what this comes down to, is questioning why marriage is seen as a goal and as something life-affirming in our society. I don’t think there is a wrong reason to get married, just that we, as a society, don’t tend to put conscious thought into why we get married (and I haven’t even touched on how over-industrialized the wedding industry is!).  Maybe it’s something as simple, like for Funk and I, as wanting to throw a celebration to share our love and commitment for one another with our community and maybe it’s something as complicated as spirituality and tradition. Whatever the reason, as with most values and actions in life, it’s important to know why. And should everyone be able to participate? Hell yes.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What Makes a 'Writer?'

Whenever I had pictured writing my thesis, I always envisioned being tucked away in the corner of a local coffee shop, notebooks surrounding me, caffeine zinging through my veins, ducking outside only for the *rare* cigarette, and writing until shooed away by a barista. Then, I would retire home, enjoy a glass of wine on my balcony; books, notes, and paper spread out on my hardwood living room floor. I always saw late nights and early mornings of writing, crafting, and inspiration. Because after all, I was writing THE THESIS.
                What’s this thesis about anyway?
                An interstice is something that intervenes between things, especially between closely spaced things. Therefore, to describe the texts of my thesis as interstitial means they pertain to, are situated in, or form interstices between literary traditions, rhetorical devices, and their focused subject matters. The form of interstitiality becomes especially appropriate for these subject concerns because it is writing based on “in-betweeness” that combines literary traditions in new ways in order to challenge categories and hegemony. The interstitial aspect of identity, of identity that lies between “closely spaced” binaries, becomes the formal dimension of each story. My main subject concern is the exploration of fluid identity; therefore, the stories must express fluidity in their form. Creating an interstitial text allows the expression of, and creates a space for, this exploration.

                Sounds fun, yes?
                I want to take all of these subject concerns that are so important to me, that you’ve seen come up in these blogs, and turn them into fictional stories. In this way, not only do I get to explore them theoretically through veins such as this blog, reading theory, and having conversations with friends, but artistically by creating original stories.

                But how do these subject matters get turned into a story? So far, my thesis stories range from finding a mermaid on the shoreline to a man who is physically disappearing to a girl recounting a past female lover.
                And no, none of these stories have come to me in a caffeine induced flash, or while huddled in the back corner of a coffee shop, or inside the guts of a library, as I had always thought. Which is not a bad or a good thing; just a different thing. Instead, I find myself brainstorming out loud to Droidlet while I give him a bath, sneaking in notes or snippets of writing while he naps, completely abusing Funk’s willingness to hang out with baby alone whenever I need him to so that I can leave and write (small parts of that coffee shop – minus the caffeine and nicotine – coming true). What I’m finding? My writing is better for it. Sometimes, when you have to force yourself to write, when you think you have nothing to say, no story to tell, when the writing is inconvenient to life; that’s when the best work comes forward.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Bisexual Mamahood

My mom always had a box of old pictures in her closet (it’s probably still there) that, at random times, I would want to look at with her. Among Girl Scouts and family pictures, there were others: the boy she first held hands with in fifth grade, her first boyfriend, her first kiss, prom pictures, the guy she lost her virginity to, my dad. We’d go through the pictures and she’d tell me stories about each one (the stories getting more age-appropriate detail as I got older). I enjoyed these moments with my mom and told myself that as I grew up, I would save pictures to share with my future kids (if I decided to have any) so that they could have a little glimpse into me, outside of being “mama.”
                I now have one of those boxes but mine is a little different than my mom’s. There’s the boy I first held hands with, my first kiss boy from 7th grade, my prom pictures, and then the first girl I kissed, my first girlfriend, my college boyfriend, the only woman I’ve said “I love you” to, and, of course, Funk.
                I remember sitting in my Queer Studies class at the beginning of my pregnancy, among a bunch of other LGBTQ (ahhh! An acronym! Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) students and feeling like a traitor. No one in the room made me feel that way; it was my own insecurities and my own questions of what this pregnancy meant to my identity – an identity I had to convince my family and friends was not “just a phase” or “an experiment” or “a transition.” I’ve always believed that sexuality is a spectrum, that even those five letters used to describe the queer community aren’t enough, and that people fluidly move along the sexuality spectrum their whole lives. “Bisexual” seems to have fit me the best, I’ve had relationships with and am attracted to both males and females (and have been open to transgender and transsexual individuals, just no one ever fit). It just so happened that I was with a male partner, nature worked its magic, and Droidlet production commenced. Then, SLAM, the questions. Was I “copping out” into the comfort and safety of heterosexuality? How could I identify as bisexual while simultaneously reaping heterosexuality’s benefits? Was having a baby meaning I had to relinquish that huge part of myself that I have always considered queer?
                I’m still struggling with all of the answers. Being in a committed relationship with Funk doesn’t mean I’m no longer attracted to other people and the same goes for Funk. We happen to believe in monogamy, so those attractions stay just that. But just because I’m in a relationship with a male doesn’t mean I consider myself heterosexual; just like if, in the end, my partner had been a female, I wouldn’t consider myself a lesbian. And this is where identity based on sexual preference gets muddled. Just like I don’t define myself as only a mother, or only a student, or only a writer, I don’t identify myself only based on the sex of the people I am attracted to.
                What’s more important than my self-labeling is how I’m going to handle these questions from Droidlet as he gets older. When he asks me who the woman in that picture is, with her arm around mama, I’m not going to lie and say she was just a friend. Sexuality is such a complicated subject for an adult; I know there are going to be many, many questions from Droidlet as a child. If asked, I will be just as honest with him about how people of the same sex have intercourse as when he asks me how babies are made. What it comes down to, yet again, is that Droidlet knows there is a spectrum, that there are options,  that not every family has to be a Mommy, a Daddy, and a baby. Sometimes, it’s two daddies or two mommies, sometimes (like for his mama) it’s two sets of parents, sometimes it’s just one parent. Sometimes, a family is a community raising the children together. Luckily for Droidlet, he’s got a wonderful set of gay uncles, a bisexual mama, and an aunt with a heterosexual, nuclear family so he gets to see parts of the spectrum interacting and loving one another.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Biology of the Family Gathering

Every family has their own colors and spectrum of “offbeatness.” For some families, cousin Jerry might be considered “offbeat” because he went to college whereas the rest of the family has always worked on and supports the family ranch. In other families, those members who are pierced and tattooed might be the offbeat coloration. Yet, in other families, the daughter who decides to marry her high school boyfriend in a traditional wedding ceremony with traditional wedding party may be “offbeat” to her counter-culture family.
                In my family, Funk and I are the “offbeat.” We are both tattooed and pierced, we are going to be wed by a gay officiant (Funk’s brother-in-law) in a non-religious, commitment ceremony and we are far more “left” politically than the majority of my family. Even for my set of parents that love my tattoos and celebrate the academic endeavors I jump into (everything from papers on the subversive nature of the bondage community to the inability of patriarchal language to fully describe a same-sex relationship) sometimes get question marks in their eyes when I try to explain why I don’t believe a vagina equals a woman and a penis equals a man.
                What this discussion aims at is questioning familial lines of respect. For example, a friend of mine always covers her tattoos when at a family get-together because she comes from a very traditional Hispanic culture. Another friend doesn’t  believe words like “shit” are cuss words but she keeps her language clean in front of her grandpa. Are these women sacrificing their identity or respecting their families? I don’t know. And this question comes up all of the time with me. Where does my desire to express my individuality cross over into disrespect of my family?
                The most recent example happened yesterday. Funk and I were confirmed Catholic but now have very different views  - Funk doesn’t believe in God but recognizes the power that a God, and other faith-based myths, have over those who believe them and I disagree with too much in the Catholic faith to practice it anymore (and this does NOT mean we don't respect people who do have religious beliefs). Yesterday, we baptized Droidlet in the Catholic church. Was this the easy way out to avoid family troubles? Yes. Was this harmful to Droidlet? No. Was this hypocritical of Funk and I? Most definitely.
                Part of the baptismal ceremony is anointment with oils placed on the head; all over the baby’s head. When Funk’s brother smelled Droidlet afterwards, he said, “Mmmm smells like oppression.”  And I laughed. Hard. In part because it was damn funny;  but also because I agree. Having the ceremony reaffirmed why our wedding is not going to be in a church. We just don’t recognize those beliefs anymore. But it also made me question why I’m so comfortable exerting my beliefs and individuality into events like a non-traditional wedding ceremony – walking down the aisle alone, non-religious based, no first dance – but not in other areas of my life. When does respecting my family become a denial of the person I’m constantly becoming? And how can I teach Droidlet the importance of open dialogue, especially about questioning beliefs and what you “know,” if I don’t actively have that open dialogue?
                What I do know is that I want Droidlet to think through decisions, research, explore, experience and come out the other side with his opinions and beliefs. Funk and I always joke that Droidlet’s “rebellious” stage will be him wanting to wear Abercrombie and Fitch and listen to Justin Bieber. Underneath the joking, we know we never want him valuing something only because it was how he was raised or it’s “tradition” but because it is something he honestly values. And I don’t want him hiding those values and beliefs from us just because we feel differently.

Small Delights

Sometimes, I need to remind myself not to take life so seriously all of the time. Enter "Small Delights" A Weekly Attempt to Conciously Enjoy the Little Things.

Small Delight Number One:
Droidlet's Rocket Leg Warmers

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Tomboys & Tiaras

My ten-year-old self would laugh if I showed her a picture of me today. She would probably  say a sarcastic “yeah, right,” roll her eyes, and walk away in her supa cool Nike high tops (the ones that velcroed around the ankle). Or she would jog off, “boy” jean shorts hitting against her knees and her one-size-too-large Tazmanian Devil shirt (spinning a basketball on his finger in a tornado) flopping beneath her chin-length, blonde, short hair.
                Never did I think I would one day wear high heels, polka dot dresses and red lipstick.
                Even my high school, sandal-or-nothing, rashguard wearing self would have scoffed at the red hair.  Even up until my first two years of college, when I embraced feminism and switched out sandals for Doc Martens and board shorts for “guy” jeans and constantly preached the objectification of women as sexual objects, would I have never thought this is what I would see in the mirror. Curled hair? Eye liner? A BRA?!
                But, this is another taboo/misconception: that feminism equals a rejection of everything that has been traditionally defined as “feminine.” But just because I wear a skirt doesn’t mean my feminist ideals aren’t intact. I don’t wear high heels because I’ve been told they are what I have to wear to feel sexy or confident. The clothes I wear are ones I believe look good because I like the style. I like the way pencil skirts and sweetheart tops fit my body. I prefer red hair over my natural blonde. And, occasionally, it’s fun to do up the hair and look like a blast from the past.
                However, this is in large part because the gender I identify with happens to match my sex. I’m all for those females that have chosen to ditch the skirt and heels because they don’t identify with the stereotypical images of a “feminine” gender or they do believe those objects signify oppression from the past. For me, part of embracing the ultra-“feminine” is to help rewrite those significations. That wearing a dress doesn’t mean I can’t play in the dirt; that wearing heels doesn’t mean I’m delicate and vulnerable; that looking pretty doesn’t mean I’m not intelligent. It also helps to fight against that idea that once a woman becomes a mother she relinquishes her sexual identity (but more on that in a later post).
                What’s important to remember is that feminists take on many forms. There are as many forms physically as there are feminist philosophies.  Funk is a feminist and he has a penis! *gasp* When I bake delicious blueberry fudge vegan brownies in a red, ruffled apron it’s because it’s fun to play dress up (and I have a tendency to get flour everywhere); when I wear my Docs and a bandana around my head when I go shooting it’s because it’s fun to play dress up (and I sweat like crazy and want to protect my feet). Either way, I feel lucky to live in a time where gender is beginning to get rewritten, or at least there is a community where we are playing with the significations. My ten-year-old self, the one who played tackle football in the mud and played with My Little Ponies, who loved singing to The Little Mermaid and helped her dad with construction projects, would have understood that part.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Babies & Marriages are Not Mutually Inclusive

Many of my hetero, newly married friends are often amazed by the responses they get to “Yay! We are married!” The questions that follow sometimes ask about the honeymoon or ask about the wedding but 85% of the time the first question is: “So, when are you going to have children?” For some friends, the answer is easy – “right away,” “never,” “in a few years” – but for others, who already know about personal, forthcoming issues with infertility, or who have already decided on adoption, the answer gets a little tricky. Not to mention, the assumption that just because one is in a hetero-marriage means they will start procreating is problematic.
                For Funk and I, we had the opposite question. As soon as friends and family found out about the invisible manufacturing of Droidlet, after a moment of surprise (more usually, shock) the first question was some variation on “So when/are you going to get married?” Then, Funk and I would stare blankly, probably with our mouths slightly open. We were about to have a BABY (?!?!?!?!!!!!!!). We weren’t thinking about wedding bells and doves.
                From one side of my family, I understood this. They are Catholic, so in their eyes, Funk and I should have been ushered up to the altar before Droidlet was even a bump on my belly, given our sacred blessing, and “Oh! So funny that Droidlet’s first birthday is only six months after your first wedding anniversary! *insert denial laughter*” I remember a very awkward conversation over Japanese food with my nana: “Wait, you’re not getting married before the baby is born?” A shake of our heads and then the nana stare; that not-quite-a-glare-but-you-know-I-disapprove kind.
                Funk and I had only been together for three months when Droidlet production began. There was no way we were going to rush into a marriage. The whole “stay together for the kids” can be damaging – I’m thankful my parents didn’t do that or my childhood would have been much more miserable. I never knew them as a couple so I never missed them as a couple. And yes, growing up with separated parents comes with its own set of hard to buckle baggage, but so does growing up in a home with constant fighting and miserable parents. Instead, I have four amazing parents and two incredible brothers from each of their new unions.
                As it turns out, Funk and I love each other and want to be together for the rest of our lives. In part because we have our little family that we began and want to continue to build together. In part.  I’d like to think, though, that if we had found neither of us were happy  and that our ability as parents would be better apart, that we would have made that decision – not just for us, but for Droidlet. Our decision to get married is mostly because he is (and I am for him) the person I choose to go on this adventure with for a million and one reasons – yes, to raise a family, but also to travel and watch Dr. Who with, because he genuinely likes my vegan food even though he’s a carnivore and because we both want Droidlet growing up in a home where gender, sexuality, and identity is questioned/explored/expressed.  
                Of course, when I hear this: “If you were a car, you would have a racing stripe” (Funk’s way of telling me I’m lookin’ hot), I know he’s the one for me. Funk is, literally, my best friend. So, of course he is the one I want to hang out with everyday and make this commitment to. (Caveat: The philosophy behind marriage, the way its industrialized, the battle for gay, lesbian, transgender, transsexual, bisexual, queer  couples in marriage, and what marriage means for us is going to be hitting this blog quite often, so I won’t go into all of those details right now.)
                What it comes down to, on either end of the spectrum, is that it would be great to hear responses to both newly-weds and newly pregnant couples be “Congrats! You’re in for an adventure.”

Friday, January 7, 2011

On Gender "Neutrality"

The Droidlet was supposed to be female. “Supposed” to be because that is what the ultra sound technician, the 99% sure technician, said he was going to be. Nine days before he was born a different ultra sound technician announced “I’ve found something!” Her treasure? Testicles.
                Most people’s response: “What are you going to do about the room?” “All those clothes!” What was funny is her/his room already had a rocket ship bed spread, alien decals, Star Wars original art, and blue, green, and orange lights complete with blue bookshelf spilling over with everything from Where the Wild Things Are to Neil Gaiman’s Dangerous Alphabet.
                When I thought I was pregnant with a female, I insisted on no pink (and got it anyway) was so proud I had bought overalls, outfits with space ships and dinosaurs, awesome orange striped leggings, and other clothing generally considered “boy” clothing. I was fighting the system! Screw the infiltration of gender normativity (at least staving off the eventual influence of school)! Yes, I still had the polka dot dresses and adorable pea coats, but her closet was an assortment, an array, not defined by the “boy” or “girl” section of the local convenience store.
                And then we found out he was a she. Certain people in my life, who think gender constructs are bullshit yet define everything in their life around them, scoffed and asked “So will you put him in a dress?” I was surprised at the slight feeling of discomfort that popped up in my stomach whereas, if someone had asked “So, you’d put your little girl in a baseball cap and overalls?” The answer would have been “Well, duh.” This moment highlighted for me the general taboo that hits gender neutrality – that society is much more accepting of a female “crossing” over to man rather than a male “crossing” over to woman. Now, much of this has to do with patriarchy and the idea that females “acting” as men is considered a step up. However, a male acting as a woman? Demotion. Of course, not everyone believes this and I think that blurring gender lines, in many cases, can actually subvert the notions of gender that are acted but now I am beginning to sound like an academic paper. What this anecdote comes down to is I was surprised at my own reaction – my liberated self who thinks about gender construction all of the time, who considers gender a choice, was suddenly slightly put off. This caused for closer examination. Why was I more comfortable putting my future daughter in “boy” clothes than putting my future son in “girl” clothes?
                A little boy saw Droidlet at Trader Joe’s earlier in the week and asked me if my baby was a boy or a girl.
                I replied, “I don’t know, it’s so hard to tell sometimes. What do you think?”
                “I think it’s a baby.”
                That little boy summed it all up.
                I wish we lived in a society that could just let babies be babies without encoding our gender stereotypes from the moment of conception. When Droidlet wears orange, people tell me what a beautiful daughter I have. And I say thank you. When Droidlet wears overalls and a dinosaur shirt they tell me what a handsome son I have. And I say thank you.
                At home, I tell Droidlet how pretty he is, how strong he is, how smart he is, how creative he is, how sweet he is.  Droidlet is a male yes. But is he a boy? I don’t know. He hasn’t figured out his gender for himself yet. Granted, he has parents whose gender match their sex, so in most likelihood, he will be the same. However, we want to foster an environment where if he decides he feels better and more confident in a skirt or in pink, then we will encourage and support him just as we would if he decides blue is his favorite color and only wears cargo pants. We’ll be thrilled if he wants to do musical theatre or dance; we’ll be thrilled if he wants to play hockey or wrestle. We want him growing up knowing there are options and being able, if he wants, to explore those options. I think at the center of gender neutrality, all politics and theory aside, is that we want what’s best for Droidlet. And what’s best for Droidlet is what makes him happy, whether that falls inside a gender line, outside of it, or somewhere in between.

On Censorship and Acronyms

Censorship. An important blog writing dilemma.
                 I’ve always been comfortable divulging intimate information about myself. I'm one of those open-book-heart-on-sleeve types. One of the points of this blog is to examine personal experiences that relate to/change/question my philosophies. Those who know me outside of the interwebs know I’m always open and ready to share stories, from my childhood to sexuality, my experience as an offbeat mama to wedding planning. However, how much is “okay” to divulge and share about the active participants in my life? I’m still fumbling for a great answer and may have to use trial and error, but there are a few decisions I have made: privacy and pictures. Rather than their names, my partner and my son will be referred to as "Funk" and "droidlet," respectively. I feel the anonymity helps keep their lives private – they aren’t the ones starting a blog – yet I can still share the  experiences I have with them. This is why you may not see many pictures of the droidlet (and yes, I know he is on my right side bar on my facebook badge). Is it my place to have his face on my blog before he is even old enough to speak for himself outside of vowel sounds, a few consonants, and a cry (and yes, my facebook is plastered with the droidlet, but viewable only to friends)? I’m all for mamas who do use their blogs as a place to post pictures as they discuss the day-to-day with their little bots, if that is the purpose of their blog.

However, for this blog, I hope the censorship will keep my writing in check; keep it from becoming a place I complain/lament or voice frustrations over people in my life and retaining, what I hope to be, insightful observations with some fun, meaningful examples, laughs, and provoked thoughts along the way.

                Along the same lines, this blog won’t use acronyms. Funk is not my “SO” – there are many “others” in my life who are very “significant” and signifying him as Funk at least retains an aspect of his identity and allots him the respect of a name. I will not refer to the droidlet as “DS” or my “LO." The list of acronyms (especially in parenting communities) goes on. And on. And on. I do not want this blog looking like this:
I EP 4 my DS so he gets BM as we AP and CS IRL FTW OMG WTF.
                I’m not poking fun at or turning my nose up at those who use acronyms. My “facepage,” as my nana calls it, has “lol’s” and “ftw’s.” I get that in some online communities the need for quick alternatives to words is needed.  For example, online gaming needs this shorthand, when mics aren’t available, because of the simultaneous slaying, questing, and talking the hands are doing. In some cases, though, the use of acronyms seems to exclude rather than include (and isn’t that why blogs are written, to include?). Entering certain boards is like entering a space where the “club” already has its own language that needs to be deciphered. Granted, learning a new language can be fun; but not when it’s a language that depletes for what doesn’t seem to be a *great* reason – especially in parenting communities where women should be trying to educate and share with one another, not alienate. (There is a great discussion about this alienation here, on OffbeatMama).
                There’s also the issue (definitely biased by my academic background) of language. I want to uphold the integrity of language. Right now, the internet puts so much in front of us; worlds within worlds are available, literally at our fingertips. In the awesomeness and ease of the internet, I don’t want to lose the integrity of the word, of the complexities of language. This same argument stands for emoticon usage. I’m all for visual rhetoric and pictoral representation but because this blog is a writing endeavor, I don’t want to resort to icons to show meaning, sarcasm or emotion; the writing should do that for me.
                So here I go, fumbling, fumbling, as this blog begins its birth…

Thursday, January 6, 2011

So it begins

2011 marks a completely new life for me. I'm finishing my last semester of graduate school - which means working on my thesis, a collection of short stories based around (in form, content, and all that great nerdy stuff) interstitial texts - and am a new mama to an awesome little *surprise* droidlet. I'm also at the beginning stages of planning a wedding (but if you look at my "ring finger" you won't see an engagement ring; and no, not because I'm delusional and hopingprayingwishing that he will pleaseproposesoon, but because we know this is what we want and what we are planning). All of this is great and exciting but oh-so-different than what I expected for myself.
2010 would have told you that I wasn't going to have kids until I was 35, if at all, that I laugh in the face of that silly institution called marriage, and that my fluid sexuality would never have me end up living on my old college campus with my BOYfriend (who I refer to as partner, even though he doesn't like that word). I was going to move to England and sit in pubs reading Lacan and Saussure and drinking lots of great cider (which I'm still determined to do, at least on holiday). And all of these changes do have their reasons. Damn good reasons. That is what this blog is about.
Because here I am, life snirking and giggling in the background, starting a blog (another thing I never thought I would do) to try and wade through the madness that is student/mama/partner/wedding planner/writer/daughter... that I am. I know I'm going to learn and I want that documented. It's part of my writerly self; I can't help but turn everything into a story. And maybe, along the way, some readers will trickle in and learn something too. Or not. If I've learned anything so far it's that my expectations are always either exceded or underwhelmed, never matched.