Mary! That's a Man's Name

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Warning: some of the language here might be triggering or offensive to some. If it is, please forgive me. I am not, however, sorry for having to use it. I need to say this.

 

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"Oh, what a pretty daughter you have."

 

"You know he's gay, right?"

I was 4 years old.

 

Yeah, I couldn't swing a little league bat. I crossed my legs the wrong way, carried my books the wrong way. A fay little thing.

 

"Hey, Grandma, I want to learn how to knit like you."

"Of course you do, you big sissy."

 

"Hey...are you a girl or a boy?"

What if I'm not sure?

I wasn't sure...

 

I put on my first dress when I was 12. Did my first drag at 15. I thought I'd die of shame the next day. I was a pro by 18. By 19, wearing a skirt was an act of defiance.

 

"No son of mine is going to wear his hair that long. I should start calling you 'Raquel.'"

 

I was a teenager the first time I asked the gender question. "Am I supposed to be a girl?"

“Hmmm…I don't think so?”

 

I agonized with my first boyfriend over whether we should hold hands on the street. We did. For him, it was freedom. For me it was life. I wanted a boy to protect me. I didn’t care that I was also supposedly a boy. No…I am a boy! Partly.

 

"Hey, are you QUEER?!"

"Yes."

 

"OUT OF THE CLOSET AND INTO THE STREETS!"

 

My first Pride march was in 1980. Everyone just called it "Gay Pride." NYC. We've come a long way. Not far enough. Every act of asserting my gender expression in all of its variety seemed like political dissidence.  Now its’s just dangerous.

 

"Your so androgynous. Like Bowie. It's 'kind of' sexy.”

 

Some cop mistook me for a female prostitute once when I was 17. Sitting on the hood of a car outside of Uncle Charlie's – a gay bar in NYC. Told me if I was looking for trade there, it was going to be a long night.

 

“Hey, faggot, you walk like a girl."

 

When I came out as a teenager, the bar I went to routinely refused entry to women. Gay male misogyny.

 

“No women allowed.”

“I'm not a woman.”

“ID please? Good luck buddy.”

“I’m not your buddy.”

 

I wasn’t even legal to drink. But I was a “boy” and young was a bonus.

 

Thank goodness for the punk scene. I got to play with the politics of being femme.

 

"What ARE you, a freak?"

“Yes.”

 

"You need to butch up, girl."

"Oh, that ugly queen? She could never pass."

 

“Dude, you’re really extreme.”

“Oh…I’m SO NOT a dude.”

 

Yeah…there’s the weird place…neither masculine enough nor feminine enough to make sense to small minds. What was I? Not who. What? That's what our culture does. Reduces us to objects. Even in our own thoughts.

 

"Masculine seeking same."

"Sorry, I'm not into femmes."

 

Why is it the worst thing in the world to be effeminate as someone named male at birth? Straight men think so. Most gay men too. I have endured someone trying to beat it out of me. I have survived having someone try to rape it out of me. I have silently tried to check it out of my own self and didn’t entirely self-destruct.

 

"Jeez, dude! If you're gonna act so nelly, why don't you just go be a girl!"

 

I asked the question again in my twenties. And my thirties. And my forties.

 

Because I thought I had to choose. And not just which parts were right, but what presentation. Meanwhile, I was at war with my own self. Don’t stand that way. Don’t sit that way. Watch the hands. Lower your voice.

 

“Yes, ma’am, how can I help you?”

No, I'm not a woman.

 

"God doesn't make mistakes." (church lady says)

 

No. You’re right! God surely doesn’t! Society does. Cultural privilege marginalizes those of us who don't fit whatever ungodly arbitrary definition of "normal" is until we all start to believe we don't even exist. Or, if we do, we are a pathological aberration.

 

"I'll make you scream like a little bitch."

Yeah…he actually said that. A gay guy who thought he’d “fix” me.

 

I don't think I was born in the "wrong" body. Not entirely. I think I was born in the wrong society. One that told me that my femininity was wrong for the body I was born with. That I was the wrong "kind" of "boy."

 

Nelly.

Nancy.

Lady-boy.

Mary.

 

"Mary? That's a MAN'S name!" (Billy G. used to say that, may he Rest In Peace.)

 

I got married. Twice. Once to a woman, then to a man. It's been 18 years and counting. He’s my rock, my husband.

 

I became a Brother in a religious order in my late twenties. It put God at the center of my world. It taught me to love and to serve others. To be patient and prayerful and self-sacrificing. It also invited me to continue diving more deeply into my own truths. To discover my land mines. To learn my interior geography. You can only do that for so long before you have to answer the unasked questions. Before you have to open the box that you’ve packed half of yourself away in and that you only periodically check on to make sure  “she’s” not dead yet.

 

“How can you be a Brother and be gay?”

“I’m not gay. I’m queer.”

“What does that mean?”

“Thirty years ago, we knew what it meant.”

{{{crickets}}}

 

Queer was dissident. We reclaimed a word that was used to hurt us and turned it  into an affirmation. A one size fits all word. No alphabet. No one excluded. A category of defiance. A royal “fuck you” to a world that used that word like a grenade tossed into back alleys and school locker rooms and the streets we claimed for our own selves. They lobbed it at all of us regardless of what part of the rainbow we inhabited. We took it back.

 

We have gotten so caught up in carving out niches in alphabets, the politics of Pride flags, the logical limitations of trying to find a letter or a stripe that could possibly represent the infinite variety of gender and sexuality. The strange inconsistency of having a category that contains non-conformity.

 

The first time I used the word "we" during a conversation about gender variant and non-conforming folks, my breath caught in my throat and I nearly burst into tears. You know, that choking, barely able to breathe sobbing that happens when you realize you're never going to have to push that rock up that hill again? It pushed against my insides until I couldn't breathe.

 

I am not your boy.

I am not your girl.

I am both.

I am neither.

I am not a stripe.

I am not a letter.

 

I was 50 years old.

 

"Oh, you too? Isn't everyone doing that these days?" (Says the gay black cis-male drag queen.)

 

"Why did you wait until you were so old?" (says the gay white cis-male Millennial)

 

I know what it's like for my body to betray me. To give away that I'm not like other so called boys. And for the constituent parts of my body to mislead about what place femininity rightly holds in my physicality, in my mind.

 

There is another whole completely legitimate and beautiful part of me that society wants to suffocate or put in a proper box. A box that says where I belong. Who should have power over me. A box that defines my body, my sexuality, my place. I hate boxes. And I hate lying. Carrie Fisher once said “I am not a box. I don’t have sides. This is all of me.”

 

"Isn't she just a woman living as a man?"

No. You need to step back! He's a man finally able to live that way.

 

I felt like my body chemistry was at war with my self. That my hormones forced my body to conform to a half truth. 

 

Most people can't even work out two. How they going to work out three or three hundred? Infinite variety? I inhabit it and I could barely figure it out.

 

I feel like I’ve finally found myself. Now I get to apparently lose a bunch of stuff too. Not the things or people that matter. But, yeah. Authenticity is dangerous.

 

There are so many people I haven’t told. It has nothing to do with love or trust. It has everything to do with being in control of my story. There are people who know even though I haven’t said a word to them. Because they read between the lines. Because they read my face and see a whole self smiling back.  Because they get it or at least try to. If you are one of my most beloved and I haven't told you, it's only because I lack courage. Writing is the way I do it best. I love you.

 

"Are you a boy or a girl?"

"No."

 

The last time I checked, that was a complete sentence.

 

"Pardon me. Do you mind if I ask your gender?"

"Well, my ID says male."

"Is it right?"

"-ish"

 

Why does my ID not tell the whole truth? Or, why does it make me tell half-truths?

 

How does the Devil win? When I stop speaking the truth.

 

This year was my 37th Pride. We have a long way to go. But we're still here. I'm still here! I've survived the plagues of disease and toxic masculinity. I've survived suicide attempts and the utter absence of vocabulary to speak about my experience. My being.

 

Perhaps because I'm old enough now to realize that it isn't about the party but about our personhood that I’m not afraid in any deep sense.

 

Perhaps it is that God has finally after 24 years of religious life given me absolute security in my belovedness…or perhaps because I was a stubborn old fool I finally listened to what God was saying all along.

 

“Are you going to stop being a Brother?”

“Not if I have anything to say about it.”

 

I have the most extraordinary privilege to love, serve, listen, hold so many people who hurt. Being a Brother is about being with folks in their hurt, not above them. And no one can tell me I'm not “man” enough to keep doing it.

 

“How does your husband deal with it?”

“With greater grace than I have.”

 

Am I happy? Oh, God! I'm beyond happy. I am usually happy. Most of my adult life I've been grateful, joyful, satisfied, and sometimes even blissfully happy. This new happiness is a little different. It's happiness minus the weight of an unanswered question.

 

“Girl! You look twenty years younger!”

“Yeah. Youth is the point after all.”  {{{shaking my damned head}}}

 

“My sister brother, when I saw you walking down the street you took my breath away. Like you finally fit yourself! I nearly broke down and wept.”

Yeah…that's it.

 

Celebrate, my sibs! Be your beautiful selves. If you do that, you'll save lives. It took me a while to name myself. I’ll walk with you -- and if you need, I’ll stay while you figure yourself out too. These are dangerous times indeed. We know who seeks to harm us. Fight. Resist. 

 

Are you our ally?  Because right now, we need you. Don't turn your backs on us now. Our lives depend on it. My life depends on it. Because I've only just discovered myself, and now is when I need you to get it. 

 

“Are you a boy or a girl.”

“Yes. And…”