Archive for January, 2016

When I was in college, I did the sort of stupid things you do in college. Lucky for me, those were the days before cell phone cameras and the internet, so there’s very little record of my stupid stunts. Like that time I got a crew cut. Why? I barely remember. I think I bombed a test and got in a fight with my boyfriend. I wanted a change. I wanted to be swallowed up by something else. I hacked off all my hair and after I saw what a mess I’d made of it, I went to the barber shop and got the only fix that was possible: a flat top with white walls.

For the most part, this radical hair alteration didn’t produce much change in my life. Lots of people didn’t recognize me, and so I was rendered pleasantly invisible for a while. It caused a lot of laughs when people got confused by the juxtaposition of my short-short hair and my boyfriend’s hair down to his waist.

One day, it produced something a bit more menacing. A friend and I went into the Arby’s off campus to get lunch. While we waited for our food, I decided to go to the restroom. The ladies room was at the end of a long hallway, and standing outside was a man. I assumed he was waiting for his girlfriend, so I simply stepped around him and reached for the door handle.

Before I could open the door, the guy grabbed my arm and turned me around.

“Where are you going, asshole?” he said. Or maybe it was “What are you doing, asshole?” I remember the asshole part vividly, and the way he sneered at me, almost like a dog baring its teeth.

I yanked my arm away from him and answered flippantly. I was going to the restroom, if that was okay with the Arby’s bathroom police.

“That’s the girls bathroom,” he said. I remember that, too, that he said girls, like we were still in grade school.

“And I’m a girl,” I said.

For an instant, his face registered confusion, and I remembered: the stupid crew cut. He’d mistaken me for a man, or more likely, since I was scrawny and flat-chested, for a boy. After the instant of confusion passed, though, his look changed to one of disgust.

“Fucking dyke,” he said. I don’t know what else he might have said, because at that instant, the women’s restroom door opened, and his girlfriend came out.

Back at the table with my friend, I told her what had happened, and in the safety of a public space, we laughed and snuck glances at the restroom couple, who sat across the dining room from us.

I don’t think I gave it another thought, until this December, when I read this series of tweets.

Adamant Yves


It absolutely gave me the chills, imagining that moment of fear, of wondering, Am I about to be murdered because this man mistook me for the “wrong” sex? For the first time in twenty years, I thought of that afternoon outside the ladies room in Arby’s. Now that I know more about the world, I understand how dangerous that moment could have been, and how lucky I was. After all, I was safe. In my wallet, I carried a valid driver’s license that clearly stated I was female. If push came to shove, I could have proved that I possess biologically female genitals and secondary sex traits. That brief moment of confusion was just that: brief confusion. Even a “fucking dyke,” has the legal right to use the women’s restroom.

For people who exist outside the very narrow confines of what society identifies as male or female, they are risking so much more than an awkward encounter outside a fast food restroom. By chance or by choice, they may not be readily identifiable as one gender or another. In fact, they may not identify themselves as one gender or another. As a consequence, they sometimes find themselves searching back hallways of public buildings, trying to find a unisex bathroom they can use that won’t require them to prove they belong in a men’s room or a women’s room.

In public even, they are in danger from the kind of situation Yves describes. We live in a society that continues to think it’s our business how people dress or what kind of genitals they have under their clothes. We not only think we’re allowed to know these things, some people believe anyone who transgresses those sharply painted boundaries deserves to be punished.

It’s a horrific, fucked up situation, and I wish I knew what we could do to make this a better world. I have my own little list of shit I’m trying to do, and I hope more people will join in.

Respect everybody’s truth. If someone says she’s a woman and wants to use she/her pronouns, respect that. If someone says they’re gender fluid and prefer they/them pronouns, respect that. It’s no different than calling someone by their preferred name. (And if you tell me you still call Muhammad Ali Cassius Clay, I am giving you the stink eye.)

Kill your curiosity. But like, she has a penis? But what do they do in bed? Those questions are none of your business, so why even ask them? If people you know ask that kind of thing about your LGBTQIA friends, that’s the answer: None ya business. Things like that are on a need to know basis. If you ever need to know, you’ll find out. Occasions when it might become your business: if the person in question says, “Hey, I’d be interested in having sex with you.” Then that line of inquiry is open to you.

Accept that it’s not about you. Does it make you uncomfortable to go into the women’s restroom and see someone who doesn’t quite fit your idea of female? Tough shit. It’s not about you. That person is going into the bathroom that makes them feel most comfortable, because they need to pee. They’re not there for you. Does it make you uneasy that you felt an attraction toward what you thought was a woman but turned out to be a man? Get over yourself. The way he looks isn’t about you.

Demand justice for LGBTQIA victims of violence. They are over-represented in statistics on violence, especially people of color who are LGBTQIA. Their murders are often swept under the rug or ridiculed. Let’s refuse to let that happen. Let’s refuse to accept “gay panic” as a defense against murder. Let’s not allow fragile masculinity to dehumanize people.

Be open. Talk to people. Smile at people. That’s coming from an introvert, and I’m saying, when you meet somebody new, be open to them as a wholly individual person. Don’t waste time trying to put them into a category.

Post script: I don’t know @Adamant_Yves personally, but I ended up reading his timeline in the middle of New York Fashion Week. I’m an ignorant hillbilly who always thought fashion was something rich people wasted their time and money on. Reading Yves’ TL, my eyes were opened. Until that moment, I didn’t understand that fashion was art, culture, personal and social identity all bound up together. That’s what I love about Twitter. There’s so much knowledge out there being shared. There are so many people worth meeting and learning from.

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NYT_secretaryThis week is particularly exciting for me, because an essay I wrote about my grandmother, and following in her secretarial shoes, was published in The New York Times. The venue alone is an incredible bit of luck, but there are few things as wonderful as getting to talk about one of the great loves of my life.

Additionally, my publisher is running another giveaway for my novel All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. It won’t be released until August, so this is your chance to get an advance copy.

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Having opened my closet and divulged my shoe secrets, let me take it one step further. Although it’s fairly straightforward to find practical shoes that will aid me in my daily commute and my dog chaperoning duties, finding cute or sexy shoes is an entirely different concern.

I’ve never been a terribly girly girl, but I do on occasion like to put on a dress and look passingly feminine. Cute or sexy, however, is a tall order when you translate them into a size 11 or 12. The vast majority of shoes simply stop being cute or feminine in my size. The sales floor model is invariably a 6 or 7, and nearly every pair of sandals, pumps, peep-toes, slingbacks, and stilettos look good in a 6 or 7. Those very same shoes in an 11 or 12 … I’m often wearing shoes that would not be out of place on a cross-dressing man. In fact, I am sometimes wearing shoes intended for a cross-dressing man.

With that taken into consideration, I present my year in shoes, the impractical edition:


  1. These shoes are a time-travel contingency plan. If I wake up tomorrow as a 75-year-old woman, I am going to book a cruise, and take salsa lessons with a punishingly younger man, while wearing these shoes. They are unbelievably comfortable, obviously glittery, and they straddle that wonderful line of coquettish and old ladyish.
  2. Hard and fast rule: when you find a pair of Jeffrey Campbell platforms with 5 chrome buckles in your size on sale, you buy them. No questions. No hesitation. You buy them. Worry about where you’ll wear them later. At some point you will need to feel like an Amazonian dominatrix, and when that moment strikes, you’ll have the shoes.
  3. AutumnYou have probably gone off the Halloween costume deep end, when the shoes you’ll wear with it one time cost as much as a pair of shoes you’ll wear a hundred times. These are those shoes. Cute, but not particularly suited to anything by my Autumn costume.

Today, these shoes feel more important than they did when I wrote the practical version of my year in shoes. With David Bowie’s death, I’m reminded that clothes and shoes are more than just the coverings we wear to keep out the cold. They are also what we use to create ourselves, in the way Bowie re-created himself over and over during his career.

Our clothes and shoes can be armor against the world, or a billboard or a cry for help or a protest or a celebration. I knew this better when I was sixteen and nearly every outfit I owned was a “costume,” according to my mother. Somewhere along the way, I forgot just how much what I wear affects how I feel. I’m going to try to remember this more in 2016. Preferably while wearing those Jeffrey Campbells.

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I have a love/hate relationship with shoes. I love them, because they keep my feet warm, dry, safe, or a variety of other desirable states, depending on circumstances. On the hate side is the difficulty of finding shoes that fit. My feet are what are known in the footwear industry as “low-volume.” They are long, but incredibly narrow and very flat, so they don’t take up much room inside of a shoe.

Plus, I walk a lot. I didn’t realize just how much I walk until I got talked into a step tracker. Then I discovered that between my twice daily trips to work and back, and walking my dogs four times a day, I cover about eight miles a day. Walking is good on a number of levels, including the fact that it always helps me solve writing problems. Whenever I’m stumped by a plot problem, I just walk it out, but that means my shoes don’t last as long as most people’s shoes. This year was especially fraught with that problem.

I present my year in shoes, the practical edition:


  1. These are only the second pair of Keens that I’ve ever owned, but probably my last. I don’t expect my shoes to survive my walking regimen for very long, but I do ask that the traction strips on the soles not begin to peel away after six months. At first I thought I’d stepped on a particularly insidious clump of gum, and then realized the weird sticky sensation was produced by loose chunks of rubber and glue. Which is too bad, because they were otherwise pretty comfortable. Now they’ve been relegated to junk shoes, to be worn while painting, mowing, etc.
  2. My knights in black armor: Boggs rainboots. I wear these all year-round to the dog park, where there is always mud and often other unpleasant things to step in, as well. It only takes three levels of inserts to make them fit and they’re headed into a third year of keeping my socks and pant cuffs dry.
  3. This year’s splurge: Fluevogs. My sister and I traveled to Chicago in June, and made the trek out to the suburbs to the Fluevog store. Despite a variety of temptations, I went for the practical Derby Swirl 6-eye. They have required some breaking in, but I feel about them the way I once felt about my original made in England Doc Martens. I feel cool and badass while wearing these boots.
  4. The summer juggernauts: Chaco Z1 sandals. They are starting to show their three years of hard service, but are still holding up. I wear these basically every day that I wouldn’t be in danger of losing my toes to frostbite, because the feet need to be free!
  5. The traitors: Dansko Sabrina. First of all, I hate shoe styles with women’s names. Since I was a child that trend has set my teeth on edge. Second of all, $130 shoes, no matter how well they fit one’s awkward feet, should last more than two months. These didn’t. On Monday, after less than 45 days of service, the soles of these shoes started peeling away. The worst part is, I’m not even willing to indignantly demand a replacement pair from the manufacturer, because I wouldn’t wear another pair. Before the soles self-destructed they were stiff and slippery.

And so I entered the new year in need of new shoes. I went back to a trusted friend. Ahnu has long produced reliable waterproof, lug-soled walking and hiking shoes. So today I face the hill in these comfortable but not so attractive canoes:


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January is a doomed month. Cold and miserly and strangely stunted for a month with thirty-one days. That’s not what dooms it, of course. Its downfall is that it’s destined to be a month of beginnings. Sure, we like beginnings. We glorify them as great things, but ultimately, we start so many more things than we ever finish, that it hardly matters where or when a thing starts. And when something fails, either with a whimper or a catastropher, its starting point looks a lot less glorious. That’s what taints January.

After all, up to 25% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. Something like 60% of all new restaurants fail within a year. Diets crash and burn on a near weekly basis. The new job turns into a suckfest, and the new marriage sours three years in.

I know there’s this huge pressure, both internal and external, to make big changes in the new year. This is the year you’re going to find an agent! This is the year you’re going to apply for better jobs! You’re gonna lose that weight! Sell that screenplay! Go back to school! Meet someone special! Learn Chinese!

Cat on a diving board.

Which is cool, but right now, I’m gonna offer you a reprieve. Right now, I’m saying, it’s okay not to start something new this week. Today doesn’t have to be the first day of the rest of your life. It’s okay if you don’t send out query letters today or sign up for that dating website or do PX30. I’m giving you permission to wait. I’m telling you that it’s okay to feel wobbly and unsure this week. If you’re feeling tired and overwhelmed by being back at work today, I understand. You don’t have to go off the big board into the deep end. You can just get into the pool from the steps in the shallow end. It won’t matter if you didn’t start today, as long as you finish.

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