Posts Tagged ‘sexuality’

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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In the context of our current cultural attitudes, it sounds creepy to talk about little girls and romance, but the truth is that little girls like romance.  Not your standard, adult romance, with flowers and champagne.  Romance for little girls is often dark, scary, snatched out of the teeth of death.  Fairy tales are full of it: young girls being alternately wooed and terrorized by men they fear and/or long for. Take your pick: Beauty and the Beast, The Seven Swan Brothers, The Little Mermaid, who felt as though she walked upon knives, all for the love of a man. Pair them easily, not with the sugar-coated Disney versions, but with movies like Labyrinth, where a mysterious man offers dancing, jewels, glittering admiration, oh, but at a cost.

A pall of sexuality hangs over little girls, threatening and bizarre. You know that it does. Even if you want to look away, it’s there when you’re not looking.  I don’t believe the threatening nature of sex ever dissipates; it’s just that as little girls grow up, we acclimate ourselves to its dark nature.  We learn to avert our eyes and open our legs.

City of Lost Children

City of Lost Children

If you’re curious, I’ll add another movie to your roster of romantic films for little girls: The City of Lost Children.  I’m sure many people won’t approve of me thinking this is a children’s movie, just as people were horrified by my suggestion that Pan’s Labyrinth would be suitable for a certain kind of child. The things is, I remember how dark childhood was, how unsatisfied I was with saccharine family movies, how false they were.  I loved movies like Labyrinth, Legend, and The Dark Crystal, but often wished they were darker, more romantic.

The City of Lost Children, oddly enough, is the sort of movie I longed for at the age of ten.  Directed by Marco Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (the twisted pair that brought you Delicatessen), it often gets described as having a convoluted plot, even an impenetrable plot.  This is only true if you try to watch the movie in an adult frame of mind, if you grasp at all the random threads and try to tie them up into some macramé whole. Use your child mind and the plot is really quite simple.

Man loses his brother.  Man meets girl.   Girl helps him.  Girl dies.   Man is heartbroken, but wait!  Girl isn’t dead.  Reunion.   Man and Girl fall in love, form a family, save his brother.

All the other stuff is stage dressing: mad scientist, clones, a brain in a fish tank, evil conjoined twins, child pickpockets, stolen dreams, Santa Claus nightmares.  Fascinating, bizarre stage dressing, but not essential to the basic plot.

Miette and One

Miette and One

If “Man and Girl fall in love” disturbs you, ask yourself, “What are little girls looking for?”  Especially little girls who are fatherless.   The girl in the movie, Miette, is an orphan, but in this day and age, even girls who aren’t orphans are fatherless.   It affects their lives in myriad ways, but most importantly in the way they choose the men they love.  When she meets a circus strongman, named One, who is often simply referred to as “the big moron,” there is an immediate connection.  He needs her help, but why does she offer it?

It’s as simple as desire.  She desires him.   She desires what he represents: strength, gentleness, a big man crying over a lost little boy.   Who has cried over her?  If he is a man-child, enormous but not terribly bright or sophisticated, she is certainly a girl-woman, old before her time and jaded.

Perfect Man

Perfect Man

What makes it so romantic is that the movie doesn’t shy from it.   It doesn’t place a paternal Hollywood distance between the two mismatched characters, but dares to show a physical intimacy between them that is both childlike and portentous of adult physicality.   It dares to show a thing you’ll hardly see between two adults in a Hollywood film–a man giving a woman a foot massage.  Hovering in the periphery are further suggestions: during a visit to a tattoo parlor (seeking a map), One gets a tattoo of a heart reading “Miette pour la vie.”  Miette forever.  The sort of tattoo a sailor gets for his sweetheart.  As One rubs her feet, she asks what he plans to do after he finds his brother.  A job, he answers.  A house.  A wife What kind of wife? she asks. There is plenty of time, he assures her, to figure that out.  Plenty of time for her to grow up into that wife.



Miette is a dark-haired girl in a red dress, and after her alleged death, One goes on a drinking binge with a dark-haired prostitute in a red dress–an adult Miette.  When the real Miette arrives, she is alive but sour with jealousy.  On the darker side, when One turns against Miette and tries to kill her (this is part of the elaborate plot, with fleas armed with a brutal potion that produces violence at the sound of an organ box grinder), the violence has the quality of a wedding night deflowering.  One doesn’t want to hurt her, but he has to, is driven to it by a force he can’t control.  Miette simply accepts it, as though she expects such a thing or deserves it.  After one particularly visceral slap across the face, she gets up, crying, and waits to receive another.  When he begins to choke her, she hardly resists.

Ultimately, of course, he will save her.  She will save him.  Together they will rescue the little brother and be a family.  That’s what little girls want.

Happy Ending

Happy Ending

(As an aside, let me note that one of my favorite actors, Ron Perlman, plays the strongman One. His French is serviceable, any deficiencies in pronunciation nicely hidden under a Russian accent. The little girl playing opposite him is Judith Vittet, 9 at the time of filming, and she’s charming, cynical, broken, and strong by turns.)

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