The most important thing to say about Hannah Gadsby's stand-up Netflix special, "Nanette," is: Go watch it. Maybe you'll love it, maybe you won't. You may not agree with all of it, but you will chuckle, and your eyes might even get a touch watery. The morning after I watched it, I made a list of reactions/realizations.
Like many people, I cried a little when I watched "Nanette." Not because I have experienced the things Gadsby has experienced--I haven't. And not because I felt sorry for her--I didn't. No, I cried because I recognized the important power of Gadsby's story, and because it made me realize the important power of my own. I cried because of all the times I've used myself as a punchline to make myself more accessible to people. I cried because I realized I chose my occupation partly because I thought it was one of the few places someone like me would not have to worry about poor treatment. I cried because this turns out not to be true. I cried because of the ways I have failed to listen to other people's stories. I cried because of the ways I have failed to tell my own.
I got a grant at work that enabled me to fly out someone I wanted to mentor me for a few days. I chose someone I like and admire--someone whose work I think is top-notch, and who I've long thought of as a half-friend, half-mentor, even though I only see her for a couple hours about once a year. For purposes of this entry, let's call her G (random, not her real initial).
I figured it would be fun. I figured I'd have a nice time and learn some things from her. What I did not expect was that spending a short but sustained amount of time with her would be so awesome for so many reasons.
For one, having another butch in my work department made me hold my head higher somehow. I am not the only queer person in my workplace, but by my (possibly inaccurate, who knows) observation, I am the only one whose female self-presentation deviates from what we might think of as a feminine gender norm. For three whole days, I got to not be the most masculine female-identified person in my department. (Maybe we're tied, but her voice is deeper and G can buy men's clothes off the rack, so I think she wins.) It is hard to pinpoint why this made me feel so great. There was one time when we were in the elevator and a feminine woman walked in, and I thought, "In this elevator, at this moment, we are the norm!" Something about this just felt super good. I don't know how to describe it except to say that I do not usually feel like a non-strong or a non-valid person, but in that moment, I felt extraordinarily strong and unquestionably valid. I felt like there was something that I am usually carrying, and for those three days, my arms could rest because I did not have to carry it alone.
In addition to being the only butch (again, to my knowledge) in my department, I am one of the only people (again, to my knowledge) from what I would consider a working-class background (I'm not first-gen). G shares a similar background, and there is something about hanging out with another working-class butch in an academic workplace that I absolutely love. Intersectionality matters, people! Also, neither of us married to someone whose gender presentation differs that much from our own, either, which is something which, as I've written about before, I feel like I share with almost zero other butches.
Perhaps these feelings of strength/camaraderie/validation would be tempered if I didn't like G so much. But I do. And so does my wife, which rocks because DW isn't enamored of most people (she'll deny this and I'll end up having to take this sentence out, but I swear it's true). Regardless, I feel like something clicked. Who knows if G's experience was the same, but by the end we felt like real friends, not just mentor/mentee or work friends. It made me really happy.
This feels like the most childish entry ever. Oh well. I don't care. I like my friend.
Below is a list of lies I've caught me telling myself over the past few months... and I know I can't be the only butch who occasionally deludes herself, can I?
Hi, friends. I recently relieved a spate of, "You don't blog very much anymore" emails. As I began to write my usual, "Oh, I've been SO busy with work and life, you know how it is, blah blah blah" emails," I thought: But that's not really true. I could be blogging a ton and I'm not. Why?
Well, there are a few real reasons. Maybe sharing them with you will get me back into writing BW some more. Or maybe not. I guess we'll see. Either way, your feedback would be awesome.
1. This is the main one, and the hardest to talk about. I worry that now, in my very late 30s, my thoughts about gender and sexual orientation are passé. I am a butch woman. I'm cool with being a woman. I'm also cool with AFAB (assigned-female-at-birth) folks who AREN'T cool with being women. But most of the serious conversation about masculine-of-center life these days seems to be about not being a woman: about agender or genderfluid or trans identities. That's great--but it's not me. I just don't feel like there are that many cisgendered masculine-of-center women out there anymore, especially under the age of 35. At least in my circles, there is strong social pressure to be something more gender-expansive than "woman." But why does "woman" have to be so damn narrow that it can't contain me? I don't know, folks. It's hard not to feel irrelevant these days when you're someone who (1) regularly gets called "sir" and (2) uses she/her pronouns.
2. There has been reduced engagement with the blog when I do post: fewer likes and fewer comments. Part of the reason I blog is to open conversations with people throughout the world. Sometimes, though, it feels like I'm typing into a void, which makes it less fun for me. It's possible that my writing is getting less engaging, or that I'm writing about less engaging topics (e.g., more depressing Supreme Court cases, fewer fashion tips). It's also possible that people don't read blogs as much as they used to. But regardless of the reason, the fact remains--and less interaction with readers makes me less eager to write.
3. Admittedly, life has interfered. Namely: I have a real, steady job that I love but which is also super demanding; I wrote a book (related to my work life); my wife and I bought a house; my two dogs are terribly behaved; I've taken up pottery and kayaking (possibly the two most lesbian hobbies in existence); I'm trying to pay off my student loans; we moved across the country a couple years ago and I'm trying to get used to snow and humidity. These things are non-trivial.
Anyhow, I didn't want you to think I wasn't thinking of you anymore. I am. I'm just kind of sitting with all of these thoughts and obstacles in the current political moment and it has added up to me not writing very much.
Friends, I've felt ill about the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling all day. (For an explanation of the case, see my last post.) As you probably know by now, the Supreme Court ruled against Charlie and David, the gay couple who were refused a wedding cake because of their sexual orientation.
The big issue in the case was whether baking a cake was "speech"--that is, whether Colorado's requirement that the baker treat gay and straight people the same was making him "speak" in favor of gay marriage. If baking a cake was speech (like painting a mural probably would be), it would violate the baker's First Amendment right to free speech. If, on the other hand, it was more like providing a service (like selling someone a couch probably would be), it would probably not violate the baker's First Amendment right to free speech. In oral argument, this was the issue the Court spent most of its time on.
However, the Court did not rule on this issue. Instead, they said that the baker's freedom of religion (a different part of the First Amendment) had been violated by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which decided the case before the case even hit the courthouse. They essentially said that the Commission had been "hostile" to religion. The part that seemed to incense them the most was:
I would also like to reiterate what we said in the hearing or the last meeting. Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust, whether it be—I mean, we—we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to—to use their religion to hurt others.
Personally, I disagree that this is hostile to religion. I think it's a statement of fact: religion has been used to justify all these things. It seems to me that the commissioner was just trying to say, "Hey, freedom of religion isn't dispositive--you don't get to do anything you want by claiming it's against your religion." But--as I understand it--the Supreme Court said this embodied discrimination (that is, the commission committed discrimination, not that the baker's freedom of religion would have been violated if he'd had to bake the cake, just that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission didn't give him a fair shot).
So in theory, this isn't some major victory for anti-gay folks, just a reminder that states' processes need to respect people's freedom of religion. In theory, this ruling leaves open the possibility that Colorado could still prohibit business owners from discriminating against gay people, but that they need to do via processes that don't violate anyone's First Amendment religious freedom along the way.
But I still feel like (1) If they wanted to do that, they should have just remanded the case (meaning, sent it back down and told the state to redo the process in a fairer way rather than actually ruling on it; (2) Psychologically, sociologically, and culturally, this is a major defeat; (3) If they weren't okay with anti-gay discrimination, they would have ruled on the substantive issue; (4) Legally, this is going to set us back a bit and in the meantime, more gay people will be subjected to unfair treatment; (5) This feeds into the myth that religion and progressive politics are somehow inherently oppositional.
For more reading about the case, I recommend the New York Times and SCOTUS Blog.
Any other takes on this?