_I'm currently in the middle of Nowheresville, New England visiting my DGF's parents, who live in a retirement home. For health reasons, her mom is rarely able to leave the home. And her father is legally blind, which prevents him from going anywhere on his own.
All of this is to explain the following unlikely circumstance in which I found myself on Sunday morning: in a Catholic church, helping escort my DGF's father to Mass.
I've only been to Mass once before, and that was a funeral Mass (or, as I incorrectly called it yesterday, a "death mass"), so this was a new experience for me. I was instructed ahead of time not to take communion, because I'm not Catholic. (I was baptized Christian, but this is, I learned, unsatisfactory in the eyes of the Catholic church.) My DGF is not practicing, but was baptized Catholic, so according to her father, she was allowed to take Communion if she promised to go to confession within the next 30 days (which she was unwilling to promise). That's right--not 31 days. Not 35. 30. (Later, we looked for this rule online and it seems that you actually have to have been to confession in the 30 days before receiving Communion, but we still aren't totally sure.)
Mass was short. Like, way short. Like under an hour short. We went to the 11 am Mass and made it to breakfast by noon. Perhaps because of the service's length, almost no one bothered to remove their coats. My most recent churchgoing experience before that was an evangelical-type Baptist church, where the service always lasted over two hours, plus socializing afterward. I kind of admired the Catholic efficiency.
There were maybe 250 people attending mass, only five of whom were non-white. Don't get me wrong--I'm fine with white people (some of my best friends are white people), but there was something disconcerting about being in a nearly all-white room. (Yeah, I'm white, too. But still.) Interestingly, one of the five non-white people happened to be the priest, who I think was Latino, and spoke with a heavy accent. It was kind of heartening that all these white people, the great majority of whom looked to be 60 or older, had someone of color as their religious leader--a trend that I've since learned is not uncommon in the Catholic church, since many young priests these days come from non-English-speaking countries, particularly Third World countries.
The church program (which was printed in color, something I'm not sure Protestants would allow) didn't say what was happening when in the service, so I just tried to stand, kneel, and sit when I was supposed to. There was a great deal of ceremony involved. Continuing to survey the attendees, I began getting a distinct sense that this particular church was more the Santorum variety of Catholic than the Kennedy variety--an impression reinforced by the advertisement of a Planned Parenthood vigil later in the week.
When it came time to take Communion, I was pretty sure that lots of people wouldn't go, given the rules about 30 days and being baptized Catholic. But as it turned out, my DGF and I were the only people who did not take Communion. As the people in our row quietly filed to the front of the church, we quietly did not follow them. This was met with disapproving glances from the other parishioners--glances which lingered for an awkwardly long time, shifting from me to my DGF and back again, and I suspect that around this time, it began occurring to said parishioners that we might be not be the nice young men we had originally appeared to be, but rather homosexual women. (My DGF, who tends not to notice these things, insists that "no one really looked at us." I assure you she is wrong.)
Since Lent is approaching, the sermon was largely about giving things up. I guess one rationale for Lent is that giving something up for 40 days kind of purifies you. I was not raised Catholic (decades ago, my grandmother was excommunicated for getting divorced, which soured our family on Catholicism long before I was born). Nonetheless, I emerged from childhood with a near-preternatural susceptibility to guilt, and the whole idea of Lent appeals greatly to this susceptibility. I mentally counted how many days I'd already gone without ice cream (three) and wondered if I could get retroactive credit.
At our post-Mass brunch, I asked my DGF's father about my retroactive credit idea, but he said it didn't count. He also squelched my idea to give something up that I don't feel a need to have anyway, such as cilantro or penises. I asked my DGF's dad what he was giving up, and it turns out that people over 59 don't have to give anything up at all. Immediately it became clear why the church had been packed with senior citizens--they were clamoring to take advantage of the loophole.
Personally, I'm no atheist. My own philosophy is closer to "All steeples point to heaven" (something my excommunicated grandmother used to say). Well, maybe not all steeples, but you get the idea. But the whole experience of Mass made me think about how different my life might have been if I was raised in a church like this one. So many different religions and people and subcultures trying to do what they think is right, but simultaneously certain they've cornered the market on God.
I've been thinking lately about the myriad ways in which sexual orientation, gender identification, and gender presentation affect our occupational choices. We might imagine multiple ways this could happen:
Of course, lesbians can do anything. We can be (and are) everything from ballerinas to surgeons, from firefighters to custodians. But I know that in my own life, I've gravitated toward work that lets me be myself, and away from work that tends to favor or privilege those who conform to gender norms.
I'm really curious about what your experiences have been. I would LOVE it if you would fill out the following brief survey and send it to me! I'll tally the results and report them (anonymously, of course) in a future post:
Thanks for participating. The more people who fill it out, the better and more interesting the results are likely to be, and the more interesting it will be to read about in a few days. :-)
_As part of my New Years resolution to drop a few pounds--a resolution which has been slow-going, to say the least--my DGF and I decided to join a gym. I've had gym memberships before, and sometimes I've been good about using them; other times I haven't. (Bizarrely, the likelihood that I will use a gym seems to be inversely correlated with the gym's niceness.)
I'm an afternoon or evening workout person. Working out in the morning makes me feel virtuous, with a nice post-exercise buzz, but the habit doesn't stick. Turns out I'd rather loll about in pajamas (on days I work from home) or drive grudgingly to work, down some coffee, and allow my mind to wake at roughly the pace of a banana slug. I covet the virtuosity of Morning People. I spent a brief time as a Morning Person in college, cheerfully forgoing Jell-o shots so I could go to sleep at eleven, wake up at six, lift weights, and run a mile. I have no idea what got into me, and no idea where it escaped to.
All of this is to explain that although I've worked out at gyms in the past, I've never needed to change clothes there. I either change at the office or wear gym clothes under my work clothes. Then right after I work out, I just drive straight home.
But this new gym we've joined has a pool. And for some reason, I have been obsessed with the idea that I want to swim. I do not have a swimmer's physique, nor am I particularly good at it. But surfing is on my bucket list and I need to be in better swimming shape if I want to surf before I hit 40. Also, I recently read Haruki Murakami's South of the Border, West of the Sun (which I liked very much), and the main character is always swimming to clear his mind. Murakami himself also swims, and I am presently a little obsessed with Haruki Murakami, so my burgeoning interest in swimming makes a fuzzy kind of sense.
Anyway, since I don't want to drive home sopping wet after a swim, I need to use the locker room at this new gym. I hate changing in front of other people. It's totally uncomfortable and I avoid it when I can, sometimes even changing in the shower stall. But whatever. I'm an adult. I can handle being embarrassed about my body or my half-nakedness or my brilliantly white day-glo upper arms. Here's the part I didn't anticipate but should have: some women are weirded out by seeing a butch in the locker room. They don't read me as male, but correctly read me as a dyke, and some of them kind of stare and look uncomfortable.
Honestly, I don't blame them. One of the main rationales for having separate men's and women's locker rooms (along with the safety issue) is that people want to be able to change their clothing without worrying about being looked at as sexual objects. I get this. And since I'm obviously a lesbian, some of them probably feel that it's a little like having a guy in the locker room.
Even those who are quite progressive (and there are many of them at this gym), and don't blink at seeing a lesbian couple hold hands on the street may feel uneasy when there's a dyke in the locker room, because it makes them uncomfortable to think I might be looking at them in a sexual way (which I'm not).
So far, my basic strategy has been to try to make myself as small and unobtrusive as possible. I avert my eyes and position my entire body away from the other women. I guess this has worked okay so far, but it still makes me *and* them uncomfortable. And probably one of these days, I'm going to get told, "This is the women's locker room!" I guess I *could* wear tight pink T-shirts or lavender capris sweatpants things to announce my girlness, but, uh, that's not going to happen.
I know I have just as much right to be there as everyone else and yada yada yada. But for me, the issue is not about being ashamed to be a butch or not wanting to hold my head up high, or anything like that. Just as *I* have a right to feel comfortable in the locker room, so do they.
I'd really prefer to allow everyone to be as comfortable as possible. I don't *want* to ignore their discomfort. After all, I would feel totally uncomfortable if there was a guy in the locker room. Not because he looks different from me, or because I think he's going to do anything he shouldn't, but simply because he is sexually attracted to women and I am a woman.
Have any of you other butches ever felt uncomfortable in a locker room? How do you deal with it? Just keep your head down and your gaze averted? Or is there a magical approach I haven't figured out yet?
(Update: Wendi at A Stranger in This Place had a great post on this last year!)
_Responses to my "bah humbug" post about Valentine's Day ranged from hostility ("maybe you need to get laid") to laughter ("LOL, that was awesome!"). I also got several answers to two questions, and I'll share a few of my favorites:
A word or saying you would love to see on a conversation heart:
The queerest, gayest, or most lesbian way to spend Valentine's Day:
1. ...[W]ith the cats, while watching "Imagine Me and You," cuddling in our underwears. Granted, I have only one set of plaid panties, but I'm hoping that will do. Stereotypes for the win?
2. At a girl bar, listening to politicially themed folk music, gushing about how much you love the woman you're with, then getting mad at her because she didn't respond properly.
3. Having sex with a woman (assuming you are one).
In any case, dear readers, thanks for your amusing emails and comments. I hope you had a great Valentine's Day, whether you love it, hate it, celebrate it, are indifferent to it, or forgot about it completely, and whether you are single, dating, coupled, or stuck in one of those romances Facebook categorizes as "complicated." As far as I'm concerned, you're all my valentines. Thanks for being awesome.
I am sort of a V-Day grinch. No matter what people say about Valentine's Day, I think it is silly and misguided and I have a judgmental retort.
For example, if someone says:
OMG I loooove Valentine's Day! We're going to roast coconuts on the beach, then my sweetie is taking me to my favorite restaurant and then we're going to go home and do chocolate liqueur shots off of each other's foreheads while reading love poems and releasing doves into the night...
...Then I think:
That is patently ridiculous. You're kowtowing to Hallmark's idea of when to express love and celebrate your relationship. Why do you insist on fueling the capitalist machine with this kind of tomfoolery? Plus, eew. TMI. Grrr.
On the other hand, if someone says:
We don't celebrate Valentine's Day because it's just giving in to capitalist exploitive yadayadayada patriarchial yadayada money machine yada Occupy Occupy YADA.
...Then I think:
For God's sake, why do you have to take this so seriously? It's just a fun, harmless holiday to celebrate romantic love. Would it kill you to fingerpaint a heart onto a piece of looseleaf and call it a day? Jeez. Grrr.
Or if someone tells me:
We don't celebrate Valentine's Day because EVERY day is Valentine's Day for us! Wheeeeee!
I highly doubt that if you have been in this relationship for more than five weeks, "every day" is Valentine's Day for you. I don't buy it. Are you saying that the V-Day devotees have shallow relationships? Because that's mean. And judgmental. And I am judging you for your judgmental ways. Grrr.
As you can see, my internal responses to common positions on Valentine's Day tend to end with "grrr." I have no idea why this is. I've never been especially disappointed on V-Day. I have no bones to pick with it. Sure, I think the amount of conspicuous consumption, shiny bows, and substandard milk chocolate that it tends to produce is irritating and wasteful, but that's an aspect of virtually every holiday, and I don't dislike all holidays.
I just have a quiet little wish for V-Day not to exist, because then people wouldn't say things like those above in a manner that I arrogantly (and probably incorrectly) interpret as self-righteous. And then I would be less likely to judge them. And then I would subsequently be less likely to feel shitty about myself for being so judgmental, bursting balloons, raining on parades, etc.
Even my V-Day grinchiness is rooted, ironically, in self-absorption. Grrr.
Anyway, uh, happy pre-Valentine's Day. I'm going to try really hard to have a cheerier post tomorrow. But I need your help. Please send me (butchwonders [at] yahoo [dot] com) one or more of the following things by tomorrow afternoon:
Email these things to me and you can "B mine 4-ev-R" or whatever the f*k.