Thursday, February 24, 2005

Why I Hate 8

I hate 8 because he's a cocky, fat, ineffectual, baby blue bully. He's everything I hate about boys. He's all entitlement, all privilege, all "because I said so." He's a facile aping of cultural constructions of appropriate masculinity. And when he sets his eyes on sweet, pink 4, she gets consumed not once, but twice.

My numbers have always had colors and personalities. Some of them don't get along. Others are inseparable. Some of my match-ups are obvious: 7=green=lucky. Others less so: 3=purple (this has something to do with R, which is why I often confuse 3, purple, and R). I don't think anthropomorphizing my numbers is all that uncommon--after all, most of us learned our numbers via colored blocks and refrigerator magnets. But my number/color association is deep and complicated and sometimes interferes with my daily life. For example, I'm teaching a unit on hermaphroditism and intersex movements right now and I keep forgetting which is the "girl" chromosome combo, which is the "boy."

See, in my world 4=pink=y, so xy must be female, right? Wrong.

Did I mention that my numbers are gendered as well? Yeah. As best I can figure out, this world view, deeper than any book learning, and certainly not reflected in my lived life, was shaped by a childhood spent watching soap operas from 9:30 in the morning, when Search For Tomorrow came on, until 3:30 in the afternoon, when The Edge of Night finished. I can't remember a time in my early childhood when they were not on in the background as my mom did housework. That's how I learned that you should never overdose on pills, even if you are in prison (Morgan Fairchild, as Jennifer on Search For Tomorrow), and that if you are married and expecting you are "going to have a baby," as in "Oh darling, we're going to have a baby," but if you are not married, (or at least not married to the person who got you that way) you are pregnant, as in "Yes, Roger, I'm pregnant." (The Guiding Light, circa 1974, Holly Bauer and Roger Thorpe plot arch number one). So in my earliest understandings of gender are completely shaped by a not only facile, but hyperbolic, soap opera construction of gender. Stayed tuned for more on that in my Why Is Barbie Always Pregnant and Injured? post, coming soon.

So 1-5 are strictly girls, 6-9 are boys. I don't really pay that much attention to the edges--1 and 2 are too young to really count, and 9 is so untouchably cool that it's not even worth my time trying to catch his attention.

When people ask me to explain my number system I usually begin with 5 and 6. 5 is red, and she's a confident, spunky tomboy who is best friends with her cousin, 6, who is blue. They love to have sleepovers and make the number 11 (which I guess makes that more of a fort made out of sofa cushions than a number, but like I said, I never paid much attention to the big numbers). Neither is fettered by complicated gender roles. They just are who they are. 6 is a sensitive, dreamy boy who makes lots of beautiful purplish/blue combinations like 36. And we all know how much 5 kicks ass, because multiplying with her is always a cinch; you can count by fives almost faster than you can count by 2s. (2=orange).

The number that always killed me was 4. I don't know if that's because she's the number I related to, and or the number I feared I was supposed to relate to. Actually, I do know: she was both, and that makes her the key to my earliest understandings of, and anxieties about, gender. She was so delicate, so soft, so pink. She's the number version of Clara in Heidi, staring wistfully over the balcony from her wheelchair as Heidi (a total number 5) eats dinner with the grownups. What worried me the most was that 4 had no will of her own, and that anytime 8 wanted her to do his bidding, she had to obey. If 4 symbolized ultra-femininity, the absolute feminine ideal, then that means that even when I doubled her, my childhood self couldn't imagine her adding up to a challenge to manliness, or in 8's case, a pretense of manliness. 4+4=the girl is lost forever, caught up in the pudgy, unformed hatefulness of 8.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Is She Channeling Sade?

Tori Amos' new album, The Bee Keeper came out today. I'm really glad I resisted the impulse to special order the fancy bonus version, the one where she includes actual flower seeds, since this album's theme is loosely garden-oriented. To my ears it's loosely drive-off-the-road-mellow, not-enough-pot-in-the-world-to-make-this-interesting oriented. I swear to god I thought I had accidentally slipped a Sade cassette into my dashboard stereo. But a cover of "Smooth Operator" would have made this at least provocative, aggressively retro, or something like that.

Maybe it will grow on me. I didn't really like From the Choirgirl Hotel that much at first, but at least it took me places, and certainly, I would have never openly articulated a Tori criticism, because do think she's a goddess of sorts.

Monday, February 21, 2005

dykes to watch out for

So this is me getting into a brawl last night at my local kind-of-gay bar, watching the season premiere of The L Word:

At least it's what I wanted to do. I'm Patty Duke and the lesbian who took her sorry self way too seriously is Susan Hayward. She WISHES!!! In real life she looked a lot more like this:

The season premiere starts showing at 6, so my friends and I show up at 3 (because, you know, we're serious and competitive people. Also, we're not slackers.) get seats, and start drinking. By the time 5:30 rolls around the place is PACKED. Every lesbian in the midwest is in there and most of them are pretty bummed they don't have our seats. But one of them can't contain her bitterness (because the bar is NOT going to be showing this episode over and over for like the next six hours, and Showtime is NEVER going to repeat it) and she confronts my male friends, telling them they ought to be ashamed of themselves, as men taking up seats during the season premiere of a LESBIAN show.

Harry Potter: How would you feel if a bunch of women took up all the seats in your bar during Queer As Folk?
Male friend: (Slow to respond, finally deigns to look over the top of his trendy fag glasses down at the tiny angry woman standing on the floor) I never watched QAF. Did you?
HP: Uh, no.
MF: But I watched every episode of this show. Did you?
HP: No. (tries to skulk off, but bar is so packed she can hardly move. She leaves amidst a flutter of sorries and "excuse me" and "oh dear, did I step on that?")

She ends up sitting about four feet away, perched on the arm of a chair, glowering at us.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

My So-Called Links

[Edited to explain that I did, in fact, get some links up, thanks to Blogroller. But it wasn't easy and I still don't feel like I have much control over how they look. Whatever. Enjoy.]
Links. I can't figure them out. God never meant for me to do HTML and it's a testament to herm kindness and mercy that I got as far as changing my fonts so they wouldn't be in my most-hated font ever, Verdana. But putting in a nice little sidebar of blogs I read? Unh unh. Ain't gonna happen. I've been trying all day, squinting my eyes, rolling my index finger back and forth over my roller-mouse trying to find the part of my template where I add a formula I got in the help section, but all that does is add a link to Edit Me!, underneath a teeny-tiny white links.

This is just to say, I dip into other people's links all the time and I'm reading and loving them, and I'm even delighted to see that I'm showing up on some people's links, but it may be a while before I can reciprocate. Not snobby, not stingy, just kind of simple in the head.

Is it just me, or is the bloggerhelp stuff kind of, well, hard? I mean the blogs I read are mostly other academics in the humanities, and while you might have done better on the quantitative part of the GRE than me (since I got in the 3rd percentile, that wouldn't be all that hard. In my defense, I did get chicken pox later that night), but you're still humanities people, right? How did you do it?

And that, my friends is a strictly rhetorical question. I'm not that person who asks doctor friends for medical advice, or mechanic friends for a quick peek under my hood. (Well, it depends on the hood I want peeked under, I guess.)

Parking Tickets

Just paid for four of them. FOUR. Logged on, because it was payday yesterday and I had about fifteen minutes before the money was gone to pay my normal bills, and the two tickets I was aware of were there, as well as two more, both for expired registration.

I thought I had a month grace period to get my registration renewed (I was SURE I heard something about that on NPR the other day) and I needed it, because I didn't have the money to pay for it. But I guess my neighborhood police officer didn't listen to that same NPR show. And since I didn't even open up the envelope until today (what's the point? I didn't have any money) I missed the day to protest, not that I would have, because I'm not that good at confrontations with authority. (Ask me about the time my car got towed from school because the license plate number didn't match anything in their records because I had made one up when I bought my parking pass because my car was only a year old and I hadn't memorized it yet. I cried so hard and for so long that they finally called the tow company and had them release my car just to get rid of me.)

Friday, February 18, 2005

Teaching Camp

I gave myself two days to get through Butler's "Imitation and Gender Insubordination" this week, but because I had a kick-ass lecture on it from another class, I got through it more quickly and clearly) than I ever could have imagined. I promised the students that during the second class period I'd show them how Butler's piece lends itself to that elusive sub-category of queer theory, Camp. JB goes on and on about "repetition with a difference." Okay, I thought, let's take this to a fun place and show them how subversive repetition works in a more playful (but poignant kids, don't forget the poignant part) context.

So day two comes and I rush through the end of Butler and start my powerpoint presentation on camp and it goes well. But halfway through I realize that they just don't get it, that they can't get it, because there's a huge generational difference and while I don't want to say they don't get irony, because how condescending would that be, I realize that they don't get this particular kind of irony. These students barely know who Paul Lynde is, let alone Bette Davis. Most of them will never see Auntie Mame. So now I'm worried. I just happen to have been raised by a gay man (albeit in the body of a Mormon housewife) who really GOT camp, and so I can't remember a time when I didn't know the movie Laura or that Julie Andrews was robbed and should have played Eliza Doolittle in the movie version of My Fair Lady.

I was really lucky to spend my dissertating years drinking in one of Chicago's oldest gay bars, where, for the first time in my very sheltered life I found other people who could quote along with The Women. These guys helped me write my dissertation. They helped me learn how to be gay (I had no community at all when I came out, as I was out of college and married and stuck in the suburbs, and I had missed out on the queer campus scene that my students seem to enjoy, not that I went to an undergrad where it was okay to be sexual, let alone homosexual) and to be joyful and flamboyant and have dignity. The two men who meant the most to me are dead now, and I often get teary when I try to explain to my students what being gay in the 60s and 70s meant, what an entirely non-queer world looked like, how camp was a discourse of the marginalized, a particular kind of snobbish in-joke-ness that sustained and fortified. They listen thoughtfully, but there's no context. Someone raised their hand and suggested that maybe SNL's Ambiguously Gay Duo were campy. That's good. Yeah, that works.

But now I'm obsessing over the idea of teaching a class on Queer Cultural History. Queer History courses are about major political movements, but what happens when the rest of my beloved boys are gone and there's no one left to celebrate Judy Garland, or Barbra Streisand, or Dusty Springfield. And I know these might seem like huge camp cliches to our generation, but they don't mean anything to theirs.

So that's my dream right now. Introducing 20 somethings to All About Eve and Our Miss Brooks. And I worry that this sounds condescending (and it's a celebration of queerness that totally excludes women and certainly teeters on the borders of misogyny, I know, I know) and as I write I see my ex-girlfriend sneering and saying to herself, "So, she's as obvious and pedantic and shallow as ever." But this is my heart. I wanna teach this.

kidney-shaped pool

Today was one of those days where I couldn't get the taste of last night's dream out of my mouth. I dreamt I was at my Aunt Mickee's house, the house where we always celebrated Christmas when I was growing up. Her house was ultra-Southern California: flat, narrow ranch with a faintly Swiss chalet-looking roof, set at the top of a fairly steep, curved driveway. (Not steep and curved like the driveway of an estate; only steep and curved enough to be too dangerous to roll down on a skateboard.) It's always a little overcast there, even though a kidney shaped swimming pool dominates the backyard. The rest of the backyard is dull grey cement, about the color of the sky. I remember how it felt to lay on it for warmth when I got out of the pool, wiggling my legs into the warmth of the puddles I was making as I dried in the sun, the way its rough surface left little knotty pulls on my bathing suit.

The house always felt a little precarious. Dark and clean and quiet, it was a place to run into when you had to leave the pool to go to the bathroom, peeking into absent cousins' rooms on your way back outside, a place where you ate your food at folding tables on folding chairs in the middle of a living room you weren't normally allowed in, a place where you stood quietly next to your mom while she said her goodbyes. Aunt Mickee's house was not a place where you made jokes or told stories around grown-ups. Mostly it was a place you looked at from outside, while you played in the back of your grandfather's brown pick up truck, or rolled down the grassy hill leading to the sidewalk.

As an adult it continues to be a place I look at from the outside, only now I look at it from the shadows of the narrow strip of concrete at the side of the house, leaning against the wall of the garage as I smoke cigarettes with the best cousins, the ones who've had it rough, whose faces are tired, whose stories are funny and true and hard. As an adult its a place I only visit when there's been a funeral, as that's where we have the after-the-services luncheons. You can see the graveyard from the backyard, past two sets of chain-link fences, across a dirt ravine, and up a hill. It's one of those California graveyards with flat, groundlevel markers, not upright headstones. As a kid I always thought that was kind of a rip-off.

I think that was the occasion for being there in my dream, but it wasn't sad, really, just grey in that pale, cementy, Southern California way. You catch up, wait for enough time to pass, and leave. Writing this, I realize that I don't really remember what happened in the dream so much as how it felt to be there. I know that Aunt Mickee was talking. Remember, no one's drinking at Mormon after-funeral luncheons. (At least no one's drinking publically.) So she's not talking in a drunken, confessional way, but the tone felt confessional. First the news. As she tells me what's been going on, several family stories merge together in her narrative. The same cousin who worked in a hen house in Reno and had her stepfather's baby is now, as well, the woman who left another cousin for the fifteen year old down the street, had several children with him, and married him, once they had gotten the statutory rape charges dropped.

I'm not scandalized. I'm amazed that I can put the pieces together, finally. When all the stories merge together into one master narrative they make sense and I look at her thoughtfully and nod my head as she speaks. I know how it must be. Yes, I've heard that. Mmm, I see.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

My Perogative, Or How I Gave Up an SSRI and Learned to Love Britney

So I’m obsessed by Britney Spears. How dumb is that?

It all started innocently enough: I started reading Go Fug Yourself ( and they did a really good Britney imitation, while they lambasted her clothing. I'm all "hey, lovin' the ya'll-ness of it all and yeah, her thong is totally showing and she hasn't washed her hair in weeks and I'm kind of intrigued." Then my friend Debs complains that Jennifer Garner's i-tunes list is insipid--it's all work out music and her accompanying narrative shows a real struggle with language. So I have to go look at it, right? And she lists a Britney song, (or maybe a Justin Timberlake song and I got sidetracked onto Britney through the i-tunes network) and I'm thinking that I want to look like Jennifer Garner (only with a waist and a face that has character) so I'll listen to the songs she listens to.

And then I found out that it wasn't just that I had outgrown yet another pair of pants. In the last two years of not weighing myself because that's so non-feminist, to place emphasis on a body whose rightness or wrongess is dictated by consumerism and a general hatred of women's bodies, when really it's my politics and my heart and my personality that counts, I had gained THIRTY pounds. That's right, not ten, not fifteen, not even twenty, but thirty. And so I went off my meds (which is a story I might have written about, had I not rehearsed it everywhere for the last few weeks, making me a very lucky girl to have any friends left) and started working out like a maniac, because we all know you only lose weight when the calories spent in a day exceeds the calories taken in. And that's where Britney came in. It started out innocently: I was having major lexapro withdrawals (headaches, nausea, dizziness, brain zaps, crying jags, rage) and Toxic became my mantra. It's not that I'm a freak, it's that there's a toxin in my system. But then I moved on to My Perogative and then Crazy and then some ridiculous remix of every song she ever kind-of-sang at once and then Oops I did it Again which makes me a little embarassed every time I work out to it. I'm rowing away and then that dialogue comes on and my first thought is "oh, this is kind of funny; she's talking about titanic" immediately followed by shame. It's not funny, it's stupid and it's overplayed and over. Even my eight year old neice is totally over that joke. But today it went from secretly shameful to downright ugly when I modified my cardio playlist to play ONLY Britney songs for the first half hour of my work out.

Okay, whatever. Here's how it works: all of the above is totally manufactured shame. I'm listening to Hit Me Baby One More Time right now, and it's making me happy and making me excited for the moment when I plop onto the rowing maching and cue her up again. And soon I won't be able to listen to it anymore and soon I'll have a new obsession and a new song consuming my thoughts and maybe it will be equally shameful and maybe it will be the coolest thing I've ever done--like the time I got totally obsessed with Dusty in Memphis and it allowed me to access the me that wrote my dissertation.

I've also been listening to Lil' Kim's Crush on You a lot. She's pretty hot when she says "unhh huh."
Remind me to write about what's really been going on in my life: abject poverty, drug withdrawals, job frustration, renewed contact with a part of my family I've spent most of my life avoiding, and, always, crazy love.

you're, not your

What if I knew how to use contractions?

But I don't want to be a six foot tall man

Questions and comments about authority in the classroom brought me here. Nice community. Funny how ubiquitous disrespect in the classroom is, particularly when you're a female asst. prof.

I get the "act like your a man" reasoning, but I also resent it. Why would I ever want to "act like a man"? What if I don't think my classroom persona should reinforce privileging of only one kind of authority? What if I had something original to add to this conversation, instead of pale reiterations of what more confident, accomplished blogger-profs have already written? What if I graded my papers?