Talkin' Bout My Resolutions
Monday, December 31, 2007
Here are my New Year's resolutions:
- Each week, dedicate an average of 4 hours per day to my Current Project ("Current Project" should be surrounded with neon lights which flash on and off and then spin out in a dazzling display -- I'll probably be talking about it more as the year proceeds).
- Up my daily spiritual practices to include a mid-day walking meditation at least 5 times a week.
- Either a) post a blog entry every day, or b) post a forthright “I’m not blogging today, so there!” blog entry on days that I choose not to blog.
- Take at least 15 minutes every day to review the agreements that I have with myself (my personal precepts) and others (my agreements with my community, my mate, and my friends), and dedicate the focus and energy to bringing myself back into alignment with my agreements right then and there.
And as a soundtrack for the title of the post -- one of my favorite youtubes:
Posted byPortlyDyke at 11:35 PM
Box-Car Portly Goes to Wichita
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Since this came up in second place in the poll on which of the Portly Parables I might share next, here goes. (Some of you may be relieved to know that this story will have little, if any, socio-political significance whatsoever.)
Before we begin, you must raise your right hand and repeat after me: "I, [your name], do solemnly swear that I will never, ever, ever tell this story to Portly's Mother, lest my most beloved part of my anatomy shrivel and fall off."
Oh. Better add an "Amen" there, just for good measure.
I've told my mother most of the stupid, dangerous stuff I did as a kid. With the exception of this story. Somehow, I have an intuitive sense that, even though this story occurred over 35 years ago, it would haunt her dreams. (Don't worry -- it's not gorey or anything -- it's just one of those motherly nightmare things.)
*Now magically sealing the energetic field around my blog to prevent mother-leakage.*
There. I think we can begin now.
School was out, and an unexpected June mugginess had descended over our town. I had a learner's permit in my pocket and a few weeks to wait until I turned 16.
My parents -- both teachers -- both veterans of three previous teenagers, were never perplexed when I left the house from dawn to dusk on such days. In fact, I imagine they were relieved. I was now two years from graduation, when their 25-year gauntlet as guardians of their spawn would shift to something more gently advisory, less stringently vigilant.
As for me, I'd learned well from my siblings -- how far I could stretch a curfew, which behaviors were likely to evoke full-on ancestral wrath, and which would elicit only a faux-disapproving glance in public, followed by a private chuckle at my audacity. I got good grades, and when I did raise hell, I managed to cover my tracks well enough that the parental-units were usually none the wiser.
So it was, that, on Summer days like this, I wandered my world with a fair degree of freedom.
I was with three friends that day, doing what is now known as "fucking around" (nothing sexual involved). I believe we called it "hanging out" or "shitting around" in those days.
Where I grew up, nearly every place that could actually be called a "town" had active railroad traffic through it. Even the teeny-tiny places had a grain-elevator, with the requisite steel rails running by. The town we had moved to the Summer before, when I was 14, was larger than any place I had lived in the past, and so, had several parallel sets of tracks running east to west right through the middle of town. (When I go back to visit, I still wake and sigh deliciously to the lonely wail of train whistles in the night. We don't have that here.)
The trains had to slow down through town. They crossed Commercial Street just south of the business district, and although there were a few underpasses, most intersections had the traditional clanging lights and cross-arms.
For the life of me, I can't remember who named this game, or exactly when I learned it. I had watched it done when I was younger in another town, and I know for sure that I had first tried it out personally the previous Fall, when I was new to town and anxious to impress and acquire friends.
The game is called "Catch the Train".
You wait for the train to slow down as it passes through town, run alongside an open box-car (or a closed box car with a ladder going up one end) and either jump into the car, or grab the ladder, ride to the other end of town, and jump off before the train starts accelerating as it slides off into the open prairie.
(Now you know why you must never, ever, ever tell Portly's Mother this story.)
In retrospect, I think now that the railroads must have already been dying. There were nearly always open, empty, box-cars -- most of them in grave disrepair -- rusty, smelly . . . . romantic.
On this particular muggy day, we were doing what we had done every day since school let out: First, we tried to score some pot -- if successful, we hung out at the graveyard -- if unsuccessful, we played Catch the Train.
We had already agreed that this day's game was remarkably unchallenging, as the engine pulling the car we had jumped into was completely stopped, but we figured "What-the-Hell -- a ride across town is better than hanging out at Sonic!"
So, we settled in and waited for the train to get moving again. Which it eventually did, after we had perched inside that fucking easy-bake oven of a box-car for what seemed like forever, too scared to dangle our feet out one of the doors, in case a yardman came by.
We boarded this car sometime around 1 pm. It was hot in there. No -- I mean -- it was H-O-T hot in there. When the train finally started moving, the movement of air around our cut-offs and tank-tops was an incredible relief, and we watched the town roll slowly by, only daring to approach the open doors once we had crossed the main drag (you never know when your mom might be the first person in line at the cross-arms).
We were approaching the edge of town, and we all lined up on our butts on the north door of the car, ready to jump out. This box-car had doors open on either side, but the south embankment had a bit of a drop-off.
Funny thing though. As the train approached our usual dropping-off point (out by what is now "Bel-Air Drive", but what was, at that time, an open field), the train started accelerating to "No fucking way am I jumping off" speed.
After a couple minutes of teenage freak-out, we all relaxed. "Hey, it'll have to slow down through Strong City. We can hitch back from there. No prob. It'll be an adventure!" Strong City was 20 miles away. No prob.
We settled in to enjoy the ride through the Flint Hills (which are, IMO, truly lovely at any time of year, and one of the things I miss about Kansas, in addition to the train-whistles). A hot breeze whooshed through the car, and we probably said a lot of stupid shit (that pot would have come in handy about now).
Before we got to Strong City, though, without slowing at all, the train turned South. Doug said: "Do you remember what the letters on the side of the train were?" (His dad had some railroady-connection.).
More teenaged freak-out "What do you mean?! Why are you asking that!? Oh My God! Where are we going!?" Doug managed to get us calmed down fairly quickly (he was a lovely, laid-back pot-head who would later hi-jack me on his motorcycle and take me out to the water-plant to get stoned -- I realize now that maybe he had a crush on me, but I was clueless about that shit. And stoned.)
Doug explained to us that we were probably on the Santa Fe freight line, and that it was fine, because it went through a whole bunch of towns and would have to slow down sometime, and when it did, we could jump off and either wait for a freight-line going the other direction, or hitch-hike home. No prob.
Well, he was right about some things.
The train did go through a whole bunch of towns.
But it never slowed down.
After we watched three or four grain-elevators and as many cross-barred intersections with cars stacked up at them go by, I started to feel the stirrings of that uniquely teen-aged version of the "Oh Shit Response" rising in my gut.
Plus, I had to pee.
Our cheery banter died out to occasional desperate exclamations of "It has to stop sometime, right?", and now-hollow reiterations of "No prob!" "It's an adventure!"
Inside, I was thinking: "El Dorado. They have to stop in El Dorado! Don't they? What time is it? How long have we been on the train? Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit. How the hell am I going to explain this?"
We did reach El Dorado -- and we kept right on going. Didn't slow down (at least, not enough to ensure a jump-off free of broken bones). Didn't stop. Just turned West again.
From my adult perspective of this experience, I now realize that the conductor was probably trying to "make up time" after the long delay in my home town. At the time, however, I don't think I was experiencing much empathy for the conductor. In fact, I don't think I even had a concept that there was someone whose job it was to drive the train. I was just rolling through an ever-increasing miasma of adolescent freak-out . . . . accompanied by breath-taking scenery.
I think this was the moment that we started to plan. I had actually ridden the train all the way to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and I was, at this point, not ready to rule this out as our final destination, sometime tomorrow morning. My friends (especially Doug) were more practical -- they were attempting to come up with a story that we would all tell our parents that was so easy to remember, and so plausible, that there would be no possible way that They could trip us up. Preferably a story where we were helpless victims of something so scary that our parents would just be relieved that we were safe.
And then it happened. The train started to slow down. To really slow down. And finally, to stop.
We jumped the fuck out of that box-car immediately.
And found ourselves standing in a huge train-yard somewhere just north of Wichita, Kansas (90 miles or so from our home town).
There were something like 15 parallel tracks (try to just imagine some CGI version of this where the parallel train tracks are running infinitely off into the distance on each side, cluttered with many, many, many trains facing different directions, because this is how it seemed to my hormonally-saturated brain during this moment of anticipated parental outrage).
There are trains with car after car loaded with cattle shoving and stinking and shitting and bawling. There are trains sitting empty and forlorn which look as if they are never, ever, ever moving from this spot. There are trains slowly rolling through with closed, then open, then closed, then open box-cars. We are four young idiots, standing in this chaos.
Terri has a bright idea. "There!" she says, "That one's pointed the other way!!"
Thank God for Doug. Nerdy, pot-head Doug. Doug of the inherited railway wisdom. Doug of the laconic, no-prob demeanor. If not for him, I might have hurled myself from a train that day in the middle of the Flint Hills, in a fit of pubescent panic and need-to-pee.
"No," he said. He turned back to look at the insignia on the box-car we had jumped out of. "We need that line -- but headed East. Everybody look for that symbol." (Train buffs will probably know that we were riding what was then the Santa Fe line, now the BNSF -- and that the Santa Fe cross was all you needed to ID your line.)
It's kind of a miracle that we didn't come into any contact with adults there. We three girls squatted somewhere hidden to take a welcome leak. I imagine Doug relieved himself somewhere, too, as we fanned out a bit (but not too far!) to search for the magical, mystical Santa Fe cross.
We stepped over, or crawled under, massive metal linkages (REMEMBER -- DO NOT TELL MY MOTHER!) to a stopped train on the tracks, which was, at least for the moment, pointed homeward, and in possession of the correct insignia. We had to go way further toward the engine than any of us were comfortable with to find an open car, but there were grownups milling around up toward the engine, so we figured it was not just parked for the night. The back cars were filled with cattle, and Doug assured us that they weren't likely to just leave them sitting there.
At this point there was a lot of "Are you sure?" and "What if it goes off in another direction?", but in the end, we crawled into an even stinkier, rustier box-car and sat there, hoping that the fucking train was actually going to move, and move in the right direction, and slow down when it got to our town.
Dinner at my house was served 5:30 pm. Every night. Dinner was like the early-evening bed-check -- if you weren't there, you had better by god have notified everyone of where, and with whom, you would be taking sustenance -- because everyone knew you could DIE if you didn't eat three squares a day.
Keep in mind: Cellular phones were barely a twinkle in the eye of an unborn geek at this time, and while it's true that pay-phones only cost a dime, a collect long-distance phone call fell, in my family's valuation scheme, somewhere between King's-Ransom and kidney-donation.
So, I simply had to get home in time for dinner. Failure was not an option.
And the train began to move. Very slowly at first, and we held our breaths every time it seemed to falter, waiting for the dreadful track switch that might have us hurtling off to Oklahoma City, or Lubboch, or Santa Fe.
But no. It went right back the way we'd come.
It did, however, slow down to perfect jumping-off speed at every fucking town we'd come through on our way to Wichita, as I was shrieking "Come on! Come on! Get this thing moving!!! What TIME is it!?!?!"
I don't really remember the ride home. This, I suppose, is what happens when we are so projected into some future event (dinner, 5:30) that we don't notice what is happening in the moment.
The train slowed down for our town. Finally. At last. We considered jumping off at the West end of town, just to be certain sure, but Doug encouraged us to wait until we were closer to downtown, where we could all walk home in a leisurely manner. Since he had "saved" us, we listened, but jumped off a half-mile or so away from where we'd boarded.
I got home around 5:20.
I never played Catch the Train again.
DO NOT tell my mom.
Posted byPortlyDyke at 11:55 PM
Labels: True Stories
In Which Portly Embarasses a Groper at Woolworth's
Saturday, December 29, 2007
As you can see, #5 won out (don't worry, Pido, Petulant, and Phyd -- I'll be getting to Box-Car Portly very soon, as it came in second).
Once upon a time, long, long ago, when Portly was 24 years old . . . . . .
(In the interest of full disclosure, I must acknowledge that this incident did not actually occur in a Woolworth's store -- in reality, it occurred in a J. J. Newberry's in downtown Portland, but I wasn't sure if everyone would immediately "get" what a Newberry's was -- trust me, it's EXACTLY like a Woolworth's -- only cheesier.)
I was in Newberry's with my girlfriend. Portland's downtown NB was a three-story classic which still had wooden floors, a soda fountain/luncheonette running down one side, and was full of the "useless plastic objects" which Nancy Griffith mentions in her intro to "Love at the Five and Dime".
I have no recollection of why we had gone to Newberry's, but I do remember that we were in the office products section when this happened.
My partner was down the aisle from me a bit, leaning over to look at something on a low shelf.
I was, maybe, six feet away from her when a very tall, handsome man in a very expensive and impeccable business suit passed by behind my lover. Suddenly, she shot bolt upright and shouted: "What the hell do you think you're doing!?!"
I saw her reach out and grab the sleeve of his suit-jacket as he began to accelerate toward me in what looked like escape-mode.
My girlfriend was what is termed "conventionally pretty" -- long, long honey-colored hair, tall and leggy -- kind of femmie/athletic -- but when I looked into her beautiful face at that moment, trying to figure out what had just happened, she had been transformed into a Fury. Her eyes were blazing as she stubbornly clung to the sleeve of Mr. 6'2, 225 lbs. She jabbed the index finger of her free hand toward him and spat: "He GROPED me!"
I'm going to take a pause in the action here to fill you in. Remember that everything I've recounted so far has taken place in a matter of seconds. Counting the rest of the story below, the entire interaction was under two minutes, so I didn't get the following details until later:
When my girlfriend said that he "groped" her, she didn't mean he took a quick pinch. She meant that he inserted his hand between her legs from the back, and did a full clit-to-rectum slide -- with pressure.
My girlfriend was actually a pretty demure sort. She was closeted to everyone except me and a few very close friends who were also queer, and she would usually much rather ignore something than engage in a conflict. So, one look at her face, and the fact that she raised her voice and swore told me that something really bad must have happened.
The guy was trying to shake her off as he headed down the aisle in my direction, and I instinctively grabbed his other arm.
That's when he snarled: "Don't touch me!"
To which my girlfriend snarled back: "Don't ME touch YOU?!?!?!"
Whereupon, he began backing wildly toward the entrance of the store, dragging a dyke from each sleeve.
We were shouting to the staff people at the soda fountain and front counter as we struggled (unsuccessfully) to keep him in place: "Help! Help us stop this guy!"
This was a different era, when five and dime stores did not have "security" -- just a bunch of tired-looking middle-aged women, who stood steadfastly at their stations, displaying a panoply of expressions ranging from mild disinterest to rank fear above their uniform smocks.
I can only assume that he must have played football in college.
He dragged us both (a collective weight of 220 lbs or so) a full thirty feet to the front door, while we continued calling for help and pulling with all our might to keep him from getting away. As he stepped on the pad that activated the automatic doors at the entry, he suddenly lunged toward me and yanked his arm out of my grasp, then spun away from my girlfriend, freed himself, and ran into the crowd at the bus-mall. Not just jogging, either. Running. Serious Running. Running as if the Harpies were after him.
The thing that I recall most vividly during this whole interaction is his face. At first, he was simply astounded -- astounded that my girlfriend would dare to confront him at all.
When I saw that expression of dumbfounded amazement, I knew in an instant that this was not his "first time" -- I knew that he probably cruised through here every lunch-hour, counting on the fear his linebacker frame would induce in a lone female who had no witnesses and no support -- counting on humiliated silence and submission. I could see that he had not for an instant considered that the other woman just down the aisle would notice, or care, if he casually exercised his male privilege.
As he headed toward me in the aisle, attempting to shake my partner off, his look changed to one of derisive annoyance -- as if he was swatting at a fly -- but the moment I grabbed his other arm, things changed.
First, he hissed out his: "Don't touch me!" with all the outrage I would expect of someone who has never questioned his right to manhandle others with impunity.
When he heard my girlfriend's snarling response, and realized that we weren't letting go, his outrage dissolved into fear, crept over to terror, and then blossomed into stark fucking panic as he thrashed backward step by step, dragging us through the store.
I could almost see the dominoes falling in his head: The arrest, the headline, the agonized discussion with his wife (yes, he was wearing a wedding ring), the judge, the jury -- the public humiliation. Now, he looked like cornered animal.
He never bothered to utter a denial, or to pretend that he was innocent. He only wanted to get away -- to get away with it.
We didn't bother to chase him. One (only one) of the check-out ladies lazily inquired: "What was that all about?" When I told her, she half-shrugged, shook her head a bit, and turned away. That was all.
My girlfriend and I stood inside by the door for a few minutes. "You OK?" I asked. "Yeah. You?" she replied. I nodded. Then we just looked at each other.
It never entered my mind to ask the clerks why they hadn't helped. The collective attitude of "Let's Pretend That Didn't Just Happened" seemed monolithic, and I could even imagine bringing it up and having one of them respond to me in a Stepford Wife voice: "Man? What man? What are you talking about?"
Before I cap this story, I want to give an appreciation. You see, if this had happened a year earlier, I probably wouldn't have even considered confronting that man. However, about nine months prior to this event, I was with a friend on the bus-mall, (just a few blocks from said Newberry's, in fact) . . . .
She was a small, bird-boned woman -- a bit of a character. She dressed in a manner that was almost Victorian in its propriety, and always carried her umbrella with her, rain or shine (not a bad idea in Portland). We had been shopping together and I had stopped to peer in some window or other while she stood at the curb waiting for the bus.
You really have to imagine her to appreciate this story fully. She always stood like a well-bred English matron, feet together, folded umbrella point-down in front of her, both hands resting gently (and usually gloved) on the curve of her umbrella handle. Sort of a Mary Poppins type, at first glance.
A man came up behind her as she so stood at the curb, and pinched her on the bottom. She whirled in an instant, grabbed his shirt collar and held him at arms length as she punctuated the following speech with well-placed "thwacks" to his head and shoulders with her umbrella:
"I don't know what you (thwack!) were taught where you grew up (thwack!), but around here (thwack!), one does not (thwack!) touch a lady (thwack!) in that manner (thwack!)! So if you (thwack!-thwack!) hope to get along in civilized society (thwack!), I would suggest to you, Sir, that you Change . . . Your . . . .Ways!!" (Change. Your. Ways. being accompanied with Thwack! Thwack! and you guessed it -- Thwack!)
By this time, a small circle had formed around her and the man (who looked terrified, and now, surrounded, was darting his eyes this way and that, trying to find an escape-route from this mad-woman) said narry a word. When she finally let go of his shirt, he scrambled away like a rabbit. She then turned back toward the street, adjusted her hat, took a deep breath, and resumed her previous stance.
If I had not witnessed this encounter, I don't think I would ever have dreamed of confronting the molester at Newberry's. So, thank you, Leigh, wherever you are.
I've often wondered if it was better or worse that the Newberry Groper got away. I've wondered if the power of receiving a reverberating "NO!" and being publicly humiliated by two mouthy women who weren't afraid of causing a scene was more powerful than any court-date would have been. I feel fairly certain that he probably at least remembered this event the next time he considered sexually assaulting a stranger -- but perhaps it merely drove him deeper underground, and taught him to "be more careful" about being a practicing sexual predator.
It was impossible to discern, through the crackling static of his fear, whether anything at all registered in his brain -- anything like: "Oh my god, what am I doing? Why did I do that? I did something awful!"
I hope that it did.
In the past months, as I've witnessed and participated in discussions with rape-apologists on various comment threads, I've noticed a distinct difference between people who "get" the concept of how misogyny creates a rape-culture, and those who don't. Those who don't get it are constantly arguing degrees and circumstances, and don't seem to understand that it is an entire set of underlying assumptions and entrainments that make it possible for a man to think that an act like this is "no big deal".
Just this week, I witnessed people who claim to be "liberal" defending two men who held a woman down and cut her panties off of her in a bar because it was "just a joke". I've come to see more clearly why these people cling to such justifications -- and I believe that it simply this: Because they also want to justify other things. If they saw this assault for what it was -- a crime of power by men against a woman -- then they would have to question all sorts of things about themselves, and their abuse of power and privilege.
The longer I have looked at that incident when I was 24, the more I've become convinced that this man's actions had very little, if anything, to do with sexuality. He did it because he thought he could, and he got the message that he could from our culture.
When you get down to the heart of sexual assault, molestation, rape, etc. and simply call them crimes of abuse of power and privilege, suddenly, there's no reason to argue about degrees and circumstances. Which is why those who want to continue to practice misogyny with social sanction are constantly attempting to distract us with those arguments.
As my girlfriend and I drove home, we comforted ourselves with phrases like: "It could have been worse." "I'm glad he didn't hit you. I thought he was going to, for a second." These, too, are arguments of degrees and circumstances, and in fact, did nothing to appease the sense of violation we both felt, or to reduce the new vigilance that each of us carried every time we went into public after that.
I'm a rape and abuse survivor. The struggle to build my self-confidence and cultivate a sense of personal safety has been a long and arduous one for me, and I resent the perpetrators of every erosive experience like this that I have had in my life as an adult.
I have, however, taken a certain perverse satisfaction in the thought that he, perhaps, spent at least a couple of days wondering if we would file a complaint, or whether anyone had seen and identified him, and worrying that the cops might show up at his home or work (you can't know how many times I've wished that I had grabbed his wallet from his back pocket during that long drag to the doorway -- next time, I wouldn't hesitate).
Thank God I believe in Karma.
Posted byPortlyDyke at 8:00 PM
Labels: True Stories
Why yes, I HAVE had an interesting life -- Why do you ask?
Friday, December 28, 2007
When I needed to come up with a url for this blog, I chose:
My original intention was to fill this blog with true stories from my own life, because I had found that the vast majority of blog-posts and comments that truly moved and changed me were not objective reporting of facts and figures, nor outside perspectives (however witty or penetrating) on the "news of the day" -- but rather, personal stories that connected me with the author.
I actually DO tell personal stories here, and people seem to like them, and tonight I realized that I haven't told a tenth of the great stories that I could tell (like the Christmas Story), but I'm in a current quandary about where to start.
So, I thought I'd open it up to you, dear readers, and allow you to point me in a direction that you might enjoy. Please respond in comments, and let me know which of the following portlytruestories you might like to hear about next:
[UPDATE: I'll be linking to these stories from here as they're written.]
- Portly Does Drag
- Box-Car Portly Goes to Wichita
- The Portly Stand-Up
- Portly and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Bank Job
- In Which Portly Embarrasses a Groper at Woolworth's
- Portly's First (Real) Kiss
Let me know what you want.
Posted byPortlyDyke at 11:55 PM
The Awkward, Gangly Form of Hope
Thursday, December 27, 2007
I wrote, last August, about my perception that certain audacious political acts were a sure sign of desperation in those who want to stymie progressive action in our culture.
Tonight, I commented:
"If I could give one thing to every progressive I know, it would be more confidence in the inevitability of human evolution."
This is not rhetoric for me. It represents my deepest beliefs.
I believe that progressive, expansive attitudes/action -- attitudes and action that lead us to ever-increasing connection with other humans, other beings, our planet, and the Universe that we live in -- are the natural trajectory of our evolutionary path.
I want to bottle that somehow, and give a big dose of it to every human I know.
I've noticed, lately, that many people near my own age have been popping up with the question: "What happened to us? We used to be so idealistic! We were going to change the world!"
I've noticed, lately, that many people older than I have been popping up with the question: "What can I do? I'm old. I'm glad I won't be around to see the fallout from this mess."
I've noticed, lately, that many people younger than I have been popping up with the question: "What can I do? I just have to deal with the crap these other generations have left for me."
I think that, in this culture, we are trained to believe that idealism, optimism, and hopefulness is the bailiwick of the young and the foolish.
I say: Fuck that.
For all progressives out there, regardless of age, who have swallowed the numbing drug of ennui/apathy/disenchantment, I want to say: "Buck up. Don't you recognize the screams of dying dinosaurs when you hear them? "
The people who want to drag us back to previous eras of oppression will not win the next election. They won't. They know it.
Isn't it time we know it?
Isn't it time that we stop acting like an entrenched, embattled minority, and step forward to act with the integrity and idealism that we want our government leaders to embody?
I want to encourage you to nurture your hope, your idealism, and your vision for the way the world can be -- to consciously feed this part of you, every day, as you would nourish a beloved child -- to vote, not for a candidate who is considered "electable", but for a candidate who actually represents your vision.
One of the things that I was painfully aware of during the 2000 and 2004 elections was this: Most progressives weren't really voting "for" anyone -- they were voting "against" someone.
Given what I understand of energy-dynamics, this simply isn't effective -- as the old saying goes: "Fighting for Peace is like Fucking for Birth-Control."
In my lifetime, I've witnessed: JFK's assassination, the Watts Riots, the Vietnam War, Watergate, Reagonomics, a major recession, several stock-market dips that everyone knew would destroy us, the First Gulf War, 9/11, the War in Afghanistan, the War in Iraq, etc., etc., etc..
In my lifetime, I've witnessed the vagaries of many economic and political cycles, and the surge and counter-surge of social movements that have changed the roles of people of color, women, and queers in daily life:
- When I was six months old, the Supreme Court declared that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional. When I was five years old, JFK created the EEOC, but interracial marriage was still illegal in 16 states until I was 11.
- When I started High School, all female students at my school were required to wear dresses to school. When I graduated High School, I was wearing patched blue-jeans and leather moccasins that I made myself.
- When I came out to myself as a lesbian, Homosexuality was still listed as a mental illness in the DSM. Today, my alma-mater has an entire section on their website for LGBTQ resources.
I believe that they changed because individual human beings had the audacity to remain hopeful, idealistic, and alive -- that they practiced their integrity, and insisted upon their vision, and refused the easy out that is despair.
It doesn't matter how old, or how young, you are. It matters that you remain engaged.
The world that you want to live in is possible.
And if that strikes you as completely idealistic -- sappy -- wev -- then take a big old slug from Portly's Everlasting Jug of Possibility, and give up your fashionable pessimism, already.
The Awkward, Gangly Form of Hope
Hope is a teenager
who never learned to be cool,
or how to slouch with feigned indifference
against the lockers of my heart.
Instead, it drops its books
and stumbles into strangers --
pushes its glasses into place,
and proceeds to class despite all odds.
The popular kids may pass with derisive stares,
with skin-deep beauty that cannot hide their fear.
Hope just keeps gaffing its way along,
unfashionable, clumsy, embarrassingly authentic.
© Carol Steinel 2007
Posted byPortlyDyke at 11:20 PM
Premature Cat Blogging
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Posted byPortlyDyke at 10:19 PM
A Portly True Christmas Story
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Once upon a time, I knew this rather interesting lesbian couple.
They were both daughters of Christian preachers from very strict denominations (must be something in the communion wafers).
They were both very active politically -- they were leaders in the lesbian-community where I lived, espousing extremely progressive, queer-positive, feminist values, fighting all sorts of -isms in that hands-on way that I admire, and both were slightly older than I at a time when a few years seemed to make more difference than it does to me now.
One of them was what might be termed a "nice girl" -- a quality which can be very comforting and appealing, but which she had realized was actually only 25% natural to her -- the other 75% having resulted from ingrained cultural entrainment as a "preacher's kid".
Her therapist (we all had therapists in those days) had suggested that she start exercising the muscles of her "bad girl", in order to come into balance, and the therapist challenged her to do three "bad girl" things before the end of the year.
One of these "bad girl" things is the story I'm about to tell.
A few days before Christmas, Nice Girl approached me and my (then) lover and asked for our assistance in her current bad-girl project. She (preacher's kid) and her partner (also preacher's kid) had devised a scheme for bad-girl action, but they needed accomplices. My lover and I were both more of the 75% bad/25% nice-girl persuasion, so of course we said yes.
This was the plan:
She and her partner would dress in full angelic regalia (white chintz gowns, tinsel-wrapped halos, and gauzy wings), and we would drive around to various outdoor locations which they had already scouted, where we would perform bad-girl feminist "actions". They needed a driver (since their gowns were all flowy and shit and possibly gas-pedal impeding), and a photographer -- which is were my lover and I came in.
I volunteered to drive, since I'm fairly clueless with a camera.
Once it was fully dark on Christmas Eve, we set out in a foreign make compact station wagon, I at the wheel, my lover in the passenger seat, and the two angels crammed in the back, their wire halos bumping the ceiling, with their stash of "action" supplies awkwardly stacked between them. The two soon-to-be bad girls guided us through the streets to the proposed site of our first action -- a full on, nearly life-sized plastic creche arrangement on a well-lit front lawn.
I must say, I was a bit daunted. The house lights indicated that someone was probably home, and the lawn dazzled with lights of the twinkly/Christmasy persuasion in addition to a very prominent halogen streetlight on the corner of the property. As we passed, I slowed down in what I hoped would be a convincing mimicry of "just out to see the decorations", and then pulled down the block a bit, where I parked in the shadows.
In my best film-noir mode, I adjusted the rear-view so that I could see both of the angels in the back seat and said, authoritatively: "OK. Here's what we're going to do. We're going to circle the block again, and get a better look at whether they're home, and if so, whether they're in the front room or anywhere they can see us easily. If it's clear, you two jump out, do the action and get your asses back to the car. THEN we circle the block once more and if no one's on the lawn because they heard or saw us, we snap the photo. Got it?"
Peering into the rear-view, I saw Nice Girl's eyes widen in awe. "You've done this before . . . . "
Well, no, actually, not exactly this, but I had done things like this before. I bit my cheek to keep from laughing. She just looked so earnest.
We proceeded with the plan. Drove around the block. Two very jittery angels jump out, do the action, plummet back toward the vehicle, and jump in -- then we circle and get the picture. I think we hit about ten nativity scenes that night, including one on the street which was most infamous for its XDX (Xmas Decoration Xcess -- you know -- the street that every town/city has, whimsically called "Wonderland" or "Candy Cane Lane" or "Festival of Lights"?) .
And when we were through, this is the earth-shatteringly bad thing we had done:
We then retired to their cozy manse for hot-chocolate.
You're scared of me now, aren't you.
Posted byPortlyDyke at 1:23 AM
Merry Christmas --There, I said it.
Monday, December 24, 2007
Posted byPortlyDyke at 1:41 PM
Tidbit Por Mitt
Sunday, December 23, 2007
I promised I'd get back to blogging daily, and so I shall -- here is my daily tidbit (don't worry, I'm not going to deluge you with video nothingnesses):
Posted byPortlyDyke at 11:44 PM
Portly Dyke's Guide to Things That Do Not Exist
Saturday, December 22, 2007
(Please update your records)
A) Graduate from MSU (Making Shit Up), and then
B) Go around distributing their Master's Thesis from MSU as if it is fact . . .
Well, that really pisses me off.
This technique is called "The Big Lie"
Case in point: There is no "War on Christmas" -- it doesn't exist. It never did exist. There are no brigades of people vandalizing Creche scenes across the nation or participating in gang assaults on individuals who say "Merry Christmas" on public transit.
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”~ Joseph Goebbels
"It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously." ~ Mein Kampf
Case in point: There is no "Gay Agenda" -- it doesn't exist. It never did exist. There are no queer parents kidnapping their children and forcing them to enter homosexual-indoctrination programs, and no school administrators attempting to shut down student organizations that promote acceptance of heterosexuality.
Case in point: There are no "WMDs in Iraq". They don't exist. They never did. I think this needs no further illustration.
Case in point: There are no "Liberal Fascists" -- they don't exist. They never did. There are no true liberals who are advocating wire-tapping, illegal imprisonment, false arrest, or allowing one person to become supreme leader of the entire government in case of an "emergency" -- and all for the "Greater Good" -- a justification used again and again by Fascist regimes. (Under National Socialism, Hitler used this justification for all four of these activities.)
So, the next time someone wants to toss these MSU phrases around at you, I suggest that you say:
"Well, I'd be glad to talk to you about the [War on Christmas/Gay Agenda/Liberal Fascists], but first, we're going to have to establish whether Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy exist or not. You better pee first. I have a feeling it's going to be a long conversation."
(I'm guessing the whole WMDs thing probably won't come up --even the staunchest winger seems to avoid the subject these days, but if it does, the phrase above should work just fine.)
This has been another educational moment and Rebuttal-Readiness tool from PortlyDyke.
Posted byPortlyDyke at 12:00 PM
Friday, December 21, 2007
Well, some of you may be glad to hear that one of my Winter Solstice pledges was to return to daily blogging.
For those of you who don't have a clue what it might mean to actually "celebrate" the Solstice, read Jeff Fecke's post over at Shakesville.
In the past, celebration of the Winter Solstice for me often meant sitting with others in some kind of sacred circle. In recent years, my Winter Solstice celebrations have usually been solitary by choice.
The pleasure of tuning into the Solstices and Equinoxes, the full and new moons, is the pleasure of touching a part of me that is purely physical/chemical/animal. I like acknowledging the cycles of the planet that I live on, and the solar system that contains it. It helps me make sense of my own cycles.
So tonight, at 10:08 PST, I was out in the wild December wind, preparing to put a Madrona log that I had carved a few months earlier into the fire, trying to sense that moment when the Earth began to tilt in a new direction in relation to the Sun.
No matter where you are right now on this planet, our mutual status as terrestrial residents gives us this shared experience. You may be moving from Summer towards Winter, or Winter towards Summer, but we are moving together.
Posted byPortlyDyke at 11:23 PM
Entertainment While I Work On a Real Post
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
I love the Internet.
h/t to oddjob -- via The Daily Dish
"Not Much of a Hunter" -- Hysterical!
Posted byPortlyDyke at 1:44 PM
The Deity Pulls My Ass Out of the Flames . . . Again
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
If you haven't subscribed to the mrdeity.com podcast yet, I have only four words (and six punctuation marks) for you:
What were you thinking?!?!?!
Posted byPortlyDyke at 12:01 AM
Maybe If I Throw Something Shiny at Them . . .
Monday, December 17, 2007
. . . . . They won't notice that I haven't blogged all week.
In keeping with the spirit of the season, and my hopelessly confused cultural roots, I give you: Yiddish Rudolph:
Posted byPortlyDyke at 12:34 PM
I Comes and I Goes, Don't I?
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Just a quick note to let everyone know that I haven't fallen into a pit. "Work" -- that ever so inconvenient thing -- has been keeping me busy this week.
In the meanwhile, here's a little something in keeping with the spirit of the season (I'd embed it if I could).
Posted byPortlyDyke at 11:48 PM
To Sir, With Love
Saturday, December 8, 2007
If gender-stereotypes don't exist anymore . . . why am I still getting called "Sir"?
In recent discussions of my "Overheard at Safeway" (posted here and at Shakesville), some commenters said that they had been raised "gender-neutral" (one even referred to the "gender-neutral police"). Others posited that their male and female offspring were "just different" from day one, which seems to support the concept of innate differences between biologically male and biologically female humans.
Now, I am definitely "biologically female". I check out chromosomally and everything -- so why am I still getting called "Sir"?
(Warning -- some photos below may be NSFW.)
Exhibit A -- this is a photo of me snapped in September of this year (for Kate Harding's very excellent BMI illustration project):
Looking at this photo, you will undoubtedly notice right away that I am "obese" (I kid, of course -- but the BMI doesn't-- I'm obviously at death's door -- OK, I kid, again. Sorry -- this shit just cracks me up!).
You may have also noticed that I have short hair, and that I have a rather noticeable set of tatas (those are the things that are making bulges outward from my upper torso, and which gave rise to the now-infamous TWH[tm] -- "Titty-Wrap Hug").
For those of you not "in the know" lesbionically, I am what is known as a "butchy" dyke.
Let me make it clear here that I am not a "stone butch", but I'm pretty butchy, and I always have been pretty butchy. It's been reported that I am "not butchy enough" for some dykes, and "too butchy" for others.
Que sera, sera.
(As a side-note, I just realized that when you include the word butchy many times in a single paragraph, it starts to look very strange. Butchy. Butchy. Butchy.)
There's the set-up.
The other day, when I was at the store, I was called "sir". Again.
As is usually the case, the person who sirred me, upon hearing me speak, became instantly flustered, apologized quickly, and then looked away -- as hard as they could.
This is not the first time that I have been called "sir" (nor, I imagine, the last). I used to get this a lot more than I do now, and I've pondered whether it was because my hair is slightly longer now than it used to be, whether I dress ever-so-slightly less butchy than in the past, or whether, since I gained weight, my tatas are even less avoidable than they were when I was a skinny little shit.
However, I don't think any of that is really the source of the gender-projection dysphoria that I seem to produce in strangers.
Here are some pictures of me from my past (click to enlarge):
During the time that these pictures were taken, I was sirred at least once a month (on average), even when I had hair down to my ass.
What you cannot see in any of these photos are these:
Face it -- they're kind of hard to miss, and they have been with me since age 13, at approximately the same size and shape (disclaimer: altitudinal coordinates have changed over time).
Do not click to enlarge this photo -- it's just not necessary.
My hypothesis is that it is not my hair, facial construction, or body type that results in me being genderized by strangers via a "masculine" form of address.
I am very short, my voice ranges from high-pitched to "annoyingly-squeaky" (depending on how much I've been smoking and how excited/upset I am), and my fashion choices (I'm using the term "fashion" very loosely here) are decidedly gender-neutral -- usually sweat-pants and a fleece shirt -- 90% of the time (OK, I'll come clean -- more like 97% of the time)
So, I don't think it is my physical appearance or dress -- I believe it is my manner and my mannerisms.
I speak loudly. I am brash and direct. My natural stance is "feet apart, arms akimbo" (think "Stands-with-a-Fist" -- but only if you can avoid thinking of Kevin Costner at the same time). I tend to look people directly in the eye, to stomp when I walk, and my stride is long and forward-moving rather than short and side-swaying.
And it's always been that way:
So how did this happen?
I've decided that it simply cannot be "Nurture": I was raised in a culture and a time when gender roles were far more stringently applied than they are today.
I was constantly admonished to keep my legs/feet together (even though no one bothered to explain to me that to do otherwise was either an open declaration of my slutitude, or an attempt to emulate a man).
I was repeatedly lectured on the appropriate toys/activities/body postures/vocal tones that fit with the following descriptors: "Feminine", "Girl-Stuff", and "Lady-Like".
Somehow, it just didn't take.
I'm going to argue again that the gender roles and expectations that many people would like to attach to chromosomal sexual status CAN NOT be scientifically proven as genetically pre-disposed -- even if you do extensive studies about how humans are supposed to be able to identify gender by gait patterns -- because gender-expectations and gender-roles are cultural, Cultural, CULTURAL!!!
(Oh, and have I mentioned that they're cultural?)
Let's take a fairly external item: Clothing.
Even though fashion in clothing is a phenomenon which is incredibly mercurial, changing literally year-to-year within our culture, there remain clothing-based stereotypes which invoke gender-roles and expectations, such as: "Who wears the pants in this family, anyway?"
Ask any English-speaking person in western culture what that means. They can probably tell you. (Hint: It has to do with Patriarchy.)
Even though pants are relatively new to western culture (introduced in Europe as an evolution of the "hose" worn by men in the 15th century), it has only been within my lifetime that the thought of women wearing pants in the US was down-graded from scandalous/possibly-culture-destroying to acceptable-but-not-really-feminine. (The demurely crossed ankles that you see in the photo above -- the one with me pouting on the porch -- are those of my grandmother in 1964, who wore "slacks" exactly once in her lifetime -- and only after my grandfather passed away, cuz God knows that would have killed him.)
You may want to say: "Oh, hey, Portly Dyke -- now that's 'a bridge too far'! ;) No one really thinks that pants are reserved for men anymore!"
Google the phrase: "women wear pants", and take a look at the ongoing debate about whether good Xtian women can wear a specific article of clothing without incurring God's wrath by violating Deuteronomy 22:5.
Oh, and just for good measure? Why don't you suggest to some "Masculist" that he "get back to his roots" and put on a pair of tights? I double-dog dare you.
Never mind that, at the time Deuteronomy 22:5 was written, the men in question weren't wearing pants (not to rub it in or anything, but they were wearing dresses), and a woman wearing pants wouldn't have had a problem with being mis-identified as a man and being punished for cross-dressing, so much as being annihilated because she was mistaken for a Scythian.
See, it's cultural. It's Cultural. It's CULTURAL!!!!!!
Gender identification/roles/expectations are incredibly flexible constructs. They change from generation to generation, from country to country, and from tribe to tribe.
Still don't believe me? Tell me: who's the man and who's the woman?
We all know that graceful, swaying motions, make-up to enhance the eyes and mouth, elaborate jewelry and headdresses are the province of women, don't we?
Tell it to the Wodaabe:
I "read" as "sir" in this culture, because of this culture's gender-role coding. I don't "cue" correctly for this culture's expectation of what a woman is supposed to sound like, walk like, act like, dress like. I don't cross my arms over my breasts when a man stares at them. I'm more likely to stare back and when he finally looks up, say: "Are you lookin' at me?" in my best DeNiro.
Truth be known, I don't even mind being "sirred" -- in fact, I prefer it to being "ma'amed" (which I think, sadly, testifies to my own internalized and culturally-coded misogyny).
I want to repeat again, in case anyone hasn't gotten this yet -- I'm not saying that it is impossible that there may be innate differences between biological males and biological females. I am saying that, until we can really perceive and understand our own cultural biases, assumptions, and projections about gender-roles, I don't believe that there is any way to perform empirical research on what, if any, those differences might be.
Which probably means that we need to have an extra-terrestrial to do the research for us:
Posted byPortlyDyke at 10:30 PM
Overheard at Safeway
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Yesterday, I was walking past the Starbuck's that is inside my local ginormous multi-national-corporation-owned grocery store (Starbuck's is in there because, apparently, it has been scientifically proven that if you are ever more than three blocks from a Starbuck's you will die. Horribly.)
Anyway, as I was wending my way through this Matryoshka of corporate enfoldments, my ear was caught by the following conversation between a mother and her barely-verbal child (maybe 18 months old, if that):
Mommy: "No, that's the little girl bear. See her pink pajamas?"
Baby: "Bahy Bear."
Mommy: "No, that's the girl bear. See, she has a pink bow!"
Baby: "Bahy Bear!"
Mommy: "Honey, that's a girl bear. Look! Isn't she pretty?"
Baby: "Grr Bear."
Mommy: "That's right! Good!"
Poor kid. She was probably just trying to say "Bye Bear!" as she attempted to express her radical Indigo-Child rage at the appalling love-spawn of corporate-whoredom and conspicuous-consumerism that is "The Bearista".
Then, when mommy proceeded with a full-on gender indoctrination mind-control program, Progressive Baby[tm] finally responded with the appropriately savage: "Grrrrrr!!! Bear!" -- her tiny lip curling in disgust above perfect, pearly, milk-teeth.
Well, that's how it went down in my head, anyway.
I had just come from my office, where I had read Melissa's post about the critical importance of gender-appropriate microscopic color in scientific research conducted by children, so I was glad to see the incoming generation fighting the good fight by resisting these stereotypes.
Now, if only the caffeine in Mommy's triple-shot would wake her up.
It's well-documented that this type of programming begins from the very beginning of a child's life.
I raised two boys, and have had many discussions with other parents about whether there really is an inherent difference between male and female children-- but I believe that gender programming begins so early, and is stressed so strongly in our culture that I don't think we can ever know the real answer to that question.
I would even go so far as to say that gender expectations, roles, and programming begin long before the child arrives -- witness one of the most frequent questions a pregnant woman gets asked: "Do you know if it's a boy or a girl? What are you hoping for?" -- and the common response: "We're hoping for a boy/girl, but . . . ."
A friend of mine who desperately wanted to bear a child of her own said to me (after her third miscarriage) that this kind of talk really pissed her off -- she said: "I'm just hoping for a child. What difference does the gender make?"
Indeed -- what difference does the gender make?
In a culture that clings to the notion that men and women are innately different, which stubbornly insists that certain activities, color-schemes, careers, etc. are the "natural" province of one gender, and which actively steers children into "gender-appropriate" arenas or outright restricts their access to "gender-inappropriate" arenas, gender makes a lot of difference.
The very fact that we can say that we "hope for" a boy or a girl indicates to me that attachment to gender roles, and active programming to convince us that males "are" this way and females "are" that way, runs very, very deep -- and that most people are rarely even aware of it. I honestly don't think the Mommy at Starbucks had any consciousness at all of what she was doing -- I believe that she probably thought it was "natural".
However, the authentic resistance of Progressive Baby[tm] reminded me that gender roles in our society are not some innate, universal human reality that arise from "how men/women ARE" -- they have to be constantly enforced and reinforced -- and even an 18-month old can see the absolutely arbitrary nature of the color-code that is being shoved down her throat -- she can see quite easily that the bears are identical in every respect -- only their outfits genderize them.
You may say: "Well what's the danger in pink microscopes and sewing machines for little girls, and blue microscopes and footballs for little boys? Where's the harm?"
No harm, I guess -- to offer various toys to kids -- except that I believe that when these items are specifically separated as being "for girls" and "for boys" -- they are telling kids: "This is your role."
I find it interesting that the gender separation at the Discovery Channel toy-site goes like this: No genderization at all from Infant to Age 4, then, gender-based categories for ages 5-7 and 8-12, then just "Teens and Adults". (I suspect that this is because they figure by age 12, the programming is either complete, or will never take.)
Imagine for a moment if we saw a website that had separate shopping areas "White boys - Age 8 to 12" and "Hispanic boys - Age 8 to 12" which did not contain the same toys. Let's say the white section had things like ATM machines and electronic 20 questions games, while the hispanic section had things like the "landscaping design kit" and miniature lawn-mowers, with a few cross-over items like the "Cube World Set", which touted:
- Set includes 2 cubes: Handy & Dusty or Mic & Hans
- Each stick character has a job. Handy (purple) is a handyman, Dusty (green) is a cleaner, Mic (pink) is a singer, and Hans (blue) is a fitness freak
You may have a butt-clenchy moment there, as I compare gender-entrainment to racism. However, I believe that the connection is apt.
Effective Master/Servant oppression requires entrainment of both the prospective master and the prospective servant. It also creates an amazing tension, as the Master class recognizes, at some deep level, that it needs the Servant class, and goes to great length to convince the Servant class that this "need" is reciprocal (which is why the notion of an independent woman is so threatening to those who remain invested in Patriarchy).
I'd posit that, because of this, there are subtle differences between Master/Servant oppression (eg. racism/misogyny/classism) and Eradication oppression (eg. homophobia/antisemitism). The primary message of Master/Servant structures is "Know your place", while the primary message of Eradication structures is "Don't be that."
In either these structures, if you don't obey the prime directive, the result is usually the same: 1) Intimidation/Suppression, and when that doesn't work, 2) Violence, and when that doesn't work, 3) Expulsion and/or Extermination (so, if you resist, you end up at Eradication anyway. Joy).
I digress -- those last two paragraphs are another post entirely.
Back to Starbucks in Safeway -- that "dweam wifin a dweam": As I considered Mommy's mounting insistence, and Baby's mounting resistance (and then seeming acquiescence) I wondered: "Why the fuck does it matter so much that this tiny child get the roles right?"
I think that it matters so much because, of all the oppression structures that exist, Patriarchal Misogyny is the one with a global near-equity in terms of population ratios of Master-to-Servant, and it is an oppression structure that resides in the heart of the most intimate and pivotal place of individual life -- the home. So if she isn't groomed for her role, or if she doesn't adopt that role, the Master would feel it -- keenly, at the center of his life -- and the Patriarchy would, indeed, crumble.
Keep on keeping on, Progressive Baby.
Posted byPortlyDyke at 9:35 PM
Thank Mr. Deity!
Saturday, December 1, 2007
I had no idea what the hell I was going to blog about tonight. I'm doggie-dog tired after an all-day seminar and continuing to tweak the new website, but then . . . . . . a miracle!!!
There really is a God.
Posted byPortlyDyke at 10:09 PM