"A woman is a dragon? They shall fear her" - Ursula LeGuinn, Tenahu
"You a faggot, aint you. You a man, right?"
The kids looked scared, interested, and tough. Not really insulting. I looked at them calmly and said "Yes".
Standing on the corner of 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue, I wasn't a guy, I was just a 16-year-old ci-woman with a deep voice and a different, more confident way of moving than these kids had seen. But I wasn't gonna take away their learning lesson. What if I was I guy? What about it?
They didn't understand my collected calm, my lack of fear of the gang of them -- or my attractiveness to them. Kids who'd thought they'd be required to do some manly bullying stood back and whispered, confused. Out of sorts. When I got on the bus ten minutes later, they were still a worried cluster down the street, whispering. I hoped I helped at least one of them come out.
Image: Mark Chandler via Flickr
When I began exploring women sexually (again) at age 17, I joined a women's sexuality consciousness- raising group and apparently spoke of my partners in gender-neutral terms. One day Karen, a group member, wanted to "Do Lunch". After twenty minutes of twittering away she finally came out with it. "Well Shain, I noticed you sleep with women. And you know I gave it some thought, I really did, you're so sexy, you know, androgynous, but I decided no, I'm not going there," she said.
Going? Going where? You anemic vapid imbecile, did you think I was going to fuck you? Do you think because I'm bisexual I automatically want to sleep with any woman? Do you actually imagine I'm excited, thrilled by your your self-titillating confession, you sexless colossal bore? And if she starts acting any more fem, I may not be able to hold down my breakfast. I guess she thinks I'm butch? Or perhaps she just doesn't know what else to do? Dear god, is she like this with men -- is it her mating ritual? Does ANYBODY find it less than strange?
No, I didn't verbally destroy quivering Karen. I said a cool "Oh", and left it hanging there. She grabbed it and stuffed into her bag of tasty fantasies, imagining she had lived dangerously. I was strong, intelligent, graceful, and physically powerful in the way a trained modern dancer is. I moved naturally, according to the functioning structure of my body, I moved with beauty and economy. It seemed some people saw this as male, because they couldn't identify it as female.
It altogether intrigued, disquieted, or threatened them.
There were physical characteristics: a lot of dark body hair, a big juicy clitoris with long lips, and a fearlessness about using muscular strength. There were personality characteristics: an acceptance of life's tough curves without flinching, dealing head on. No one ever protected me as a child, so I grew up without that piece. I had to learn to ask for help, to trust, and to need. I said what I thought, if I thought it should be said. Growing up a woman in the 1960s and early 1970s (in mainstream culture), these traits labeled you "male", with dirty whispers.
Of course I was fortunate, and I want you to remember this: there is a world for real people, and I found it in New York. It is there for you, too, a place where people value truth and know what beauty genuinely is. A place you can flourish, with a deep voice and a brilliant mind and a powerhouse sexuality all of your own. Where you can stop wondering if you're all right and
you can cherish,
and love yourself
and your life fiercely.
Image: Shain Stodt