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Archive for the ‘Gender’ Category

I found this post in my draft folder from 2010. I guess it felt too raw to post it then, but I find it kind of interesting now. So here it is.

I went to see a phenomenal play tonight. It was “The Wake” at the Kirk Douglass Theater. It lasts another week, so if you are in the LA area, go see it!

This is the second time in six months where my life has been only exactly portrayed on stage. Not sure what that is about. The first was “Next to Normal,” a broadway musical about a woman with bipolar and the way her illness controls her family. She had this beautiful sweet husband who tried to take care of her, but couldn’t.

Tonight’s play was about Ellen, a journalist in New York City, totally passionate about politics. She and her family and friends debate the Bush years as they passed by (media images were projected onto a white frame around the front of the stage. At the same time, Ellen is going through a crisis in her personal life. She’s living with a charming junior high teacher, brother of her best friend. There is a ton of affection between the two, but the love and attraction is more on his side. He helps her “tone down the intensity” so she can fit into family situations. Then she meets a woman totally captivated by her intensity. They experience this huge emotional/intellectual connection. Ellen tells Danny about Amy and for awhile she lives with Danny and sees Amy, but eventually she has to choose.

A subplot centers around Judy, a fifty year old Humanitarian worker who grew up poor in Kentucky and is having her own conflict with her family. She shows up on Thanksgiving from Sierra Leone and Ellen’s family moans b/c she is such a bummer. At the end of the play she talks about how frustrated she gets that all Americans think that life should be fair and that things will turn out for the good. I have heard the latter so much when I talk about my job situation that I just want to scream. There are no guarantees in this life.

I really don’t want to spoil the end of the play but because I don’t think I actually have any readers in LA, I will. Ellen ends up alone. I sobbed. Again I sobbed. Happens a lot these days. [I cried on the phone to my advisor today–so embarrassing. He called to say they were thinking about asking me to teach next year at my soon-to-be alma mater and he had told them of course I wouldn’t want it b/c it was too paltry a sum. Well, I said, paltry is more than 0.]

I got dolled up to go to the play because I was so hoping to meet and chat about the play afterwards with folks. The website for the theater mentioned expressly their Friday night dj, bar, and mingling with the actors time. Before the show, I watched everybody come in–all already in groups. Almost everybody was heterosexual couples. A few parents with a daughter trailing behind. A few middle-aged lesbian couples. A few friends. Almost everybody a couple of decades older than me. I sat with a slight smile on my face b/c I was just so happy to be there and anticipated discussing the play afterwards with someone. I was alone but filled with quiet happiness.

During the intermission, I actually stood at the very edge of the street corner while a taxi flashed by and thought “I don’t want to do that to some poor car driver.” The play had accessed that pain that is so close to the surface these days. So much for making new friends.

What affected me so? Ellen speaks to the audience upon occasion and explains that she goes back over and over the events leading up to the division of her family looking for her blind spot, but she cannot find it. This is the era when she bemoaned Bush’s blindness and yet cannot find her own. She tried so hard to do the right things and cannot.

The authenticity of her passion is questioned personally and politically in a very nuanced way (authenticity can be used as a blunt sledgehammer, but not so here). She rants and raves about her anger over the political situation and how Bush was using the fear of 9-11 to manipulate the country, hurting two people who expressed the “real” fear they had had at 9-11. Someone questions whether her “intellectual” anger is the same as someone who feels anger and fear everyday going to work near Ground Zero.

She and her best friend both want to be authors. Only Ellen is able to make a career out of it. Her best friend has to “settle” with a business job and asks Ellen not to make her feel guilty for it. It is heart-wrenching enough not to define herself as a writer anymore.

There is no real hope at the end of the play. Ellen and Judy discuss Ellen’s heartbreak. She asks when she will ever find the bottom of her hurt. Judy replies that it is such an American thing to say, because it comes from someone who never expected to fall in the first place. Judy worked as a security agent in refuge camps, where it was her job to try to distribute food and shelter “fairly” to people who did not expect fairness. In the United States, fairness is expected. Judy and Ellen, too, talk about whether or not American democracy works, whether it is a system designed to always protect the rich, or whether it’s structures are good and it is improving, despite the problems it has. Judy says that Americans always think life will work out for the good.

I sat in the lobby and cried a bit more. Almost everyone was leaving fairly quickly. I saw the one guy in the play catch up with two very pretty young women who were there to meet him. I stayed a little longer. The DJ I learned was out sick and soon I was the only person in the lobby. I got to talk to the three of the actresses. I was animated and excited and they seemed to appreciate my different comments. I was able to comment on a particular acting choice I’d noticed that I thought was quite nice. Yet, they soon turned away and it was time for me to go off on my own. I wandered down to the associated restaurant/bar and went in. But the bar was mobbed and everyone was in clusters and the women were all tall, in high heels, and hanging on men’s words and I just couldn’t face it. I didn’t know how to break in.

So I went and laid in the car seat and thought about why we still live when things will not necessarily work out for the good. I thought about this deep and consuming well of loneliness that I have had for so long and how it can be covered with certain moments but never for long. I wondered if I would have felt more or less lonely if people I knew had gone with me to the play. I had warned my parents and gma away b/c there was supposed to be a “hot seduction scene” (it was in fact intellectually hot and gorgeous, but I don’t think it was anything they would have been disturbed by–that is, if they could handle such love between two women). Some of the greatest periods of loneliness I’ve felt is going to something like that and then not being able to discuss it with the people I am with. What if others had been with me, who I knew could have discussed it? Then I feared not being able to keep up with their insights or make my own comments as profound as I knew theirs would be. Though that fear is so much less important than the juggernaut of loneliness.

What is this loneliness???? As a kid in a super-rural place in a family that was independent and fighting, I felt so isolated and like no one really knew me. I still remember how I hid myself at school, like I felt the personal details of my life were too precious to be just shared willy-nilly. And then I started to open up…and nobody noticed and yet it felt better. I had to teach myself to be less serious at school (school was always to work and playtime was after) so I could make friends. I did make friends, yet I was always the third or fifth wheel.  And even so, I held people at arms length who might have become closer friends.

At the end of high school, I left behind everyone. I sort of presumed that folks didn’t want me around or want to keep in touch. True? Or my own self-absorption? At the end of undergrad, I left behind almost everyone. I wonder what will happen at the end of graduate school. There wasn’t all this social media when I finished undergrad.

There have been many times I’ve been alone and completely satisfied and happy. Yet there is this particularly artistic loneliness–when I have seen a great play or movie and it touches me deeply–that I do not know how to soothe.

It is a saying in Women’s studies that the personal is political. I never understood it so well as this week. I’m trying to figure out my sexuality, which involves this very intimate part of myself that I am not used to exploring nor am I used to giving it freedom to range. So this very private part of me pokes around trying to figure things out, but when my parents figure it out, they are so shocked and horrified. I keep thinking it is just about the direction of my love, and yet it is so much more than that. Marriage is a huge social convention. Never has this become more obvious than when I begun to try to dissolve one.

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I really feel like I’m coming to all the gender discussions late. Growing up in uber-conservative Arizona made me a little scared of the Women’s Studies departments. And you know, I was probably running away from my identity–like somewhere in my psyche I knew that as soon as I started hanging out with aware women I would wake up to my real sexuality. And that was damn scary. This avoidance continued into grad school. It was also partly because women in history didn’t interest me in the way that men did–because it seemed like men did everything cool. So not true. Now I dearly love the women I’ve discovered through my diss and only wish I understood gender more thoroughly in my analysis. [I haven’t been talking a lot about my awakening on this blog out of respect for my estranged husband. It’s now so much a part of my life that I can’t keep it in and continue with this blog.]

That was one of my goals for the summer–to read some books about black women’s feminism.

So, to get to the purpose of the post (because it is impossible for me to start discussing anything without a personal caveat/background info…bad habit on my part). Today’s sermon by a guest preacher at my Grandma’s Methodist church gave a tribute to fathers. Not surprising, given that it is Father’s Day.

But the way he framed it got my brain really churning about the meaning and purpose of gender–what our society thinks it is and also what it should/could be.

The pastor opened up by quoting Obama (“don’t know what you think of our president these days” he begins) from his Father’s Day speech a couple of years ago noting that children desperately need a male presence in the house. Question number 1, is this true? Or is it the case that children need stability and love? Can two women raise healthy sons and daughters? One of my favorite blogs right now is “Lesbian Dad.” Her and her wife’s kids sound pretty healthy to me.

The preacher mentioned his experience in the local high schools through mentoring programs and how often the “at risk” kids come from single parent homes. Is this a correlation? What are the factors being correlated? The lack of a masculine presence? Or a cycle of children raising children? Or poverty? Or a combination of these and many other factors?

The pastor chose to see it as the lack of a specifically male presence. He then related this to the need for us to understand God as a “Father” in order to experience Him as a relational being. He recount his experiences in seminary breaking down the boundaries of patriarchy. In order to purge patriarchy from Christian discourse, he and his friends decided to change the trinity from Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to Creater, Deliverer, and Sustainer. He said that this change from relationship words to role words was the emotional equivalent to him of changing his greeting from “Thanks, Dad” to “Thank you, Breadwinner.”

The world is unarguably a gendered place. We can describe it as such. Should it continue to be so? Or rather, should sex and gender be so closely tied to each other? I remember a couple of years ago listening to an interview with a lesbian couple with many children and how they taught their kids that there were different kinds of energy–masculine and feminine (or maybe they gave them different names)–and that different individuals have those energies in different proportions. Cannot a woman teach a young boy how to be in the world? How to live and move and have his being? How to express the truth of his insides in a way that is considerate of others, responsible to society, and full of integrity?

See Lesbian Dad’s “Baba’s Day Proclamation.” One tidbit:

Whereas Baba is a wonderful parent whether or not she’s socially recognized or understood, but the truth of it is that things will be a heckuva lot easier for her kids if more people considered, ideally even appreciated, that the spectrum of gender, and therefore quite naturally the roles “mother”  and “father,”  includes a rich band of people smack dab in the middle;

Ok, so to the next question. Do we understand God more intimately by calling “Him” a “Father?” What do we understand through that that we would not by calling “Him” Creator? One of my great spiritual questions these days is just who is this “god” we speak of so much. I know lots of attributes of “God” and lots of roles He inhabits…but this feels like just so much facade or decoration. People look at me funny when I ask this question and rarely give me more than the list of names or attributes. So i gotta figure out a better way of asking the question. I feel like the preacher’s argument is a circular one–God is a relational god, so to understand him, we need to call him Father. Or the other way. Father is a relational word. God is the ultimate Father. Thus God is relational. Is this a problem of language? That the only way to understand God is to have a gendered noun for him b/c that’s the only way English understands relations? In the Filipino language (just forgot the name of it) all siblings are just siblings. You have to add an extra word to make them my male sibling or my female sibling. Now sibling and parent feel a little bit distant for us as words–but that is not necessary.

Grandma really appreciated the sermon because it made her think about how much she appreciated and loved her father, as I do mine. But I love my Dad because of the time he invested in me. Because of the ways he was different from my mom and so taught me a different way to move through the world. Not because he somehow taught me what it is to be a man. At least, I don’t think so.

My brain is in a muddle as usual.

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