Jul 312011

Kestryl: Sassafras, take a break from g-chatting with your butchfriend! We need to write our couples blog, err, um, our relationship blog.

Sassafras: Nice catch!

Kestryl: Huh? Are we fishing?

Sassafras: No, I was talking about your self-correction of “couple” vs. “relationship.”

Kestryl: Oh yeah, well, when I say ‘couple’ people don’t realize that we’re poly.

Sassafras: Somehow people never realize that we’re poly.

Kestryl: Isn’t it obvious?

Sassafras: I think we confuse people because we’re not dramatic.

Though we’ve mentioned, in passing, in previous columns that our relationship is both deeply committed and polyamorous, we realized we’ve never publicly discussed what our dynamic looks like.  While, in general, any single polyamorous relationship isn’t the business of anyone other than the parties involved in it, as part of our commitment to improving queer relationships throughout the world, we’ve decided to devote this week’s column to discussing how poly works for us (and how it could work for you! 😉 )

Sassafras: A winky face? Really? Are you flirting?

Kestryl : With our entire readership ;).

Sassafras: Oh boy.

Kestryl: Don’t worry, it’s just flirting. I’ve got my hands full.

Sasafras: You certainly do. We both do, in really good ways.

Kestryl: Now you’re just bragging.

Sassafras: Well….. I wouldn’t call it bragging, just celebrating.

Kestryl: Well, as we’ve said before… there is always something to celebrate.

We can’t really speak to the challenges that come with turning a monogamous relationship poly (or turning a poly relationship monogamous, for that matter) because we’ve poly  since we hooked up at that drag show over 7 years ago now.  What poly has looked like for us has ebbed and flowed, depending on each of our respective time, interest, energy, and available hotties.  Our own negotiations and boundaries have shifted over time as well.

Of course, there are as many different ways to be poly as there are poly identified folks.  For us, polyamory works because we think it’s unrealistic to expect one other person to fulfill everything we could ever want from a relationship.  We tend to each have fliratations, hookups, flings, or relationships with other people, but we have never pursued triads or shared lovers.  At this point, we’re each involved with someone long-distance—Kestryl has a European girlfriend,  and Sassafras is smitten with hir butchfriend on the West Coast.  In some ways, our additional realtionships being with people in other cities makes poly easier, though in other ways it adds complications that don’t come up with a local paramour.

Sassafras: You really love that word.

Kestryl: What, paramour?

Sassafras: Yes.

Kestryl: It’s a good word!

Sassafras: It makes me think of “paranormal,” and that that makes it sound like I’m dating  a vampire.

Kestryl: Or an alien!

Sassafras: Right, which ze’s not.  Hence: dumb word.

A lot of our tips for a poly relationship are things that we’ve already blogged about, that apply to any relationship: keep it cute, celebrate your lovers, and find ways to stay connected regardless of distance (ask Kestryl about hir international texting plan) and communicate, communicate, communicate.   As you might have noticed, communication is very important.  If you think it takes a lot of processing to have a healthy mamogomous relationship, fasten your seatbelt because a healthy poly relationship requires exponentially more–but in our opinion, the benefits are worth it.

Kestryl: I don’t know that it actually requires more communication.

Sassafras: I think it does.

Kestryl: But, if you think about it…In a monogamous relationship, after going out, you spend hours processing ‘did you flirt with that girl at the bar!?’ Whereas, in a poly relationship, you spend hours processing ‘so, what can I do with that girl I flirted with at the bar??’ It’s a queer relationship, the processing is a given.

Sassafras: That makes sense, I guess. We queers do like our processing in general.

Of course (before you even get to processing what you can do with the girl you flirted with at the bar), for a poly relationship to really work, it’s vital that you start with a negotiation of where your basic boundaires are: when it’s ok to flirt, when it’s ok to get a number, when it’s ok to make out , when it’s ok to go on a date, etc.  We have a word document that outlines what our basic boundaires are. It’s a word doc and not a pdf, because it’s a living document that we revisit every six months and alter to fit what makes sense to both of us in our relationship, and add anything that we’ve come up with to address situations that we had not previously anticipated.  It’s a short document, just about a page long– easy to remember, and not overwhelming to update, but it covers just about everything that is important for our boundaries.

Of course, no matter how thorough you are when you initially negotiate your poly relationship, you will somewhere down the line run into something that you had not anticipated. Part of successful communication is being able to work together to negotiate how the unanticipated situation fits in to your existing negotiations.  You might have different boundaries and negotiations for what happens locally vs what happens when you’re traveling, what forms of involvment  you are available for, etc.  Solid communication about boundaries and expectations is important for everyone–not just you and your partner(s)–but also anyone else you may be involved with.  A commitment to good communication helps everyone to know where they stand.

Kestryl: Remember that one girl I dated who thought poly was a waiting list?

Sassafras: She was really mad that I ‘jumped in line.’

Kestryl: She didn’t understand that it wasn’t a line, that’s not the point.

Sassafras: I know, that was unfortunate.

Kestryl: My own communication could have been better then, I suppose I learned that from her.

This brings us to another aspect of  poly relationships: you will make mistakes. Feelings will get hurt–not necessarily any more than they would in any other relationship, and not in a way that a commitment to solid communication can’t mitigate, BUT: jealousy will happen, and sometimes feelings will get stepped on.  In order to minimize the possibility for hurt feelings, we try to be particularly attentive in our negotiation to the logistics of  adding an additional relationship into one of our lives, in terms of costs in time and energy, as well as discussing what we want from additional involvements, how jealousy impacts us, and how we each best deal with the green eyed monster.

Any of these aspects of poly relationships that weve touched on–negotiations, boundaries, jealousy–could (and possibly should) merit blog posts all their own, as could a more in-depth discussion on communication strategies particular to poly relationships. We will be revisting all these topics in future columns, and we’re happy to consider any specific questions from you, our readers, as well!

Jul 242011

Photo by Syd London.

Are you ready to meet Radclyffe?  Radclyffe–or ‘John,’ as her intimates would call her– is ready to meet you!  Come welcome Radclyffe to New York this Wednesday, July 27th, 7:30pm, at Dixon Place as part of the HOT Festival!  Tickets are just $15 in advance, and you can buy them here!

I’ve been having a lot of fun developing this piece, and I can’t wait to introduce you to Victorian England’s second most notorious invert!

Jul 232011

It’s been two days and yet I’m still sitting here in complete shock at the news that I have been chosen  by Astraea Lesbian Writers Fund as an honorable mention this year. The lesbian and feminist literary community has always been my home, and to be honored so publically in this way completely takes my breath away.  I’m so grateful to Astraea and to the whole community which has and continues to support me and my work in really profound ways.

As I was finding out about receiving this award I’ve been reading articles about  the ongoing financial troubles of ‘In Other Words’ feminist bookstore in Portland Oregon. They were just forced to lay off their only two staff members and how it’s looking pretty certain that they are moving towards closure.  In Other Words has barely been hanging on for years now, but still I’m broken hearted over what I fear is the inevitable closure of what had been my home bookstore for many years.

I remember  first walking into that little storefront on SE Hawthorne and feeling like that place could be a home for me. I would wander  the store marveling at how there were all these books about my people. It never even occurred to me that one day I might be writing them. I don’t really know what they thought of my scruffy baby dyke self back then, but everyone was always incredibly nice to me. They knew I’d been homeless and the volunteers always made a point to know my name and pronoun (no matter how many times I changed it). They would ask how I was doing and in general just made me feel part of the community regardless of if I was their to window shop at books, or if  I was paying my $3 or rent yet another lesbian VHS tape that I would put myself to sleep at night watching.

flyer from 'the last word'

A couple years after first stumbling into In Other Words I was asked to take on ‘The Last Word’ which at the time was the bookstore’s monthly open mic which I turned into a monthly queer zine read and ran for three years.  The Last Word was one of my first attempts at combining community organizing and art and was a really pivotal moment for me both as an activist and an artist.  In Other Words was incredibly supportive of all my early writing. They sold each and every one of my zines and gave me my first writing award, in 2004  naming me one of Portland’s Top Emerging Writers. I’ll never forget putting on a clean shirt and going to the honorees fundraising dinner with my chosen big brother at my side. We stood out from the mostly middle aged lesbian crowd with our tattoos and facial piercings but never felt judged or out of place. I remember sitting at the table with the other honored writers dreaming that one day I would be a published author like them.

To in the same week learn that I’m receiving this  honor as a lesbian writer, and that my first home bookstore is likely heading towards closure is heartbreaking. In a day when authors are clamoring towards higher Amazon rankings, I believe we as queer authors have an obligation to recognize that independent LGBTQ and feminist  bookstores are the fertile soil that nurtures our souls and art. They are our heritage, but they are also our future and I feel it is our responsibility to support them anyway we can. It was at In Other Words where I found the types of stories I’d never seen on the shelves of mainstream corporate bookstores. It was there, that for the first time  I was able to find the stories of people like me, and where I found the encouragement and support to begin writing my own stories.

Jul 212011

To be honest, I’m conflicted about posting this blog. It doesn’t seem to me that I should have to say anything in a semi-public forum, but… it’s bound to come up eventually, and I’d rather forestall any rumors. Not that I think this would merit any rumors, but still. Here goes.

No more for me! (well, beyond what my body already produces, at least)

I quit testosterone about six months ago. Before the identity police come in, please note: quitting T does not make me any less trans, just like being on T did not make me any less butch. I’ve identified with both of those labels ever since I was a wee queer tadpole, and my use (or non-use) of hormones doesn’t change that.

A lot of factors went into this decision. First of all, I never intended to be a lifer with T. There were a few specific things I wanted from it– a lower voice and smaller hips were at the top of the list. I started taking T to further queer my gender presentation– not to normalize it. Once it got to the point that I was being read as a man in just about all contexts– and not even necessarily being read as trans in queer contexts– I knew it was time to stop. I’m butch, and I’m trans, but I’m certainly not a man.

My testosterone use was always conflicted. My first solo show, XY(T), wrestled with it, and reached a point of vague comfort by the end of the performance. I’m not sure how different that piece would look if I performed it now. I would probably have to add an epilogue. Someone should book the show, and we can find out what happens.

I’ll admit it– and I want to be clear here, I am just speaking for my own experience, and not making prescriptive statements for anyone else– it feels great. Since I quit, I have felt more energetic, more confident, more present in my own body. This may be a coincidence, and it may be psychosomatic. I’m reluctant to declare this as a causal relationship, however compelling the evidence seems to me. This does not mean that I regret the 6 years that I used the hormone– it was right for me then, and it isn’t right for me now.

I don’t think of this as “detransitioning.” There are a couple of reasons for that. First of all, I’ve always chafed under the “transitioning” terminology– I was not “pre-transition” before I started taking T, I was not “mid-transition” while I was on it, and I never envisioned myself arriving at some elusive “post-transition” point. “Transition,” with its implied origin and destination, simply didn’t work for me.

What hasn’t changed is how I present myself or identify myself socially. What is changing, now, is how I’m perceived in the world. It’s strange, I don’t feel as if my appearance or mannerisms have changed at all, but already I’m getting the “sir—ma’ams” and the skeptical looks in bathrooms. And while, yes, sometimes it feels awkward or slightly unsafe, it also feels like I am being more wholly seen than I have been in years.

I’ll be teaching a workshop about testosterone– going on it, and going off it, for masculine-of-center folks– at the Butch Voices conference in Oakland in August. I’m looking forward to bringing more people into this conversation. There is lots of dialogue in transmasculine and masculine-of-center communities about going on T… but very little about going off. Hopefully, this blog, and my upcoming workshop, will create a little more space for anyone else out there who is re-examining their relationship to testosterone. Or if nothing else… maybe it will start a few good rumors.

Jul 142011
This weekend, I participated in a ‘Butch Burlesque’ workshop taught by Victoria Libertore.  I knew several folks who had attended a longer version of the workshop last summer, and the juxtaposition of the words ‘butch’ and ‘burlesque’ piqued my curiosity.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  I went into the workshop hoping to push my boundaries, discover new ways of using my body on stage and more ideas for engaging my audience. And I knew that, for better or for worse, I was going to have to take some clothes off.

It’s not that I’ve never used nudity in performance before. XY(T) is, among other things, a prolonged striptease (with plot and characters, of course). Burlesque felt different though; this time, the striptease was the whole point.  Stripped (pardon the pun) of the long-form narratives that I normally work with, I had to decide how naked I was willing to get, and how I was going to get there.

As a whole, the workshop was challenging, liberating, and fun. The environment was supportive, and conducive to the development of new work. The students ranged from experienced performers to people with very little stage time under their belt. Victoria put us through our paces with a range of exercises that helped loosen us up, build confidence, and explore archetypes. The rest of the time was devoted to workshopping each student’s individual piece. By the end of the weekend, each student had the general shape of their piece, with ideas of how to further refine and develop it. You’ll be able to see what we all came up with at Butch Burlesque: An Evening of Swagger, coming up on August 5th at Dixon Place.

I don’t know that burlesque will become a frequent part of my performance repertoire, but it was good to step out of my comfort zone and push my own boundaries.  Who knew? Sometimes to build yourself up, it helps to take a thing or two off.
Jul 082011

Yesterday I got the exciting news that Ozone House has raised over $12,370 in the Kicked Out Fund to support direct services for homeless LGBTQ youth in Michigan!

The Kicked Out Fund is an opportunity for partnership between Homofactus Press, the Kicked Out Anthology, and LGBTQ youth homeless shelters, and agencies providing services to homeless LGBTQ youth. The goal behind the fund is to work in collaboration with direct service agencies to raise awareness about the epidemic of LGBTQ youth homelessness, and as a fundraising tool for participating organizations.

You can see more about the Ozone House and how they have put the Kicked Out fund into action here and more information about the Kicked Out fund as a tool for engaging community members can be found here

Jul 032011

Kestryl: What do you want in your omelette?

Sassafras: Cheddar and onions.

Kestryl: Regular onions or green onions?

Sassafras: Green ones.

Kestryl: I could have guessed that’s what you were going to say.

Sassafras: I know what I like!

Kestryl: And we’re kinda creatures of habit…

Sassafras: I’m a Taurus.

Kestryl: What does that have to do with it?!

Sassafras: I like stability…. In my omelette.

This week, we’re thinking about routines in relationships–and not just for the earth signs!  As we’ve talked about before, surprises and spontaneity are an important part of keeping a relationship interesting, but rituals and routines also play an important role in sustaining our partnership.

The brunch Kestryl made while we wrote this blog.

In some ways, we’re creatures of habit, or at least we look like it if you look at some of our recurring routines.  This blog is a great example. We’ve discovered that we write best together over brunch, and by “over brunch,” we don’t mean sitting at a restaurant somewhere in Park Slope. We mean that Kestryl stands in the kitchen and dices scallions and beats eggs, and Sassafras sits at the kitchen table, laptop open to type up the ensuing conversation. We’ve tried different ways to write: in the park, on the couch… all without much success. Sometimes, once you find something that works, you need to keep it and not try to change it up.

Kestryl: Things don’t get boring though.

Sassafras: I’m never bored.

Kestryl: I mean, it would be hard to get bored living with a dinosaur.

Sassafras: I am a dinosaur.

Kestryl: Yes, that’s what I was saying.

Sassafras: Ohhhhhh, yeah, I tend to make life pretty interesting.

Kestryl: I think it’s that we lead such busy lives, we need the routines and rituals in order to really have a relationship.   You don’t want spinach in your omelette, do you?

Sassafras: EWWWWW no.

It can be hard to really make time for a relationship between friends, work, art, community, etc. There are a lot of competeing demands for your time, energy and attention. But, a relationship –while it requires attention–doesn’t have to be all consuming. Relationships are built out of all of the small actions you do for each other and/or together. For us, routines are a big part of what grounds our relationship, providing each of us with the stability we need in order to take on the less predictable parts of the world.   This doesn’t mean that our relationship or the acts that build it are wholly predictable, but you can’t have spontaneity unless you have something regular that you are departing from.

Many of our routines are the small acts that build our home.  For example, Kestryl makes a home-cooked dinner nearly every night. We make a point, no matter how busy we are, to eat dinner together practically every night of the week (and then do the dishes together afterwards!).  We block out Saturday mornings in our schedules to go grocery shopping together. The queers working at the Brooklyn Trader Joes always get a little worried when one of us is on tour and our schedule departs from normal. Sassafras is a morning person, and has Kestryl’s coffee ready and lunch packed by the time ze is out of the shower on every weekday that one of us isn’t on the road. For us, these are not only practical- after all everyone needs to eat– but are also ways we know we can depend on each other and small routines that reaffirm our relationship.

Kestryl: Gee, listening to this you would think all of our rituals are about food.

Sassafras: You do like to cook.

Kestryl: Right, and I guess food is one of those primal things.

Sassafras: GRAREARE (primal dinosaur noises).

Kestryl: We must have some rituals that aren’t food based though.

Sassafras: We do!

Kestryl: I mean, more than eating does happen in our relationship…. I think 😉

Sasssafras: I just SAID, we do have rituals that aren’t about food!

Kestryl: Clearly they are so routine that I don’t even realize that we have them…

Sassafras: Oh yeah? I thought your boots looked pretty nice last week at dyke march!

Dinosaurs and boots.

One area of our life where routine passes into the realm of ritual is a more explicit part of our leather-based power exchange.  Before big events where we want to look our best (and on an ongoing basis), Sassafras is responsible for keeping Kestryl’s boots polished and in good repair. Beyond this, on a daily basis, Sassafras puts Kestryl’s boots on for hir when ze is leaving the house, and removes them when ze returns home (provided that both are present at the time of departure and/or arrival- there is plenty of flexibility here. Kestryl does not wait around in boots for Sassafras to get home from work two hours later in order to remove them).  For Sassafras, the service and ritual involved in these interactions is particularly grounding and reaffirming of hir place  and how nurtured and contained ze is.  For Kestryl, the ritual is a part of preparing to leave the comforts of home and face the world, and re-entering the home when the boots come off.

We believe that rituals and routines are important for building stability in any ongoing relationship. An crucial part of creating routines is making sure that you don’t create a situation where anyone feels bored or trapped (remember to keep it cute). Routines and rituals look different for every relationship, and they develop organically in most.  Spend some time talking with your partner(s) to figure out what you are already doing, what’s important to continue, and what (if anything) you would like to build.

Jul 022011

I’m going to be reading at Sideshow on Tuesday, July 12th!

I haven’t quite decided what I’m going to read yet– maybe something old, maybe something new, maybe a teeny-tiny bit from the new show I’m working on about Radclyffe Hall.  I hope that you’ll come check it out!

Here are all the details:

Join us at Sideshow on Tuesday, July 12th. Featured readers include Ellis Avery, Samantha Barrow, E Charles Crandall, Kestryl Cael Lowrey, Morgan W., Renair Amin, & Ashley Young.

Sideshow: The Queer Literary Carnival
Hosted by Sinclair Sexsmith
Tuesday, July 12th
at The Phoenix
447 East 13th Street at Avenue A
Doors, 7:30pm. Reading, 8pm
Free! (We’ll pass the hat for the readers)
Details on QueerLiteraryCarnival.com
Details & RSVP on Facebook