Jun 112016
 

Radclyffe Poster

In just one week, RADCLYFFE will open as part of the Trans Theater Festival at The Brick!!!  The piece has grown and changed since its last production in NYC at the Fresh Fruit Festival, and I’m delighted for the opportunity to present it in a festival with so many other talented trans theater artists! I hope to see you there!

Radclyffe Hall, notorious author of the censored “Well of Loneliness,” swaggered their way through the early 20th century. This pseudo-historical solo performance/seance weaves together stories from Radclyffe Hall’s life and times with what England’s second most notorious invert would have to say about trans/queer life today, such as: “what ever happened to ‘romantic friendships’? What the hell is a ‘genderqueer?! And where can an invert get a good haircut in this town?!?”

3 NIGHTS ONLY!
Saturday, June 18 @ 7:30pm
Wednesday, June 22 @ 7pm
Saturday, June 25 @ 4:15pm (PSST this is my BIRTHDAY and I would love to sell out!!!)
Click here for tickets

 

Apr 212012
 

Eleven years ago today, I left.

I didn’t have much warning I was leaving– the staff preferred to only give a week’s notice.  They didn’t want my eminent departure to give me an “exit mentality,” and it’s one of the first rules of maintaining control of another person: severely limit the information they have access to.   The staff at Provo Canyon School were very committed to control.

Provo Canyon School is a lock-down institution for “troubled teens”.  They have a website that I don’t care to link here, but you can google it if you want.  It’s also interesting to see what pops up when you add keywords like “abuse” or “lawsuit” to your search.

post apocalyptic costume

Sometimes you have to protect yourself (yes, this was my halloween costume a year after I left PCS)

Eleven years is a strange anniversary.  It doesn’t have the neatness of 10 years, or the “a lifetime ago” quality of 15.  Eleven is too much, and not enough. In ‘This is Spinal Tap,’ Nigel is very proud of his amps that go up to 11– it’s one louder than 10, an extra bit of power for when you need it.  I suppose eleven does feel like an extra bit of power, but it’s also slightly ridiculous, a palindromic anniversary.  I hesitate to follow that to it’s logical conclusion, because this 11 years certainly would not be the same backwards as forward.

I feel like I should have some pithy things about survival and growing into the self-actualized queer I am today.  Some people have asked me, “How do you know that PCS didn’t give you the skills you needed to grow?  How do you know that PCS isn’t the key to your survival?” It’s always hard to keep a straight face when I respond.  A PCS success story is the bland pinnacle of normal– for the girls, that meant sensible domesticity, (heterosexual) marriage, and children (in that order).

The person I’ve grown into is exactly the person that PCS tried to kill.  It was the realization that PCS wanted to kill that part of me that gave me the strength to hold on while I was there, to preserve myself deep within my skin and fight back against their poison once I was released.  They said they knew I was the enemy, and deep down, I knew that they were wrong.

Last year, on my ten year anniversary, I wrote a post to the teens that are still locked up in private facilities–or really, I wrote to the recent releases, because there’s no way anyone incarcerated in one of these institutions has access to the internet, let alone to this blog.  Remember what I said about the staff being committed to control?

From where I am now, I try to do what I can to educate people about the existence of places like PCS.  It’s always a bit chilling for me when someone responds, “I had no clue things like that still happened.”  Eleven years later, and I can still see the threads of control, and the way that the troubled teen industry limits and controls the information that the outside world can access about what goes on within their walls.

Still, for all their efforts, they can’t control those of us who survived, and they can’t stop us from speaking out.

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 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 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.

Jun 192011
 

Kestryl: How about that question about fights?

Sassafras: Do we have to talk about not-cute things?

Kestryl: Well… no healthy relationship is cute all the time.

Sassafras: Can we at least be cute while we’re doing it?

Dinosaurs also experience conflict in their relationships. Crayon drawing by Sassafras Lowrey.

So, a few readers have written to say that they love all the cute relationship tips that have shown up in this blog, but they are curious about how to deal with conflict in relationship… which, admittedly, is not very cute.  Trying to make conflict cute, say by pulling out a finger puppet  in the middle of a fight, rarely leads to a speedy resolution.

Dealing with conflict is all about how you communicate as a couple, and a big part of weathering the storms and squabbles of any relationship is figuring out what you and your partner(s) want and need. It’s also about figuring out exactly what it is that you are fighting about. This sounds self-evident, but you’d be amazed to find how many times you think you’re fighting about who didn’t put the laundry away, when you are actually fighting about someone’s rough day at work, or resentment over a missed phone call. Figuring out what you are fighting about isn’t necessarily something you can do while tempers are flaring.  This is why one of the most important parts of dealing with conflict in a relationship is to not just communicate about your fights, but also about how you fight… and to have those conversations when you’re not already fighting.

Kestryl: We process so much.

Sassafras: That’s because I’m a lesbian.

Kestryl: How did I skip the lesbian phase?

Sassafras: I’m helping you to discover it now. There is nothing better than a good process session.

Kestryl: It could be an Olympic sport!  But to be clear… one doesn’t need to identify as a lesbian to win a gold medal in processing!

Fight (this is a dramatization, with cuteness enhanced). Photo by Syd London.

Of course, you have to be aware of when you’re trying to process your fights and communicate. For instance, it’s probably not a good idea to try to figure out what this afternoon’s fight was about when it’s 2am and you’re both trying to fall asleep.  It’s also seldom a good plan to begin an in-depth process session right before heading to work, or leaving on tour.  Being aware of the scope and magnitude of what needs to be addressed is a component in figuring out how much time and energy it will take to unpack. For example, your sweetie forgetting to pick up the organic kale  on their way home from work may not require a marathon processing session (though it totally could, if it’s indicative of more systemic problems). For bigger conflicts and busy schedules, we’ve found it actually helps to schedule time to process after a fight.  This helps us to be sure that we actually address what happened, instead of just sweeping it aside and letting the anger, annoyance, and hurt feelings ferment into a deeper resentment.


Sassafras: Did I mention we are big lesbians? Seriously, we just confessed to scheduling processing time.

Kestryl: Hey, whatever it takes! Oh, and a caveat: I’m not sure I actually identify with the word ‘lesbian’… even though I sometimes act like one.

Sassafras: True that.

Ok, so you have your processing date scheduled, the soy lattes are on the table, and you and your partner(s) are cooled down and ready to confront whatever conflict is making life more interesting.  What now?  For us, it helps to start by talking about the objective details of what happened, and how it made each of us feel. The classic “I statements” go a long way. Conversely, actively listening is just as important as speaking from your experience and not making accusations.  Try to figure out what the conflict was, what is important to you in your relationship, and what specifically needs to be resolved. Keeping this kind of focus on the present issue and not dragging up how your sweetie didn’t clean the litter box one time three months ago is key to actually resolving the fight and moving forward in a mutually satisfying relationship.  In other words, know when to let it go.

Sassafras: There was that one time you didn’t clean the litter box.

Kestryl: Last time I checked, the litter box was your job.

Sassafras: No, I mean when we first moved in together, and the cats hadn’t accepted me as their step-parent yet.

Kestryl: Are there any other lesbian sterotypes we can fit into this blog?

Even dinosaurs need to communicate after a fight. Crayon drawing by Sassafras Lowrey.

When you’re processing a fight, make time to explore the ways in which you actually interact during conflict. Talk about what works, what doesn’t work, and why.  Many fights escalate because you have different ways of dealing with conflict, and haven’t found a mutually satisfactory compromise.  Figure out ways of fighting that feel okay for both (or all) of you.  For example, in conflict, Kestryl’s natural reaction is to go for a solo walk to create space, in order to allow everyone the opportunity to cool down,  gather thoughts, and sort through emotions so someone doesn’t say something they don’t mean while tempers are flaring.  Conversely, Sassafras–who has been walked out on several past lovers–finds being alone in the house after that door closes immensely difficult…even while knowing that Kestryl will come back.  The compromise we came to many years ago is that to create a space for both of us to cool down, Kestryl will go to another room (usually hir office) instead of leaving the house, but that Sassafras has to respect the space and distance that Kestryl has created and not follow and continue the disagreement.  This gives us both the opportunity to let go of the immediate fight and take care of what we need, while respecting the other’s needs as well.

Conflict is not fun, but knowing how to deal with it is crucial to any healthy relationship. Staying tuned in to what’s important and what’s worth fighting for in your relationship will go a long way.