Saturday, June 13, 2015

the cake of the culture, the crumbs of defiance

“The moment of queer pride is a refusal to be shamed by witnessing the other as being ashamed of you,” Maggie Nelson writes in The Argonauts, a book I’m consuming in grateful gulps.

Beyond the Absolut Vodka float and bronzed dancing boys in West Hollywood—beyond the bounce house at Dyke Day—this is what Pride is about. I came out slowly and anticlimactically somewhere around 2000; I’d already been following Rent around the Western United States for three years, so I thought I was plenty proud. Proud enough to roll my eyes at the commercialization of it all, proud enough to have sincere conversations about the downside of assimilation. On one level, embracing the rave-hued, raised-fist anthems of Rent was an act of defiance of my conservative (though not homophobic per se) upbringing, but it was also Broadway, and I’d never personally been harassed or shamed.

Read this book!
I didn’t come out, even to myself, until I was sure it was cool to do so. Not just not-dangerous, but  genuinely a-little-bit-extra-rad.

On some level, I needed to believe that I’d chosen to be queer because I was just so interesting and progressive, although I never would have framed it this way. I needed to believe that I could do anything straight people could, including get married and breed.

Here’s what Maggie Nelson says about the latter:

For all the years I didn’t want to be pregnant—the years I spent harshly deriding “the breeders”—I secretly felt pregnant women were...sitting on top of the cake of the culture, getting all the kudos for doing exactly what women are supposed to do, yet still they felt unsupported and discriminated against. Give me a break! Then, when I wanted to be pregnant but wasn’t, I felt that pregnant women had the cake I wanted, and were busy bitching about the flavor of the icing.

I was wrong on all counts—imprisoned, as I was and still am, by my own hopes and fears. I’m not trying to fix that wrong-ness here. I’m just trying to let it hang out.

Thank you,, for the biology lesson.
And so she begins to write about her pregnancy. When I mourned my fertility—first because it was mediocre (my body suggesting I couldn’t easily slip into the world of cake), and later because my genes made me “choose” between surgical infertility and likely eventual ovarian cancer—I couldn’t pretend anymore. Because I’d already mourned loudly and openly, I couldn’t pretend I just happened to dislike the taste of cake.

A lifetime of deferred or buried queer shame came crashing down in disguise. A big neon sign over my head was now blinking NO CAKE FOR YOU. And if you know how much I love carbs, you can imagine what that felt like.


I will leave you to make your own Rachel Dolezal joke about this cakewreck.
Although I kept wanting to be a mom, I had to rewrite the narrative of my life outside that identity, which is probably a healthy task for any parent. I had to make my Pride out of humility, words, swearwords, crumbs, irreverence, questions, screams and art. You know, the stuff queers have relied on for generations.

She didn't find her pride just by taking a queer studies class in grad school.
I can’t pretend I don’t like the taste of cake. I can’t pretend I’m a revolutionary who wants to burn down bakeries. But I also can never be satisfied with a life of rainbow-frosted cake. I want, as I always do, for there to be a third option—to have rights and relative ease in the world without being just like the world that has rejected me (accidentally or on purpose, subtly or obviously). I suppose I want to have my cake and eat it too.

Although I would have loved ferociously any children I birthed, some of my Pride resides in the fact that we ultimately adopted. Because Pride has always been about the chosen family (not that Dash got a choice, but his birthmom did). Because Pride is about not passing. Because Pride is about doing things differently. Pride is saying I have fewer girl parts than most butches, but I’m still a femme and a parent. Pride is the hard-won victory, the victory with bad-ass scars, the victory with loss, the victory that interrogates the idea of victory.

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