Archive for the ‘Gender and Sexuality’ Category

for Tori Amos (whose guise my guardian angel assumed in a dream)

in a place safe from battle
she awoke me from my deathbed
gently in a dream
of mauve and velvet
and the starry crowns

of violet-green passiflora

exploding from a fire escape,

attracting sparrows—
the only indicator

of surrealism

and half-asleep and blinking
I waited at her wooden table
as a teapot whistled—
and as she rode through the doorframe
like a birthday candle flame
in a dress made of peacock feathers,

I just listened

and she said:

love yourself—
I mean really love yourself

as in a verb, an act of,
not some abstract notion—
as in a knowing
that your cells 
love the blood oceans
they swim in,

singing psalms
to their only heart.

She said:

cultivate radiance—

I mean the kind

that bursts from your eye sockets
like comic book stars
and drips from your pores
like the nectar of lilacs
that calls the irridescence

of hummingbird wings,

like the mystical amber buzz 

of honey—

she said—

be a sister to yourself
be a mother to yourself

be a lover to yourself
be an infant to yourself
be everything to yourself

and elevate yourself

as so human,

as the goddess you are

because no matter what
there’s never enough time
for a woman to heal herself,
to make love to herself
to know herself

to go inside herself,
and no matter what,
the world won’t give you that—

so you have to take your heart
and hold it tight
inside the callouses 

of your palms,

and let it loose 

with the blood jewels

that slip unchecked
from your depths,

let it drag from your limbs
like magnetic rattles

trailing glory
in your wake

as you fold towels,
trip over roller skates

and drive long hours
in industrious solitude

to make it all pay—

choosing daily between 

body and soul,
poems and life—

she said:

no matter how you struggle,

no matter how

the world pulls you under

its bunioned toes
you will have no part in ugly—
for you are
beauty itself—
you rise like the wet pale nymph,
colors awakening
into flight—
you rise 

like the timid pink sun

like the flickering neon rainbow
like the stretch of twilight shadows,
like dangerous thunderheads
like stubborn dandelions
that grow and grow
overtaking trim lawns

no matter how

you mow them—

she said:

you will win this, miss

but not by the user’s manual,

nor any tidy book of rules
and certainly not 
by closing your heart

to its semisweet core

for it is ecstasy only
that supports the orchid
on its frail foundation

of clouds and dreams

and should you dare
invite a draft
into this hothouse
you call death 

to your side—

she said:

wake up from the night

and take this ripe fruit 
of you
into your balled fist

into the hunger in your teeth
into the wide pockets of your dress

into every secret orifice
with a vigilant avarice
and spit out the pits,

don’t let anyone steal this
no matter how busy you are,
how poor,

how your child cries

and the world needs more 

and more of you—

you are ripe,

you are whole
down to the strange sewers

of your soul. 

You give best
only when you hold on.
If you don’t know this,

then you’re just a hole, awaiting

a cement mixer to fill you—

and you have had enough 

of sidewalks.

She said:

You are love, love—

poetry in motion,
and all those pick-up clichés
from 1950’s songs
where the boy gets the girl,

only you are the girl

and already know it—

You are all the love you seek.
You are
the mystical musk of the ox,
the delicacy of rainbow
and the fragrance of orchid.

You are not a hole

but a volcano,

taking in and making
and breaking new pathways—
you are the flight of the butterfly,

the hummingbird’s irridescence

and the mythos of honey,
the secret life of bats

and the bitter melt of chocolate.

You are all things nectar

and beautiful,

you are darkness

and light
and you have no right

to deny us this,

all your sun and shadow.

She said,

Love yourself

(as in love yourself)

so that we all may love you,


bearer of light,

keeper of night,

guilty of the sin
of purity.

Spread yourself like grape vines

over these prison walls,

over each edifice
that reins in the flame

of spirit

and usurps your wine

for religion—

wash the just and unjust

with the rain of your senses,

and curl pigs and lepers

and infant angels
into the womb of your arms—


with delicate skin,

press all the world’s wickedness
like pourcelain clay

into the sacred kiln
of your heart.

© Sarah N 2007


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“…and then I said to him, ‘have a nice life’. Do you think that was stupid, Sarah?”

When I was 15, one of my close friends met someone at an airport while she was waiting for a plane to take off, who changed her life. She felt a flash of recognition when she met him, and they struck up an incredible conversation that went deep into the things most people take years to get to the bottom of. And then he boarded the plane and said goodbye. She never forgot this person in all the years I continued to know her, though she only mentioned him very rarely. Still, she never had any illusions (at least maybe not after a few months) about his role in her life, or whether she would ever see him again. He lived far away and was just following a different path in life from her.

I had a similar experience of a smaller magnitude once while I was riding the Chinese bus from Boston to New York quite a few years ago. Dreading the four-hour trip with blasting air conditioning and Asian pop music, I waited by the Crown Royal Bakery on Beach Street in Boston, sipping a watermelon bubble tea. All of a sudden I saw this figure leaning against the building. He seemed to have just materialized out of the mirages on the street, sleepily radiant and peaceful. He was slumped casually against the wall and wore jeans, flip-flops, and a faded green scrub shirt. As soon as I saw this person, I just stopped in mid-slurp and stared. He seemed to have a palpable glow around him, as if in the long textbook of my life, the cosmic forces had taken a highlighter pen and marked him out for easy identification. I drew a little closer to him, curious. He was beautiful, but my feelings were more a fascination than an attraction—I’m always slow to warm up to strangers.

When we boarded the bus, he somehow ended up sitting right next to me. I noticed that he had incredible black-lashed aquamarine eyes and a tiny silver nose ring, and freckles all over his arms. Technically he was stunning, but had wild black electrocuted Arthur Rimbaud-like hair which made him seem charmingly oblivious of his beauty. I sensed that he spent a lot of time in the sun doing something compelling, living on the edge. Was he a park ranger or a surfer? Did he travel to tropical places? Everything about this person was unusual and interesting, and I wanted to know more about him. What did his voice sound like? Why did he spend so much time in the sun? What did he do in his spare time? Did he like jackfruit?

After a few minutes of riding, he took the initiative and struck up a conversation with me. We started at first just talking about where we were headed, and gradually the conversation went deeper. We found out we’d both studied dance at the exact same music school in Ghana, that he was a student and buddy of one of my closest friends—an ex who was actually my roommate at the time in this weird Jerry/Elaine sort of bond—and that we had a ton of other freakish things in common. Plus, he was just such af happy person. He radiated a childlike joy that drew me in. As I spoke to him more, I started to relax and really enjoy his company. I rarely open up so easily with strangers, or feel so instantly and spontaneously attracted to people who haven’t earned my trust first, but I felt so natural with this guy, as if he were an old friend. And there was a great energy between us on so many levels. There was definitely attraction, but it was really just incidental… the icing on a multilayered cake.

Attraction doesn’t always have to mean one thing to me, one boringly predictable end result. I enjoyed soaking up the rays of energy flowing between us, but I didn’t feel like it had to land us both in bed—although to be honest, I wasn’t averse to that possibility. I would have been just as happy being his friend, though. There was no urgency to my feelings, just a light cheerfulness between us.

In reality, I consider friendship to be even more wonderful, rewarding, and mysterious than romance. The best is, of course, if both can be successfully combined, but this is rare. And so are my friends; I do not have many, but the ones I have are the shining stars in my sky, unmarred by the battle scars of long-term emotional sparring I always seem to fall into with monogamously restricted romantic relationships… I always feel caged in cohabitive, exclusive partnerships. And I find that there is always some degree of emotional ambiguity with my friendships of any gender, so when I feel these kind of goosebumps of electricity when I meet someone, I don’t automatically compartmentalize those feelings into “I’ve met my soulmate!”, or, “Let’s hook up!!”. I leave myself open to what the universe means that person to teach me, because to not do so, would be a crime to my soul.

I think that so much emotional damage happens in the world because people don’t know how to keep their pants zipped up until the right moment/person comes along and all the traffic lights say “Go.” People today (God, I sound like such an old fart) mistake every little twinge and wink for sexual opportunity, without looking deeper or getting to know someone A LOT better. Having sex prematurely can sometimes plunge people into an inappropriate relationship, and make it really, really hard to get out. My life now? CASE IN POINT. There are some times when it feels absolutely right to jump into bed with someone soon after meeting them, but not always. Neither celibacy nor promiscuity, in my book, should be orthodoxy. Only the heart and its infinite wisdom.

It’s kind of like, if you’re fixing your sink, and you mix the epoxy too soon, when you’re not sure it’s even the right kind of epoxy. If you don’t repair that sink properly, it will dry too fast and you’ll join the parts crooked and it will leak. Take your time, mix the epoxy correctly, make some plans about how you’ll do it, and then fix the sink nicely. Sure, there are types of epoxy that don’t bond at all, this is true. But I find that for me at least, I never can distinguish which is which until after I’ve already fixed my pipes. So to speak.

All right, maybe that was a silly metaphor. Love and plumbing epoxy are two completely different things. And fixing a sink is an unpleasant chore, whereas hopping in bed with a beautiful, oddly familiar stranger, well… isn’t. 

And anyway, who am I to talk? My life is a gorgeous, beloved mess of bad plumbing mistakes. So take this kind of like one of those driver’s ed classes you have to take if you get caught speeding. Sit through my stupid-ass talk about staying out of the no-zone and leaving two seconds of lead time when following a car. And then go out and maybe, for a few weeks, say “Hm, that was interesting,” and go out and speed again. Not right away, but eventually. I know you’ll do it. I know I will again. Just not as much as I used to. Having a kid changes your life from windy, top-down superhighway to painfully slow, cop-dotted SUV country roads overnight. Sigh.

In any case, back to my story. This lovely being and I talked nonstop the entire way, learning more and more points we had in common throughout the ride. Finally, we arrived and got off the bus. I felt compelled to ask for his phone number, but found myself tongue-tied as we stood on the street near the Chinatown fruit stand where the bus let us off. I guess I thought I’d have more time with him, but just then he smiled and announced his need to go take a whizz in a nearby alleyway. This would have been crass from anyone else, but was more charming coming from him, especially as the bus driver hadn’t been kind enough to stop on the ride at all. I waited a few minutes for him to return, pretending to examine some lychees at the fruit stand, but he never came back. I wondered if it were something I’d said, then went on my way, a little confused but also enchanted—was this man just a phantasm? A really hot but ephemeral guardian angel showing me that I still had it going on? That would be cool, too, of course.

When I returned home to Boston, I found myself telling our mutual friend about this strange guy I met, asking if he knew him and if he were for real. I was curious to just validate this experience somehow. My friend was so excited. “Wow, he’s so cool!”, he said, and explained how he knew him. He then told me some strange news: not only was he real, but he was getting MARRIED this weekend! Well, it wasn’t really THAT strange. I mean, we only had a friendly, deep conversation. He never gave me his phone number or anything, or did anything else that the relationship gods would have an issue with.

The story wasn’t over yet, though. My roommate-ex-friend said that the bus guy couldn’t stop talking about me, and my ex had passed my email address to him so we could stay in touch. Bus guy had said that I was really interesting, and he wanted to hang out with me and talk.

Now, being an odd sort of chick with ephemeral, fluid, yet ethically conscientious relationship boundaries, I don’t make assumptions about people. Hanging out and talking does not mean dating, even if there is some attraction. I really did want to hang out with him, but I have a zero tolerance policy for dating married or otherwise prohibitively entangled people. So I made this boundary clear from the start by congratulating him on his wedding sincerely. I then mentioned an upcoming outdoor concert, and asked if THEY wanted to come along with ME and A FEW OF MY FRIENDS. I really didn’t care that he was married, or even if he had contacted me ever again. I had such a great moment with him that day that I didn’t really NEED to elaborate on it, but if he wanted to stay friends, I would do it on my terms, in a socially correct way.

I heard back from him once, but never again after that.

I think I know what may have happened. He weighed perceived risk with perceived benefit, had a little talk with his subconscious, and decided he was kidding himself that we could just be friends. The attraction between us had been palpable, so that was quite likely. Or maybe, if I misjudged his character and in reality he was less innocent than I’d perceived, he was just embarassed to have been called on the carpet. Although frankly, maybe I’m the last of the naifs, but I really don’t think that was the case. He was a nice sort of fellow. I also think that a lot of men (and women) have those pre-marital moments of flirting with alternate reality before it’s too late. I know that just before I got married, about five old loves, old friends, even an old ROOMMATE (one I fought with all the time, at that…) come out of the woodwork and started pledging their undying love. It was sad, ironic, comical. And it is a very natural phenomenon.

In any case, sometimes people just streak in and out of your life like that, in a moment—like comets. And that’s OK. They are meant to teach you something. Don’t hang onto them, except for your memoirs. When someone knocks at your doorway who is meant to stay, in whatever context, the experienced and adventurous soul will understand the difference. And the stayer will be persistent. There will not be a need to make tremendous effort, to agonize over their elusive intentions. They will stick their flag in the dust of your moon and say “Here I am!” 

There are comets, and then there are stars. They both look alike, except that one is in motion and one is at rest. They are both significant in their own way. Sometimes I have wondered if the comets are meant, sometimes, to point us toward the stars. They help create the map in your sky. When you see the star, you’ll think about the comet, or a few past comets, and stand at attention. You’ll know something is up. I know that this man, to me, was a comet. He alerted me, as others have done in my lifetime, of a wavelength I seek like a homing missile, among the billions of human faces out there on this planet. He provided clues, sang a few notes of the song I would recognize like my own breath. He reassured me, as these comets do, that my polestar is out there, calmly enjoying life… as this man was.

And yet part of the danger in becoming a romantic astronomer, in staring at the comet or even at a particularly bright star out there—is that we forget that we are ALL stars. Like the completely awesome Emily Dickinson poem says:

“The soul selects her own society,
Then shuts the door;
On her divine majority
Obtrude no more.

Unmoved, she notes the chariot’s pausing
At her low gate;
Unmoved, an emperor is kneeling
Upon her mat.

I’ve known her from an ample nation
Choose one;
Then close the valves of her attention
Like stone.”

(Wow. That poem gives me goose bumps.)

So to find that north star, you have to have a sky full of stars first.

It is NOT the “true love” that is the most healing, but the “true friendship.” And the best love integrates true friendship. Friendship is the only rose without a thorn, and I believe that the highest truth of romance is in maintaining, through all the mundane trials of life, the integrity of the original friendship it sprung from.

And that loving friendship is not a locked treasure chest, to me. It is a fountain, spreading its wealth everywhere, accepting the warm and flirtatious coins thrown in from passersby. And let’s not forget about the pigeons!

Pure friendship is our St. Mark’s Square in the Venice of the soul, and these fleeting moments of connection that pass, are like sparks of light in its canals and fountains. And it’s all beautiful… comets and stars.

© Sarah Noack 2005

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When I was in high school, I spent a semester in France.

Now I know that sounds glamourous. But this wasn’t Paris or Provence or Bretagne… this was a really BORING part of France. A cultural backwater. The butthole of the southern Alps. My schooling was particularly boring. I went to lycee in a big box-like structure with such thin walls that I was sure the howling wind would someday blow it down. Kids had not yet learned the modern conveniences of life, such as showers, toilet paper or liquid soap. Or for that matter, private bathroom stalls where little boys didn’t wander in and bug us. It was a rough life. No one wanted to hang out with a weird American hippy-geek chick who wore purple Indian batik dresses and had a mouthful of braces. For a long time, I just kept myself entertained during my many study halls, by docking up in the library and reading subversive poetry by Gide and Rimbaud.

That was, until I entered the custody of Corrine Girod, a self-professed hippy-hating ska/punk chick who just happened to make an exception for me.

Corrine was definitely the girl my mother would have warned me about, if she were there to warn me about anything. However, she was not, so I was free to feel cautiously fascinated by this wild thing who first bonded with me by rasping, “Hey American girl, write me some American swears on my jeans!” What I noticed first was her smile: huge, fearless, leonine. And her voice. She smoked, but it wasn’t just that. It was the rough voice of a teenage boy in that tenuous moment before he changed into a man. I was immediately drawn into her spell.

Corrine was tough, but she was gorgeous in a haunting, Grace Jones sort of way. Boys secretly wanted her, but were terrified of her. She stood tall and erect as a column, and, looking back, I realize now that some of her beauty came from her mysteriously ambiguous ethnicity. At the time, I never noticed this. I just noticed her skin the color of beaten gold, her icy pale-green eyes with huge lashes, her wide pale lips and dark hair that, under her ever-present black knit cap, was always buzz-cut with a stiff flip of bangs. She always dressed like a boy, and trailed a fascinating aroma of leather, denim, tobacco and pheromones. She never wore makeup or jewelry except for a thick silver ring on her thumb, and when she walked, her stride conveyed a complete confidence and ownership of her body that I rarely see in women.

Corrine started talking to me after class, and soon my study halls started to get a lot more interesting. We used to sneak out to cafés, drink beer, and go to the candy store where she’d nurture me with gifts of gummy worms and chocolates. Part of me was always fascinated by her, and part of me a little afraid, even though there was nothing to be afraid of… she was always sweet to me. We’d feed the pigeons, walk hand in hand (as lots of friends do in France) and talk about life. I didn’t agree with all of her opinions about everything, but I thought she was beautiful, I knew that scorn came more readily to her than affection, and I was flattered that she was so protective and tender toward me. Corrine always encouraged me to challenge authority and stand up for myself, but was always more than happy to do it for me in a pinch—and I was more than happy to let her. Whenever the inevitable annoying male “drageur” would come my way, she would fend them off with such a deft flip the tongue (and sometimes finger, if necessary) that I felt swept away by her chivalry. “Don’t worry,” she’d say, putting her arm around my shoulder, “If these guys bother you, just let me handle it.”

Corrine lived by her wits. She made teachers cry, entertained herself with clever practical jokes, and openly challenged everyone in a way I never dared to do. But she had a soft side. She hated bullies. She yelled at people who hurt animals for fun. She would get murderously outraged about child abuse, and although she could use coarse racial slurs as insults, she was the one to always stick up for the half-Arab girl whom everyone teased because she believed her dad was someday coming back to her from Paris. Corrine used to let that little girl hang out with us all the time at recess, told off the kids who tormented her, and comforted her when she cried. “Cette pauvre gosse,” she’d storm after the kid left. “The world is full of heartless cunts!”

Corrine didn’t reveal this side of herself with everyone; it was a closely guarded secret. I heard it when she talked about her baby brother who was living in Marseilles, whom she missed terribly. I heard it when she talked about her family, whom she loved very much. They sounded like a free-spirited, loving family who was totally out of place here… her parents were divorced, but “toujours amis”, and they gave her a lot of freedom. When Corrine talked to me, she always said, “I don’t know why, but I like you a lot. You’re so sweet. You’re different than the other people around here. Are all Americans like you?”, which made me laugh, because I hardly considered myself a typical American in any way.

When I returned home after my exchange, I never forgot her. She was probably the one person whom I most connected with, the one gold thread that wove incoherent strands of foreignness together into a warm fabric of meaning. Even though even at that age I was already becoming aware of liking girls, it was a subtle and uncomfortable awareness, like the feeling of a wedgie you can’t remove in public without attracting snickers.

I went back to France year later with my high school class, striking out on my own the last part of the trip. On the day I was about to go back to the airport, I felt the nagging urge to go back to the café Corrine and I had spent so many truant afternoons. Maybe, while stopping in this town to visit my host family once more, I thought I might find her there. And maybe on that same day, she was thinking the same thing.

Looking back, I still think it was a miracle, but there she was. She had on the same worn bomber jacket and the same black skullcap. We hugged so hard she swept me into the air and swirled me around. She was completely surprised to see me; she didn’t even know I was in France, as I had lost her address (and regretted it terribly). We walked all day as we used to, talking at fever-pitch, visiting our old haunts and joking about her latest antics. We talked about politics, punk rock and art, exchanging dirty jokes as we always did. I had to catch a plane that night, which we tried not to think about as we caught up with old times. Our day had been pure bliss, an amazing surprise. We weren’t able to spend more time together, but I spent the last hour in Corrine’s arms on a park bench, with her holding me tenderly and telling me that she’d thought about me a lot after I’d left, and had always missed me. We talked about what could have been, but knew it was impossible… we lived on different continents, we had no money of our own. We both cried when I got on the bus to leave that town for the last time. We kissed, but it was very innocent and discreet; I think even she was conscious of being stared at. It wasn’t the kind of kiss we wanted, but it had to be enough. If it was more, I would have missed my plane and been stuck in the middle of this town forever. I went home, and got caught up with my life. We wrote each other a few times, but it was never the same reading her letters. She was a majestic person, the kind you had to see face to face, not read in sexually frustrated, inky scrawls on graph paper. And I never saw her again.

I was thinking about Corrine the other day as I do from time to time. Corrine was not the first, but maybe the first reciprocated, of many crushes on beautifully androgynous women. These crushes… on teachers, classmates, celebrities, co-workers… have shaped my identity as a woman, strengthened me, helped me find my power. It’s by no means an exclusive sort of attraction. I’ve liked many different kinds of people, on just about all hues of the gender spectrum. But, to be honest, I have a really huge thing for women who dare to walk the edge of what society calls “female.” Women who look aggressively, unapologetically QUEER. Women you’d NEVER see on a “girls4girls” site.

This isn’t something I can ever just throw away. It is a part of myself that I don’t deny, even at the times it’s been dormant, or I’ve been male-partnered. It is something I think is deep, and a treasure to me… something which teaches me constantly about the nature of gender, about myself, about the journey of the human soul.

What is butchness?

Well, for one: it’s a term of convenience which I’m exploiting right now. Ironically, I’m not crazy about the word “butch” and I know my delightfully androgynous sweetheart does not identify as such. It’s a generalized term here. It gets its point across. I can’t think of another word with quite the monosyllabic, subverted-stigma clout as “butch.” It has history, it’s controversial, it’s not flattering or politically correct. I am using this term specifically to show that while I also love the more subtle androgynous aspects in women—feyness, cute boyishness, a gayish flamboyance or the ascetic innocence of a monk, I don’t stop there. Give me the B-word in all caps. All those extreme stereotypes. The diesel dyke, the rebel punk, the crowd-parting “militant queer,” the nascent transman, the stone butch. I’m there. I don’t think there is any gender in the world that is more ridiculed and maligned than “butch” women… very effeminate men get the affection of women and some gay men, at least, while butch women are just seen as ugly, aggressive freaks. And I don’t believe women should feel apologetic for looking or acting the way we believe men are “supposed to.” It’s just another way of being, that’s all. And I happen to find it hot.

The things that most fascinated me about Corrine were the subtle juxtapositions, the incongruities. The feel of her scalp after she shaved her head (she always let me touch it). The way her long lashes and pale green eyes stood out against her stoic jawline. Her salty leather and denim scent… like boys, but not quite; there was a heady edge of girl in it. Could I picture her as a boy? Maybe. Sort of. But why? I didn’t want a substitute boy. I loved her woman’s body, her woman’s eyes, her woman’s heart. I loved the fear I felt when we’d change at gym, knowing that I’d be unable to avoid sneaking glimpses of her statuesque, gilded nakedness that made my breath catch in my throat. No matter how many times I saw her this way, each time it delighted and scared the shit out of me anew. The adrenaline rush was confusing. It wasn’t simply a matter of not wanting to stare, or feeling confused about my sexuality. It was simply the confusion of seeing breasts, these soft, vulnerable things that make milk for the young of our species, on such a badass being. But it was a delicious sort of confusion. It felt strange, but intriguing. And it was also simply the shock of seeing something so exquisite and forbidden, it felt surreal. Sometimes, years later, I wondered if our changing together was a dream. Did I dream up, also, the time that another girl giggled that I was Corrine’s lover because I was staring, and I, mortified, went into the bathroom to finish changing? Or, as often happens with me, was there more between us that I made myself forget? My mind is painfully efficient at erasing difficult memories, sometimes.

For me, butch is not an affectation as some believe, but an internal reality. One that is hard to define, but I recognize it when I feel it near me. It’s not just a tough attitude, which a femmey woman can adopt to protect herself. Nor a show of cheap, control-freak pseudo-masculinity, which I personally find creepy. If I want a man, I’ll find one, thank you very much. Nor will I let anyone with a bossy attitude get inside my heart. To me, butch is all about chivalry. It’s about courtly love, courage, honor. It’s about power, but also giving and surrendering to the higher power of a woman’s love. And while I’ll never say that a man is incapable of all these lofty qualities, somehow they just feel different to me—more intimate, coming from another woman. Women, including “butch” women, can access a deep, primordial source of power that’s very different from, and more intense in many ways than a man’s power. I always loved Ripley in Aliens, for example. She is so powerful, such a warrior. But she has this intense maternal instinct, this tenderness with the child. Her anger at the aliens is strengthened by her love for little Newt. She neglects no details in her care for the child: the first thing she asks the terrified child, is the name of her doll. This combination to me is so intoxicating. Yet she can also look monstrous aliens in the eye and yell, “YOU BITCH!” as she slaughters them, and take down a corrupt government project all by herself. But it’s not just about power… femmes and straight women can be very powerful as well.

It’s more than that. Butch is a woman who rides the horse of her anima with impeccable grace and courage, even if her hands sometimes tremble on the reins.

Butch women remind me that women contain every human trait imaginable, that all archetypes of females exist, from warrior to queen to submissive wife and everything in between. They remind me that women stem from the double X chromosome… the original, not the variant, of material energy. The Bhagavad Gita states that all matter is actually feminine in nature (prakrti, or “enjoyed”… also a part of God, of course) while God (as person) is the only REAL, TRUE masculine force in the universe (isvara… or “enjoyer/controller”). So in reality, masculine appearance of an entity is only an illusion, a heightened state of maya or delusion about one’s actual cosmic position. In the material world, the female state of incarnateness is closer to its primordial spiritual state than that of the male.

The “butch” (for lack of a more encompassing word) woman to me is like that moment when X decided to branch out and become Y. To be different, to explore Otherness. To break free of the matrix and begin the long and lonely journey of the soul. In a woman who is born butch, who carries that with her, I see the complex, faltering beauty and aloneness of that moment. And it moves me. I honor, celebrate and adore the women with the audacity to keep their sanity in a society that tells them at every turn, that their power is ugly and threatening. I honor all the many subtle manifestations of gender, and have a soft spot in my heart for this particular wavelength.

© Sarah Noack 2009

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for Omaihra

you stepped out of the fabric
of grey everyday,
tall like an arrow
and fluid as the sea,
bringing me gifts
of sapphires
balled in your delicate fists
which you opened
into the sunlight,
reflecting panes
of reflex blue
that glinted
in your eyes
as you laughed
as only children do.

You belonged
to no continent,
owned no affiliation
to any solid land
of blood or nation
or woman or man,
but were citizen
only to the vast ocean
concealing the secrets
of all terrain:
moss covering treasure,
blue and hidden under
the lilting anemones
of your tendril fingers
which lit on everything,
sensing beauty—
and as your moonlit face
broadcast milky ways
of possibility
into my open soul
you spoke in riddles,
startling me awake—

and as you parted
gracefully from my shore,
the cool filaments
of your ageless arms
from your coral garden,
and contracting
effortlessly around me
like you belonged there
safe against my chest,
like you grew
on my shadow
like curls of seaweed
dancing against
the battered dock of my heart—
calling me from sleep,
clinging tight like a limpet—
washing me in the waves
of your liquid love.

© Sarah Noack 2007

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The Perfect Date

It’s Friday night, late, and I wait for the bus, which is always late as well. I have put Jeni to bed and told her I am going to be away until breakfast, and waited for her to fall asleep before leaving the house. She is in wonderful company—my caring, very responsible roommate whom Jeni loves. She will also be fast asleep through the night. I am not worried about her, nor do I leave her with sitters regularly. Still, though. I’m a mom. It feels instinctively wrong for me to be standing here, out in the freezing air with a half-formed cold lurking on my throat, waiting for a bus so I can spend a few precious hours with my beloved, who lives an hour and a half away on public transportation. With our life and housing circumstances, though, there aren’t a lot of options for the occasional Real Date.

Just when I’m about to give up and call this crazy, the bus comes. Suddenly I realize that the meeting place at Port Authority I suggested, might not exist anymore. It’s too late to get off the bus, and I don’t have a cell phone. What if we’re walking around that creepy, huge terminal for hours, and never find each other? As I hate going out alone at night, the prospect seems nightmarish to me.

When I get off the bus and look at the station map, my worst fears are realized. Hot and Crusty is no longer at Port Authority! Oh no! I can’t call her. What to do?

Still, I don’t panic. Somehow, things always seem to work out for us without trying. We always find each other like a couple of magnets in a hill of sand. And sure enough, she’s right there in the place I knew she’d know I’d look for her if Plan A failed… the juice bar. Of course. She hears me coming down the stairs from far away and turns, as fully alert as a child hearing a candy wrapper open. I see her from the stairway and smile at the intensity of her focus on my presence. Sometimes I wonder if she hears my thoughts, feels their ripples like the distant sounds of waves that lull her to sleep each night. And sure enough, before she even runs up and kisses me, I know she is about to treat me to a juice. 

Each time I see her, she looks a little different. This is one of the things I love best about her. Sometimes, like tonight, her face is serious and determined, and I notice the set of her jaw, the strength in her arms, the squareness of her shoulders. No one will mess with us tonight. At times like this, I feel as protected as a kitten in its mother’s jaws. Other days I notice the freckles that glow and vibrate like dappled sunlight on water when she laughs at something ridiculous. Sometimes I notice the tenderness in her cheeks and crewcut blonde hair which, no matter how prickly it looks, always feels so soft. And some days, I notice the blue enormity of her eyes as they rest in their browless moonscape, observing the world in peace and silence. 

I love her. It’s such a tired phrase. It’s been used so many times. But there’s nothing else I can say that really cuts it. I love her.

I am tired, cold, not feeling well. A string of my heart is still at home, tied to my little girl safe in bed. I would never be doing this if I weren’t in love. And I would never allow myself to love her this much if I didn’t feel so loved and cherished in return. I have been hurt many times. Or rather, let’s call it practice. I put myself in these situations and learned a lot. I have loved people who were cold or cruel or condescending to me, who didn’t understand me, or tossed me the occasional table scrap of affection. I have loved people who confused flowery words with concrete acts of support and friendship. I have given myself away without any thought of reciprocation. For all the hurt this has caused me, I don’t regret it. I have had the integrity to love as I wished, without keeping score. And I made my own choices. 

Because in the end, to me, love is the ultimate friendship. Nothing more, nothing less. I cannot tolerate anything in my life anymore other than 100% pure love. And I have earned every penny of this. I have paid my dues. I have been the apprentice blacksmith of the human heart, hands dirty over an open fire. Now it’s my turn to get some of what I’ve been giving away all these years. 

She hooks her arm in mine and introduces me to the drag queens at the juice bar, whom she has already befriended. They ask how she found me, and without a trace of irony, she says: “I followed the glowing trails of radiance that always announce her arrival.” I blush at her courtly hyperbole as the drag queens laugh. Sometimes there is something crystalline and old-fashioned in her. She idealizes. She sentimentalizes. She knows she does. She celebrates it, and yet, as consciously corny and smitten as she can be sometimes, there is a core of solid ground in her devotion. Like me, she is a poet, an idealist, and an artist of love. She practices. So do I. We’re good and we know it; we don’t demand heartbreak insurance coverage. We dive into love headfirst like hungry dolphins unafraid of drowning. I see through her and meet her in midair, play angel games, and then come home to the earth for a good meal. There is no fear, only love and play. 

Later, at her house by the sea, I take off my coat. She offers to make me tea, and of course, I accept. I’m so tired. The cold has assaulted me; even my bone marrow feels frozen. I feel chills, and am worried I’m getting another fever. I don’t feel romantic at all tonight. I don’t even want to watch a movie. But I am happy to be here in her space, hearing the waves crash in the distance, watching the full moon haloed in clouds above us. 

I tell her I need to lay in the bed to warm up. She tells me to go ahead. That’s the last thing I remember of that night. The next time I open my eyes, it’s 6am. I’m in my clothes and don’t remember where I am right away. In my half-alseep state, I see the full cup of cold tea beside me, on a coaster she’s made out of aluminum foil. She’s drawn hearts on it. I’m not awake yet, but I smile. And I turn around. She’s right there.

Sometimes, this is all you need of love. Not sleeping with someone. Sleeping next to someone. Waking up and finding them right there, the cruise partner on your dream ship. When I wake her, she stirs and is surprised to see me there, too. She smiles after half-opening her eyes. 

I apologize for falling asleep. I feel ridiculous and cheated; I would have loved to at least stayed up, talked, watched a movie. Now I have to leave in an hour to get to Jeni before breakfast; she’s going to drive me back home. She holds me close and tells me that just watching me sleep and waking up next to me made it the perfect date. And it was. Sometimes, this really is enough. 

The perfect date, with someone you really are in synch with, can be anything. I always remember the scene in Harold and Maude, where they’re having a deep romantic conversation right next to a garbage dump full of loud noises. It doesn’t matter where you go, what you do, or even if sex is necessarily involved or not, if you really love someone. Some days, a “date” for us is cooking pea soup in my crowded kitchen while my daughter runs around playing with her. Other days it’s a brief, fleeting coffee break in the middle of a finals weekend as she studies. Sometimes all we can manage is a giggling joke-fest on the phone. It doesn’t matter what we do as long as she is there in my life. I love all of it. 

And I know with all my heart that it is possible to love without hurt. Without disrespect. Without tumult. I am ready for this now. 

I have earned this. I have asked for this. 

“Let it be known,
let the rumors be spread
I want a good friend
to share my bread…”

(“Request,” SKN) 

It’s time.

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Here’s a fun little list I gathered to help all future visitors of my beautiful ex-city of residence dispel boredom:

  1. Remove all the orange “modesty covers” from all the Cosmos and swimsuit issues at Ukrops (the only grocery chain store in town with a real health food section. You have to be a member of a church congregation in order to work there). Hide them in the bottom of the “Bargain Inspirational Books” bin.
  2. Write the lyrics of songs by gay vegetarian 80’s bands on the dust of pickup trucks at the parking lot of Gander Mountain Sporting Goods.
  3. Loudly say, “I chose life,” to the Sunday-starched family that whispers behind your back as you pay for your kid’s organic fruit roll-ups with an EBT card.
  4. Call the many newly-razed commercial land lots in town, and say that you are a manufacturer of edible underwear who would like to start a production plant at this location.
  5. Walk around with a laquered-up faux-hawk and Terminator shades as you wheel your child around in a grocery cart, and take spy camera pictures of people’s uneasy stares.
  6. Wear a T-shirt that says, “I Support Gay Marriage.” Wear anything (ANYTHING) with a rainbow on it. Wear a tie (if you’re female) or a eyeshadow (if you’re a guy). Wear any vaguely Wiccan symbol at all, even something like the Proctor-Gamble logo which sort of looks like a moon and stars. Watch parents steer the kids away from you.
  7. Overhear some kids talking to their mom at Taco Bell about how their friends are going to hell because they don’t believe in Jesus, and think Christmas is just about Santa and presents. Lean over and say, “Well, I’m Jewish and I don’t believe in Santa either. But I’ll have fun in hell opening Chanukah presents for eight days in a row!”
  8. When an old lady hisses, “That’s MERRY CHRISTMAS to you,” when you say “Happy Holidays,” smile and repeat politely, “No… ‘Happy Holidays,’ Ma’am. I’m Jewish, and so were some of the Founding Fathers who signed our Constitution… you know, that little piece of paper that grants us all freedom of religion.”
  9. Read right-wing bumper stickers while stuck in traffic. My favorite: “One war protester is not worth the spit of one member of the American military.” Also up on my list: “Guns Save Lives.” “You CANNOT be Catholic and pro-choice.” “I stand with President Bush.” (And will you fall with him, too?).
  10. Count religious license places. IE: “GZUSFRK,” “PROLF,” “HESAVS,” “BLESSD…”
  11. When cashiers asks you to “have a blessed day,” act confused and say, “As opposed to a cursed day?”
  12. Count the number of Confederate flags you see in a day… on shirts, bikes, cars, tongue rings, can sleeves, dog sweaters…
  13. Wonder why there are so many bumper stickers for the Paul Stefan Home for Unwed Mothers, but for some reason, you’ve never actually seen the place. Wonder why they choose a stork for their logo when the whole reason someone goes there is that they got knocked up. Wonder why “unwed” mothers have to be stashed in some home, anyway. Wonder why on earth supporting these places somehow is supposed to be empathic and empowering to single moms. Wonder if all these rabidly pro-life moms kick their pregnant teenage daughters out of the house to save face. Wonder if these places make money. Consider taking up a nicotine habit to get these thoughts out of your head.
  14. Consider the nicotine idea more seriously. After all, there is a tobacco store on almost every block, and since this is Virginia, there’s no tax because smoking is not considered a sin. But the use of marital aids, on the other hand… that’s not only a sin, it’s illegal.
  15. Try to pay your electric bill at a check cashing place. Get told by every place in town that they are not authorized payment centers. After the tenth place, get frustrated and be told “not to pull an attitude with us, lady.” Look online for the one random Indian deli in town that is. Find it in an abandoned parking lot on the bad side of town, in a storefront with almost no merchandise. Wonder if the place is a drug dealer front. Sort of wish it was.
  16. Consider a drug habit.
  17. Consider a whipped cream habit.
  18. Count steak, rib and BBQ houses in town. Stop at 50. Count vegetarian restaurants. Find none.
  19. Count paintball places. Find many. Count gay bars. Find none.
  20. Call the Spotsylvania Town Center management company and say you’d like to open a Christian Marital Aids shop called “His Pleasures.” In a kiosk.
  21. Wait 45 minutes in line at Carl’s for a drippy (but famous) old-school soft-serve ice cream cone. Forget that they only accept cash. Find a $5 bill in a compartment in your purse. Read a sign upon approaching the window that says “Sorry for the inconvenience, we are out of 1’s. Can you help us?”
  22. Count the Starbucks in town. Use toes when you run out of fingers. Wonder how such a soulless, overmarketed chain could possibly survive when there are such amazing local java joints like Tickers and that place off Spotsy Crossing that used to be a dollar store.
  23. Stand in front of a Christian bookstore and campaign for Equality Now.
  24. Drive your non-transparent 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 plastics, and colored cardboard waste miles away to be recycled because the county dump and private disposal companies all just draw blank stares when you say that you actually care about this.
  25. Get invited to play the organ in a Southern Baptist church by a total stranger who learns that you bought a synthesizer on Craigslist. (Yes, this really happened to me).
  26. Attend a Nascar race. Pack wine coolers. Offer to spectators. Watch reactions.
  27. Publicly consume tofu.
  28. Drive to Fairview beach. Find out it’s not even a beach at all, but a few square feet of mosquito-infested riverbank. Have fun tossing pebbles into the water. Go home.
  29. Spend your entire tax refund on fireworks.
  30. Memorize the lyrics of bluegrass, country and gospel songs. Sing along to them on the radio.
  31. Change the station, think you’re hearing the beginning of some cool Nirvana-influenced garage band. Listen and think, “Hey, see, it’s not so bad on the radio here, who is this cool new band?” Feel intrigued. Hear lyrics. “…AND HE DIED FOR YOUR SINS.” Change station again.
  32. Try to get around without a car. Try to cross street for fifteen minutes. Consider a suit of armor.

And when you’re done having fun all day…

Run into Borders. Buy Bust, Curve, On Our Backs, random zines made by depressed college students with drug habits. Order some silver tips jasmine tea. Sit down. Relax. Sigh. Sing “Why Georgia Why.” Get a cookie or something to wash away the pain. Grab a store calendar. Hear a gay accent in the distance (occasionally) and perk up. Listen to songs that aren’t about God, hunting, blondes or trucks. Resolve to purchase a marital aid, even if you have to take out a loan and travel to Delaware for it. Promise yourself that THIS is the week you’ll get a sitter and finally try to attend that poetry slam, even if it sucks.

Oh wait… that rhymed. (See, I really do need to get to that poetry slam.)

Maybe I might even run into a vegetarian. Who doesn’t believe that orgasms obtained by any means other than the genital apparatus of an opposite-sex spouse, should be against the law.

Maybe they’ll even ask me out on a paintball date.

I can’t wait.

© Sarah Noack 2007

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I have always, to some extent, always felt I was born in the wrong body. Sure, some things about being female-embodied are fun. Breasts, for example. It’s definitely nice to have these things. Although there are definitely days I would be happy to do without them. I like having them, but sometimes I wish I could keep them as accessories instead of permanently attached body parts.

However, there is one thing that I don’t think I will ever get used to. BLEEDING.

I have a friend who refers affectionately to this time of month as her “Moon Time,” and celebrates it by pampering herself with special teas and playing hooky from work. I have another who practices bellydancing (she calls it “Goddess Dance”), and claims that it has helped her feel much more strong and empowered during this transformative time in her cycle. I even know a lesbian couple that finds menstrual blood a turn-on and includes it in their sex play (something I never, no matter how much you pay me, will do).

But I don’t get any of this romanticism of what to me, essentially just boils down to a homely, convalescent burp in my natural rhythms. I don’t understand it. I don’t want a cycle. I hate cycles. I hate watching my body change and do strange things I have no control of. I hate feeling the tides of lymph swelling up my tissues until my eyes look hung over and my pants don’t button. I hate staying up at night with cramps and nausea. I hate the ebbs and flows of breast sensitivity and weight. And I hate pain. Most of all, I really, really hate blood. I hate the sight of it, the smell, the implications of death and fear.

While I believe in a higher power, I am mystified by the concept of blood periods. I mean, couldn’t women have been designed a little better? Why do we have to bleed? It’s not just some mysteriously enticing body secretion, it’s BLOOD: a bad-smelling substance that reminds us of violence, wounds, war—coming out of our vaginas, a part of our bodies that’s supposed to represent beauty, sensitivity and regenerative power. How undignified! How evocative of all the abuse and enslavement we’ve suffered over the aeons! It almost feels like something a really cruel man would invent as our ultimate humiliation—or worse yet, a punishment women voluntarily agreed to. I mean, how would men feel if their penises bled and felt pain regularly? Would this enhance their manly feelings, or make them feel castrated? Is menstruation really some kind of curse that we blindly accepted, and learned to develop all kinds of New Agey rationalizations for?

I don’t know. There are times I think that women have punished ourselves by learning to bleed. What if we could teach our wombs to just chill out and stop producing that damn endometrium unless we actually were trying to conceive a child? I mean, do we need to be baby-ready 24/7? Is being a woman even primarily about childbearing, anyway? To me, it is not, and this has nothing to do with kneejerk feminism. To me, the idea of a woman’s body being eternally receptive to sperm seems instinctively wrong… like maybe we haven’t mastered some secrets of feminine biological power. (I also think it is possible for women to control conception without pills and artificial devices, just through the mind and knowledge of the body—but that’s a topic for another day.)

I’ve tried to accept the concept of bleeding, but the more I try, the more I just rebel against it. I don’t like calling periods “moon time.” It feels too complacent to me, too politically correct. There is nothing moonlike to me about a blood-soaked maxi pad. To me, it’s just a PERIOD… kind of like detention. It’s a week of “time out” of each month—one quarter of my entire life—where I get to feel fat, achy, weak, and dirty.

And for all of the old-school feminists of the world who find my last adjective offensive… let’s pick up a science book here. There is NOTHING CLEAN about menstrual flow. It’s blood mixed with mucous and pieces of the inside of your uterus. Blood is what comes out of a raw steak. It attracts flies and predators. Blood is what comes out of someone when you knife them. Blood is what mosquitoes suck from our flesh. For exactly one quarter of our lives as childbearing women, we (biological women at least) have to sit around figuring out ways to clean blood off ourselves and our clothing, and to avoid showing the world any evidence of our normalcy. There is no one that can tell me this isn’t just really, really wrong.

If it weren’t for my fondness for breasts and my revulsion toward surgery, I might have gone FTM a long time ago. And when I get a chance to pick out my next body, next time around I’ll probably return to a male form. Being a woman is so confusing to me on so many levels. There are some things I like about it—like the ability to cry and wear flowered shirts without being called a faggot—but so many more things about womanhood I can do without. And bleeding is top on my list.

In the end, I just feel confused by femininity. I honor it, I respect it, but I feel so often like I’ve wandered into it as a tourist, and found that I’ve gotten into something that’s way over my head. And occasionally, I want out. Sometimes it’s hard for me to sort out what is true femininity—which to me, is POWERFUL—and the disease, the “curse” of female disempowerment that on affects nearly all double X-ers to some extent. There are days I could completely imagine living without breasts. There are other days I marvel at the fact that I’ve managed to bear and nurse a child. It feels so odd to think about this. I don’t want to do it again—once was enough. Even if I actually wanted a second child, which I don’t, I can’t imagine going through childbirth again. If being a woman is like a daily dose of culture shock to my brain, labor to me felt like being initiated into a secret society where you have to learn to eat worms and get tattooed by herds of fire ants. My brain was one big “WTF” during the entire experience.

I don’t know if things will change once I hit menopause. I think that while most women dread this phase of life, I’ll celebrate it with joy and relief. I feel like what I dislike most about being a woman, is feeling my body is a usable commodity with an expiration date. A man is always a man, he is always considered many and useful. A man can even improve with age. He is not stalled or even kept home by the humiliations of blood and pain. He is not slowed down and weakened by pregnancies, nursing, hormonal fluctuations. He doesn’t have to focus on such grotesquely elemental concerns all the time. He can have one foot in the ether and one foot on the earth.

For a woman, it is very hard to get that second foot out of the earth. Even if she never is able to bear a child, her body always taunts her with the prospect. Even if she never wants a child, she has to put up with this monthly bleeding. And if she does have a child, she cannot be left alone. She is weak and needs help and support.

I know it’s really not the feminist thing to do, criticizing our most sacred bodily function. But when I think about it instinctively, menstruation still disturbs me. It feels downwright wrong. And even if this suspicion of biological foul play ousts me from the inner circle of estrogen-worshipping goddess warriors, I’m going to be honest about it. I hate to bleed. And I question why a God who can create the aurora borealis, puppies and macadamia nuts couldn’t have figured this one out a little better.

© Sarah Noack 2007

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