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…Well, and my son too. My dad read me the  Narnia series as a kid, and it remains one of my most treasured memories. But as a girl with a lot of aunts, I see the mother-daughter relationship play out in my family constantly, and it’s something I want to take my place in.

And so: a partial list.

1. The full Chronicles of Narnia, beginning with The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and then backing up and proceeding chronologically. You can say what you like about the Christian undertones (and overtones and overall tones), but you miss those as a kid. All you hear is the talking animals and the epic fights and the children who become kings and queens. And it’s a simple-language book, for the most part; the words aren’t obsessively complex. And it takes a while–seven books will carry you for a long time.

2. The full Little House on the Prairie series, read from the yellowbound and yellowing copies that belonged to my mother when she was my age. When I took a Children’s Lit class, every girl in the room had memories of wanting to be like Laura. (And despising Mary.) I want my kid to be linked to me and my mother and her mother through these books.

3. Black Beauty. This is an extremely hefty book for a little girl; I was less than seven when my mother started reading this to me. It’s full of pain and suffering and appalling treatment of animals, but it’s beautiful too. It’s singlehandedly responsible for my early love of horses, and at the root of my desire to work in an old-style English stable; I own three copies. The biggest and heaviest is the one my mother read to me, because of the handsome pictures; someday I will sit in my bed with my daughter and give her her first lessons in horsemanship from that book.

4. Matilda. I will of course keep all the Dahl books in the house, but I have a soft spot for this one. The first way I experienced Matilda was on tape, and it’s wonderful to hear out loud, because it can be light and lovely for Ms. Honey and roaring and wicked for the Trunchbull, and deeply twerpy for Matilda’s parents. Preferably I’ll read to her out of my elderly copy, and she’ll read along in hers if she wants to. I never fell asleep without being read to when I was under eight.

I’ll be along with more later. It’s a long list.

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Let me tell you something: I wrote this so young that I was misspelling my best friend at the time’s name.

That means I must have been within a few months of having met her for the first time, which puts me at no more than thirteen. I’d already been murmuring poetry and stories to the air since I started working at the barn at nine, to soothe myself and my horses. Writing it down was a new thing, at that age, and I had so many ideas, so many wild directions I was going in.

This is the first of those directions. The first step on the first road. The first signpost and dirt path and bridge to the other side and doorway and game track through the underbrush.

It’s also really, really awful. Oh god, it’s so bad.

The first sign of what kind of horror the reader is in for comes in the title: “Year 2017”. This makes me laugh–we’re only six years out from that now. When it was 1999 or 2000, that was forever away. The second thing is that it’s covered in edits, and yet, it’s clear that they were as effective as taking a cup of water and trying to empty the sea.

What follows is all I could bear to type up of it.

It was the late December of the year 2017 in southmost New Mexico. Nearly sixteen years ago, on January 1 of 2002, a scientist established contact with the wolves, who were more intelligent than anyone had suspected. On the same day, a girl was born in a nearby town, and a boy was born on the other side of the same town at exactly the same moment. Neither of them knew.

All you need to know—the entire plot—is inherent in those four sentences. It was super simple: the girl was Lia, the boy was Rowan. Their wolves were Icefall and Shay, respectively. On one level I am so totally humiliated by this. I didn’t understand how to tell a story. How to start and where to go.

But I was learning, moment by moment. It wasn’t a great piece of fiction, but by the end there were glimpses of good dialog and not entirely one-dimensional characters. Later, I would take the plot and gently transpose it onto a different setting, and removed the wolves, and set it in motion to see what would happen.

The best thing, really, is that I didn’t realize it was bad, and no one told me–so I was never discouraged, as a young writer, from doing what I liked, as terrible as it might be. By the time I met and started writing with Melissa, the dearest of all my most darling friends, I was visibly better—and that wasn’t much more than a few months after I began. There’s never a steeper learning curve than the first one, yeah?

Melissa and I were writing these parallel narratives during seventh and eighth grade; totally different characters and plots, but similar in pacing and content. I don’t remember much about hers, but this is mine. It’s called Child of the Dragon; it’s a good 123 pages handwritten. I’m rereading it now, and there are some moments that delight me for the promise they show, and some that make me laugh out loud because they are so very silly. Also, I apparently really liked the word “truly”.

This is also where I started using in media res.

April groaned, and lifted the heavy pail of water, arms straining. She truly hated this job sometimes.

“Need some help, Rill?” Mikel grinned at her, and took one of the bucket’s handles. “Does the mistress even know you can’t lift one of these without my help?”

She shook her head, honey-colored hair just brushing her shoulders. Her eyes flicked to Mikel’s face through her lashes, and he noted with amusement that they were emerald green today. Yesterday they were sky blue, the day before, lilac. The whole village talked about her eyes, saying servants, especially scullery maids, should not be so noticeable, and spreading rumors. Mikel was willing to admit he’d never seen eyes like hers before, but he could not accept the idea the April was anything more than human. Surely a girl with magic or the blood of dragons or demons would not submit to hauling water and scrubbing floors. He had known her most of his life, and though she seemed to sometimes have a flash of wisdom beyond her words, she was in most respects a normal sixteen year old girl.

I love being able to see that I was learning. I don’t write fiction these days anymore, and that’s too bad—it doesn’t come as easy anymore. I’d like to try writing more fiction; I have ideas, and some excellent characters living behind my eyes. I want to let them help me write their stories down.

I think if I were to write that first story again, just the first few sentences, it would be almost unrecognizable. I think there would be the same undertone, the same conflict, maybe even still the same animals prowling through it. Lia becomes a zookeeper’s daughter or a circus-act kid, or, making her older, a conservation advocate—and always a runaway from something; Rowan remains what he is, a loner, solitary and intense and moving steadily away from everything until something brings him up short.

Or maybe he’s a girl now.

It’s an old story, and everyone tells it. But that doesn’t mean there’s not still a way to come at it fresh and vibrant and laughing with glee with the fun of it.

It’s just finding that way again—hunting out that little deertrack leading into deeper woods—that’s hard.

 

(Truly.)

Coexisting

My name is Bones.

…or Edie.

Or–rarely these days–Talia.

I do have a perfectly serviceable birthname which suits me fairly well, but I decided to leave it off in favor of anonymity. I’ve also gone by other monikers; some of them the proper sort of nicknames that are derived from my the one I was born with, some more along the lines of “short stuff”. I went by Aurélie in highschool, from four years of full-immersion French classes. I picked up bossmare and hyena-girl somewhere along the line. I like names. I like the flexibility and the chance to take on a slightly different personality.

I’ve been moving between names without thinking about it for a long time, not just with myself but with other people. Cris and Liam were the same person, who was sometimes called Dragon; so were Melissa and Byrd, Fey and Heather, Carolyn and Leyna. Kendra was Kendra or Dama or Dee, depending on what year it was. Grace and George are she and he, two individuals in one mind, one body, one personality. We’re all of us in our twenties now–somewhere between 23 and 26, and these were names we took as kids, ten years ago. When I talk to these people about each other, I still use the names we used in those days; so do they. When I talked to my parents, or to those friends outside of that little gang, or now, to my post-highschool friends, I called and call them by the names they were born with. (Except George, who is always George.) This is a way that I show love; private names, private stories, things that are just-between-us-two (or three, or four).

I never even thought about the swapping back and forth, and I rarely slipped up, which considering I was also swapping pronouns was pretty impressive. I was doing things like this within moments; getting off the phone and saying “Bye, Liam,” and then instantly saying to my mother “Cris wants to know if (whatever)”. I lived quite happily in two realities, and although parts of them eventually came crashing down, it’s a skill I kept.

(Incidentally, and for those who don’t know, I was called Talia.)

When I started spending a lot of time online, I ended up in a slightly different but surprisingly similar situation, in that when you’re online, you choose your name. Hapa, Juno, Luna, Winger, Pocky–these were names people went by because they worked for them, because they matched with their identities and views of themselves. We don’t get to choose our names as a general rule; our parents choose our birthnames and our friends choose our nicknames and our lovers choose our pet names (in case you weren’t listening, that’s where Bones is from). But online we choose who we are; there are people who don’t know me as anything other than Edie.

I think what I was trying to get to, in a roundabout fashion, is why it’s easy for me to swap people’s names and genders in a way that gives other people a lot of trouble. I have, sort of by accident, rather a lot of gender-variant friends and partners, and sort of by accident I’m comfortable with swapping names and pronouns over. I’m always annoyed by people who mess up pronouns again and again, who don’t listen for sentence and context clues as to how one should be referring to an individual, who don’t ask, when they hear those clues and are confused, what name and pronoun the person prefers. I used to say, “Who are we being now?” to my friends, and change how I addressed them accordingly; these days I say, “What pronoun would you like me to use?” This wasn’t a hard transition, no pun intended; more like walking over a bridge than jumping a chasm. I don’t understand — and yet I do — why people find this hard.

I grew up like this. Not everybody does.

I’m pretty sure that when I started this entry a month ago, it was supposed to be about gender pronouns and the way the way people around transgender individuals handle their transitions, but it didn’t turn out that way–that’s actually something I’ll handle later. Seven years ago today I lost one of those private identities pretty much for good. I learned what it was like to have to talk about yourself almost as another person, and while it’s not the same as listening to my trans* friends try to talk about themselves before they transitioned, it runs parallel. How do you talk sensibly about someone who is and isn’t you? How do you draw the line between selves, and how far do you let that line blur–or isn’t there a line? Does that self become, at some point, a different person, who you can talk to and understand and remember, but separate, or was it always you at the bottom of things?

These are questions I’ve been asking myself for years. I know this bit of the post at least is coming off self-indulgent and silly, but having a partner who has deeply examined themselves and their identity, in a really meaningful way, can mean you start to do a lot more thinking.

I’m Bones these days, and happy being her. But sometimes, I miss fitting so comfortably into Talia’s name that I didn’t know where she ended, and I began.

Oath

In Life’s name, and for Life’s sake, I assert that I will use the Art which is its gift in Life’s service alone, rejecting all other usages. I will guard growth and ease pain; I will fight to preserve what grows and lives well in its own way, nor will I change any creature unless its growth and life, or that of the system of which it is part, is threatened or threatens another. To these ends, in the practice of my Art, I will ever put aside fear for courage, and Death for Life, when it is right to do so, looking always towards the Heart of Time, where all our wounded times are one, and all our myriad worlds lie whole, in That from Which they proceeded —

Next to the “I Believe” speech from American Gods, this is the closest I have to a formal religious creed. I was raised Catholic and I’ve identified as a transcendentalist for several years. Some people may notice a certain amount of tension between the two identities — a belief system that focuses on the Mass and a belief system that focuses on the individual finding God in his or her own way — and I’m aware of this. I like it. As someone who tries to embrace the contradictory aspects of her own personality, and not just try to force them all into alignment with each other, I appreciate the sensibility. Big chunks of my personality can be traced back to the ritual and hierarchy of my Mass-attending childhood; equally big parts come from my adolescent discovery of a way to find god in nature and other people.

But Catholicism and Transcendentalism ain’t got nothing on Diane Duane.

The title of this blog comes from “So You Want To Be A Wizard”, a children’s novel published four years before I was born, the first in a series of nine books (the latest was just published this past March).  They’re higher quality and better written than anything by Rowling; the characters are more engaging and the conflict between good and evil more nuanced. Things aren’t simple; there is no one enemy whose defeat will solve everything.

And wound through everything is the Wizard’s Oath — a promise to preserve life and all things living, to slow down the eventual heat-death of the universe, to stop pain if I can.

And that means my own pain too.

When things are bad with me I have to find a way to get through things. I’m accustomed to using structured forms to soothe myself, whether it’s pacing the same path in the kitchen or knitting or keeping the same half-dozen words from whatever scene I’m working on running through my head. The first half of my senior year at college was rough for me, with a broken ankle and a thesis that badly needed attention and a mental state all scrambled by some stupid girl. I was hauling myself through every single day with my teeth gritted and my shoulders stiff. I was tired and I was overwhelmed and I was hurt. I needed something to hold onto, to remind myself that there were people and a world and a whole wide universe outside of my own head.

And so every day I put my fingers to the copy of the Oath above my pillow and I said the words out loud. I said it and sometimes I cried with the ache of how hard it is to put aside fear. I don’t know if I believe in God but I believe in the Heart of Time, where we will be reunited with everyone and everything that we’ve loved and lost. So every morning for weeks, and every evening, I promised that I would look towards that place and away from entropy. I said to the one who stood behind me, Fairest and Fallen, greetings and defiance, and reminded myself that we are all equal in the One.

And it helped. It helped to find strength in something greater than myself, even if it was only something from a children’s novel. I was coping through ritual and creed, the only way I knew how. I wrote the Oath everywhere, including against the darkness behind my eyes. And slowly I came out of it. Slowly, it became easier to know that this was the right when to put aside pain.

This is how I worship. These are the words I say.

For Life. For Life. For Life.

Picture This

Sometimes work makes me really sad.

Let me explain: I work part time at what is essentially a medical journal. Part of my job is to go  through all these pictures which we use in the text and take down what part of a person they show and whether we need to get a disclosure from them because it is clear who they are. Like tattoos or genital area (okay, maybe genitals do not show who you are, but I mark those as a higher priority because would you want your bits published without signing off on it?) or face. And like maybe 90% of the time this is fine — sometimes horrifying, because I am a massive hypochondriac, but mostly fine — but sometimes I run into something that makes me sit back and rub my eyes and heave a very long, very sad sigh.

Last week I was doing Pediatrics.

Now this is sort of an upsetting topic to be working with in general; sick kids are never fun and they are nearly always unhappy in the pictures. Some of the images are postmortem and that’s really, really depressing. As they say, though, you can get used to anything — and I move so fast through the list that it’s hard to take  it all in. But I do have to look at each image long enough to note down what it is, and that means I have to look at what it is.

I’d already run into several images of children with intersex conditions, one of which ticked me off because the caption referred to the child as “hermaphrodite”, which I looked up later to check if it was still okay to use in certain medical situations (it’s not). However, that’s a fairly recent change, and the copyright is clearly a handful of years old, so whatever.

Then I ran into a pair of images that was clearly the same child (genetically female but phenotypically male) before and after “corrective” surgery and suddenly I was just plain unhappy. This kid’s future had been determined almost before their eyes were open by doctors who could not possibly know what gender they were going to be as an adult. I just can’t help thinking — what if that child who is socialized as a little girl grows up and realizes that ze is actually a guy? Or what if ze had been allowed to be a child who simply had non-normative genitals, and were taught that they were just fine the way they were? Intersex kids grow up mentally healthy when they are left well enough alone (hello, Hida Valoria), and there is just absolutely no reason to cut up a child’s genitalia without their permission. For those thinking “But we circumcise boys!” I say three things: 1, should we even be doing that anymore, really? 2, there are lifelong continuing serious physical and psychological effects, and 3, doctors are massively altering body parts that are completely healthy and undamaged, sometimes without parental consent. For those of you who believe that does not happen, you are wrong.

I ache for this unnamed child. I was talking to Jim about this last night, and he agreed with me when I said that I sort of hope for a kid who is intersex, simply because Jim and I, by virtue of being a queer woman and a transmasculine guy in a committed relationship, think a lot about sexuality and gender and sex, and how much being told you should be a certain way hurts. I want to tell my child from day one that non-typical genitalia doesn’t mean anything, that if they want to be a boy they can be, and if they want to be a girl they can be, and if they want to be both or neither then that’s fine too, and it’s their body and their choice.

I don’t know much about intersex. I do my reading, but it’s not even something I have personal experience with (like I do with queer and, to a lesser extent, trans issues). I feel so uninformed and so ignorant and so stuck as to where to even start learning, but even I know it is terribly, terribly wrong to do that to a child.

I am so sad that these things still happen.

First, let me direct you over to The Analytical Couch Potato, where you will find the blog it took me three hours and a lot of ranting at Jim to write. If any of you are interested in the full text of it (about 500 words longer, The Editor and I did some cutting), let me know and I’ll message you.

One of the things I cut was this line: “[Tranny] is not like dyke, or fag, or queer — words which have been reclaimed by the current LGBQ population as descriptors and positives.” I didn’t want to take it out, and neither did The Editor (who is fascinated by the general subject of changing connotations) but it wasn’t essential and anyway, I have my own blog to talk about things like that.

And trust me, it’s going to need the space.

One of the tags I use for these entries almost every time I write is “dyke”. On one level, it sort of misses the point of having tags if I use the same one over and over, but on another it’s the single most accurate word to describe a lot of what I talk about and where it comes from. That’s because I have to admit that my primary self-identification, at least in my head, is as a dyke. These days I’m much more likely to explain myself to people as a queer woman, and when I first came out I usually put it as “I’m a lesbian”. The latter seemed simpler; the former is more accurate, as it encompasses the fact that I date and sleep with gender-variant individuals, and doesn’t imply that I am only attracted to them because they are biologically female (something on which much, much more at a later date).

But dyke is more than just a descriptor — it’s a word I chose because it was a way to take what I felt about being young and gay and under a lot of pressure and turn it all around. Part of it comes from that deep place inside every queer teenager – hell, maybe inside every teenager – that knows what it feels like to be taunted with words that you know are hurtful, but whose meanings you don’t know, you just know that there’s a nasty punch behind them. It’s worse than knowing what the words are; I could shake off taunts about my glasses or height or tendency to read ALL THE BOOKS, because whatever, man, nothing I have not heard.

I got called a dyke starting in middle school, and I didn’t really figure out what they meant for years, but it bothered me nonetheless. Calling myself a dyke once I got to highschool was a way of disallowing them to hurt me, of saying, Yes, this is me, this is my word, this is who I am and you cannot take that away or change it. This was before I was aware of the historical connotations of dyke, and the expansive butch and dyke subculture of the 50s (read Stone Butch Blues sometime, it might just change your world), and that by calling myself one I was in fact joining in a movement of reclamation that would, within my lifetime, change the word queer from a painful slur to an encompassing term that brings everyone from gay men to asexuals to intersex people together and allows us to become a kind of family.

(Remember, though, that families sometimes families fight; that’s a whole different post.)

I call myself a dyke now because it gives me joy. Because to me it connotes strength and fierceness and an ability to get through a whole lot of shit by just lifting up your chin and walking with confidence and with purpose. It’s about picking up a haybale with one hand and moving sets and being strong for people who need me to be strong. It is the hand on the back of your neck or the small of your back that says, I will protect you. As a public speaker, I love the challenging pop of the K, the way it is a short, sharp, look-you-in-the-eye-and-dare-you-to-retort word. I love the way it can be affectionate, from a person who has earned the right to call you that.

I’m tired now, but that’s something I’ll talk about tomorrow eventually; earning the right, and why you have to do that, and why it’s important. I’ll talk about agency and those words that, in the queer community, are unacceptable. And I’ll talk about why I think reclamation of slurs is so important, and why I think it happens.

(Also, if you missed it, there’s a new post right below this one that goes with the topic.)

I intend for this to stand as a prologue, and on its own. This is very typical of how I propose and defend any thesis, and a very early start at looking at gender and sexual identity. I am sort of proud and sort of embarrassed of it; I see a fairly clear lack of thinking about the importance of clothing and gender presentation in the trans community, which is fair because I knew little about it. And I also think there’s also some genderbendy stuff going on with dykes and butches, so that’s fine.

When I wear a skirt, I stand with my feet planted firmly on the ground, wide apart, with a hand on my hip or in my pocket, with my chin up and my shoulders square. I sit with my legs apart, the material of my skirt or dress dipping down for modesty, my elbows on my knees, my spine curved down towards my thighs so that my head is held up, my eyes level. I lace my fingers in the empty space between my knees. Or I get myself into impossible contortions in a chair, one leg underneath me and one pulled up to my chest, or Indian-style with my hands in my lap. And I wear sneakers with thick tights, and collared polo shirts, and one of two caps (newsboy and British) or a bandanna. In other words, when I wear a skirt, I look like a dyke.

This is not an accident.

It started out as an accident, though, and for a long time I thought that it was purely one. There is even a half-started essay on my hard drive whose central point was the idea that I don’t dress like I do on purpose. It’s only in the past three years that I’ve started wearing skirts on a regular basis; when I traveled to Australia I had to struggle to choose three to bring, and purchased another one after arriving. Not coincidentally, it’s over the past few years that my presentation of myself as a dyke – more on that word later – has solidified.

I don’t present as “tiny, bull-headed dyke” so strongly in spite of wearing a skirt, but because of it. A skirt is by very definition stereotypically feminine, something I am not that keen on being seen as, but I like wearing them – in summer they are cooler and easier than shorts, in winter a heavy skirt and tights keeps me warmer than jeans ever will, and there’s just no joy in dancing when your clothes don’t move with you when you twirl. But straight girls wear skirts, femmes wear skirts – and in my head I am neither, nor am I the occasional enlightened male. So how do I wear a piece of clothing I am comfortable in when I don’t wish to deal with the stereotypes associated with it?

The answer turns out to be a classic answer for queers – subvert. Make the clothing (the words, the attitude, the style, the lifestyle) your own, in a way that changes its meaning, its connotations and its stereotypes. Define it, don’t let it define you.

So I made skirts the thing that showed me clearly as a dyke. It wasn’t as hard as it might seem. Loose-legged jeans and khakis are technically men’s clothing; acting male in them doesn’t actually draw that much attention to you; it’s almost what people expect to see, and so they ignore it. But when a girl puts on a skirt and continues to act in what are traditionally male-gendered ways, she gets noticed. And if she puts on sneakers with that skirt, and a newsboy hat and a loose-fitting teeshirt…?

Think about it. Who is more noticeable sitting with her knees wide, or walking with long strides down the street, or sprawled on the floor – the woman in the skirt or the woman in pants? The former is unexpected, a direct contradiction of gender norms. Women sit with their legs together. Women walk delicately, with swaying hips. Women recline. Women wear blouses and heels, nylons and pearls. Men are the ones who are expansive in their motions, long of stride and careless of how they set themselves down, relaxed in what they wear.

So a girl who chooses – and notice I say chooses, because this (like calling one’s self a dyke) is at least partially a conscious decision – to pair the male-gendered way of moving with the female-gendered way of dressing instantly sets herself apart. And that’s the way I want it; if I wear a skirt or a dress, I don’t want to feel like I’m becoming someone else when I put it on. Instead I find ways to subvert that feminine ideal, to change and undermine it. I call myself a dyke for the same reason, despite the knee-jerk reactions of my mother’s generation; the word was and still is an insult, but in happily choosing to apply that word to myself, I challenge its definition and reinvent the meaning, making it both more and less.

I love wearing skirts, and I am proud of who I am. For a long time I was unable to reconcile those two things in my mind – what kind of dyke wears a skirt? So it was jeans, sneakers, and boy’s sweaters for me. But when I left high school and started to meet butches and femmes, dykes and tomboys, transgenders and genderqueers, I began to question the saying I’d always been taught: “The clothes make the man”. Maybe they do. But I’m a woman, and my clothes do not define me. I define my clothes by how I choose to wear them. So, when I wear a skirt and still look like a dyke, it’s not an accident.

It is a choice.