On Queer Heterosexuality

I love Matt Baume’s podcast The Sewers of Paris. He interviews gay men about a piece of culture that changed their life. A question which occurs often in these interviews – and in any interview that touches on sexual identity – is “when did you know?”

Before I get going, an aside: I’m about to get intimate and personal. What I write here bears on my feelings and identity, not on my expectations for any other person.

That Matt’s guests are able to answer this at all astounds me. At nearly 40 I’m happily married but I never knew anything meaningful about my sexual identity.

Another aside: let me define the terms I’ll use; my definitions may be inconsistent with others’. If so I apologize for further confusing such important and delicate topics – hopefully the following will at least clarify my intent. I use “sex” to mean physical and biological indicia: genitalia, frame, secondary sex traits (eg breasts), chromosomes and sex hormones (eg testosterone, progesterone). I use “gender” to describe the emotional, psychological and affectional identity a person brings to their sex and sexuality; a transsexual’s gender and sex at birth are, to my understanding, mismatched. I’m using “sexual identity” as a more outward-directed version of gender – gender flavored by sex and reflected back: do you read as gay, as male, as straight, as female, as something else? Do others read you differently than you read yourself? I am hoping to make my sexual identity match my gender identity.

I thank the effort at inclusion and considerateness of the trans community for clarifying that gender and sex don’t need to match; that realization has made a tremendous difference to me. While I still don’t know my gender identity, I feel closer to it by understanding that it isn’t defined by my sex.

There were years when I couldn’t masturbate without essentially imagining that my penis was a dildo I was inserting in myself. My need to be sexual with myself needed a workaround for my sex. I have since become more comfortable matching my body to my sexuality, but that comfort hasn’t revealed the gender identity behind the sexuality.

Later I tried to inhabit my male body in a way that made sense to me by dressing how I thought a butch lesbian would. I wore hiking boots, levis, v-neck shirts, flannels and had my hair long in the bangs but buzzed down everywhere else. I’ve become more – though not entirely – comfortable wearing clothes considered appropriate to men in the kind of professional settings I inhabit.

My sex is male, and that doesn’t make me uncomfortable the way it did once. I’m uncomfortable in my body because its large frame hits its head on low doorways, falls over easily and doesn’t fit in the bus seat more than because it has a penis.

The word “man” applied to me has always made me uncomfortable.

There are social expectations placed on “men” that don’t make sense to me. Given the primacy placed on genitals by a language in which pronouns make sentience dependant on sex, this discomfort has made me feel at a loss for an identity.

I’m not gay. I thought I was for years because gay identity seemed to more closely match my gender than cis identity. The opening lines to Macklemore’s Same Love have been condemned by queer critics as something akin to swaggerjacking: using someone else’s oppression to make himself feel cool. But I identify with those lines. Where society doesn’t have space for gender nonconformity, whatever made Macklemore and I assume we must be gay hurts every gender, and is closely related to whatever kept people from marrying a same sex beloved.

Turns out I primarily want romantic connections to women. I think I use the word “women” consistently with my prior paragraphs, because even as I cannot describe myself as a “man” per social expectations, there’s at least something connected to social expectations of female-bodied people that appeals to me romantically. That’s not to say I’m not a feminist or that I wouldn’t necessarily have a romantic interest in a female-bodied person who didn’t identify as a woman. There may be hypocrisy there but I honestly don’t feel like I understand myself well enough to say clearly.

My point is that I know I am something other than a cisgendered man, but I’ve been passing for one with varying degrees of success most of my life.

I learned the term “hetero queer” a while ago and eagerly saved up for the slightly expensive book of essays Thinking Straight: The Power, Promise and Paradox of Heterosexuality (Chrys Ingraham, ed) to get a look at the essay Crossing the Borders of Gendered Sexuality: Queer Masculinities of Straight Men by Robert Heasley. The essay disappointed me somewhat; it didn’t quite make me feel included or understood. The primary impression Heasley’s essay left me with was that a Hetero Queer is a heterosexual who chooses to adopt superficial trappings of gayness in an attempt to challenge injustice directed at gays.

That feels offensive to me in several ways. First it strikes me as a pretty crass example of swaggerjacking – here adopting identifiers of gayness in order to gain some of the perceived cachet of being unusual without having to be personally interesting. In the same way those “solidarity singles” used the injustice of marriage inequality to make themselves feel special.

Second, the essay’s overwhelming treatment of hetero queer identity as intentional makes me feel excluded or ignored. His typology of queer heterosexuals includes only one category of people for whom the identity is anything but a conscious choice. Of this category he says

These boys, as Jim suggests, would not be likely to do the analysis to understand their experience; they would not add a “gender component” to thinking about their relatively low status, and the particular form of isolation they experienced from those with the highest status. And they certainly are unlikely to add a sexual component to any thinking about their status, seeing that their position is not only a result of failure to perform hegemonic masculinity but also hegemonic heterosexuality.

It’s not for lack of noticing or trying that this gender murkiness remains in my life. I feel like Heasley’s description falls somewhere on an asymptotic curve that will never quite touch my experience.

When I told one of my closest friends that I thought I had found in Hetero Queer a gender identity that might actually fit me, she said something to the effect of “maybe for Iowa but in DC, you’re pretty cis.” I felt further alienated and misunderstood. Notwithstanding a sexual identity that passes for cis in some environments, Hetero Queer is the closest anyone has come to connecting my gender identity to a shared experience.

Passing is different from gender identity – it’s falls somewhere between what I call “sexual identity” and the presumption cisgender privilege creates that makes cis identity the default.

At my age I suppose I feel too jaded to believe that I could be making these sorts of conclusions about myself out of a desire to be noticed or to draw attention to the inanity of prevailing gender roles and identities. I think I would stay fully closeted if I felt I could. But there’s either something unusual about me, something unnaturally proscriptive about prevailing notions of gender or both. As people who think and speak in a language that demands describing someone’s sex in order to imbue their pronouns with sentience, there really must be something unnatural about our notions of gender. In light of that, I’d welcome being described using the singular “they”. I won’t request those pronouns outright, and I don’t want anyone to use them if it makes them uncomfortable. Moreover, passing for cisgender remains too valuable for me to want always to be referred to as “they”. But familiarization with nongendered pronouns – ways to talk and think about people like me – might save others some of my pain and confusion.

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You look radixing

I sure hope a math nerd sees this and helps me make sense of this stuff.

I do math in my head to get myself to sleep. One of my favorite methods has been converting numbers between different bases or radixes (radices?). I started wondering if there was a more purely mathematical way to represent numbers. Radix/ces seem arbitrary.
Since primes are the same regardless of base could they be a less arbitrary way to represent numbers? The math iself affords them special relevance. I thought about it for a couple weeks of bedtimes before breaking down and googling it. I found Mixed Radix Primary Notation.

Each place stands for a prime number and the digits stand in essence for powers of that number.
I think i have the hang of it as far as comverting to or from but it seems to be more radix-less or infinite-radix than mixed radix (radix is the number of symbols used to represent numbers – afaik there is no limit to the number of symbols one would eventually use in primary notation). Also, what is it for?

Just for fun, and in case anyone out there can check me, counting back:
twenty 102
Nineteen 10,000,000
Eighteen 21
Seventeen 1,000,000
Sixteen 4
Fifteen 110
Fourteen 1001
Thirteen 100,000
Twelve 12
Eleven 10,000
Ten 101
Nine 20
Eight 3
Seven 1000
Six 11
Five 100
Four 2
Three 10
Two 1
One (oops, no one bothered to make a one!)

So it probably is not for counting.It does make multiplication easy. eg fourteen times twenty looks like this: 1001×102=1103 It looks like addition without any carrying if i understand correctly.
1103 is two hundred eighty (seven times five times two cubed… i think)

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Want a Custom Pocket Journal?

I’ve been using a combination of journaling styles from bulletjournal.com and Chris Hardwick’s The Nerdist Way; both exploit the flexibility of graph paper in really cool ways.

I have a medium size graph paper journal l carry in my briefcase, but I wanted something I could be sure I’d always have close at hand – a little pocket notebook. Now that I have such a thing, I can confidently say you won’t realize how handy something like this will turn out being to you until you’ve carried one for a bit.

Continue reading

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Pedestrian Emergency Kit

Named “Pedestrian” as a sort of pun on that word’s double meaning, this is a kit for the flâneur, to address quotidian emergencies. This is not a wilderness survival kit. This is a kit to carry every day, designed for the modicum of preparedness required by the meaningful connections between human activities forged by urban living.

The Altoid tin, being an easily pocketable accessory makes an ideal container for this kit.

Because contemporary urban life involves periodic interactions with security kabuki, the tools included shouldn’t include anything ostensibly dangerous. I think the TSA rules provide a decent guide to what security checks at your local courthouse, library, or grade school might panic about, so the tools included should comply with those rules (I have not yet checked to confirm that they do).

1) Two Hydrocolloid Adhesive Pads

These act as breathable artificial scabs, protecting big cuts from both foreign substances and nerve endings from sudden jolts.

I include these as a reaction to the time I stepped out of a bus onto a patch of ice, instantly falling down and gashing my palm just enough that it didn’t make sense to attempt going to work without applying something like this.

The bandages fit neatly in the bottom of the tin, but their wrapping will need to be folded up around them.

2) Two of the biggest normal size medicated band aids.

The biggest normal size fits nicely in the kit, and can be made to fit a wide variety of cuts. The medicated part is insurance against getting caught in a situation where you don’t have access to a means to wash up: I once cut myself on the edge of a seat on the 34 trolley in Philadelphia.

In a pinch, a piece of a band aid can of course be used as tape if needed as well.

3) Soap or hand sanitizer

In my kit I included a packet of papery soap slivers I happened to have. These are not as common as they used to be, but I would probably include a small vial of hand sanitizer instead if I found a small enough one. Imagine you’re out for brunch, and the bathroom is out of soap: you know you’ve been handling the escalator railing on the Metro – a proverbial petri-dish of filth. Or, imagine you bump into your sweetheart and want to celebrate your affection for that person by pushing the boundaries of public decency: you don’t want to communicate any microbes to him or her from your filthy hands.

4) Splinter tweezers

There are wood things in cities, and some of them are splintery. Being prepared for the inconvenience of being disabled from the manual dexterity necessary for most urban jobs and recreations is a bummer. Keep some of these handy so you won’t stay out of the workforce for long.

5) Glasses repair kit

The reason to carry this is obvious if you wear glasses, but it’s an awesome thing to have on hand even if you don’t. Remember, urban living is about connecting meaningfully with other people: even if you don’t wear glasses, someone you know does, and may need a repair at some point. Moreover, the kit contains a tiny screwdriver and tiny screws which may be useful for any number of objects and devices you might encounter.

6) Two or three safety pins of varying sizes

An emergency repair to a lost trouser button, split seam or tear can quickly be effected with these. Did I mention that the edge of the 34 trolley seat in Philadelphia that cut my leg also tore a very big hole in the pair of nice Italian wool pants I was wearing at the time? I couldn’t afford to replace them or have them mended, but I could at least get through the rest of my day by popping a safety pin in them.

7) Sewing kit

A card with some needles and a few colors of thread, and maybe a needle threader will come in handy if you a) use up all your safety pins or b) have a presentation, court hearing, job interview, business lunch or other reason to look more than ordinarily presentable in the near future.

8) Folding sewing scissors

You never know when scissors will come in handy, from using the sewing kit to snipping the plastic loops off of new purchases or cutting open a tenacious blister pack. You can’t carry a pocket knife many places these days and these can be convinced to accomplish some of the things you would use a sharp blade for. They fit nicely in this tin, and comply with TSA regs.

9) Fresnel magnifying card

I don’t often need to magnify anything, but this fits nicely here, and if it can save a lot of trouble for anyone you might encounter, it belongs in the Pedestrian Emergency Kit. Urban living is about people using resources more efficiently, and doing things together they couldn’t do separately. If I have a magnifier on hand someone else needs, I’ve saved that person a trip, eyestrain, money, frustration, etc.

And who knows, maybe I’ll need to magnify something for myself at some point, anyhow.

10) Zebra T-3 Ballpoint Pen

There may be a way to get a more ergonomic pen to fit in the Altoid tin more neatly, but I find the T-3 a pretty excellent middle ground between extreme portability and decent ergonomics. It has to be sort of snapped into the tin on the diagonal, but it definitely fits without bumping up the lid.

The sorts of emergencies where pens come in handy are rarer with the increasing ease of electronic person to person payments, but you still may find yourself needing to endorse the check grandma gave you for Christmas on a Sunday night, and you’re not likely to find a pen near a lot of ATMs.

I have also been to a merchant who did not have pens to offer customers to sign their credit card slips. That was an awkward moment. Luckily someone in line did have a pen.

11) String

A length of tough string fits anywhere, and it’s gotta be useful for something. A shoestring would take up more space, but would definitely be a nice thing to have – exposure to salt in winter weakens shoelaces, and I’ve had them pop apart as I was tightening them on several occasions. My usual solution is just to tie a knot in them, but if you can fit a spare shoelace, I say why not?

12) USB drive

Use one with some good capacity – I’d say 8GB at the very least. Since more and more stuff is in the cloud these days, USB drives seem to see most of their utility in moving files too large to upload from one computer to another. Exactly the kind of pedestrian emergency I’m all about with this kit.

Use a service like UNetBootin or pendrivelinux to put a live linux distro on it. Then if something goes wrong with your computer you can boot into the linux distro on the USB drive and either try to repair the problem, or just keep working from there.

I put PortableApps on my 32GB drive. Having not only all my work but all my programs configured the way I want them on this drive is a great incentive to take this little tin wherever I go. Of course it also means you’ll want to backup and secure the drive as well.

14) Tampon

Applicatorless (OB) will fit the best, but telescoping (U-Click) will be more comfortable for more people.

I’m not a woman, I don’t menstruate. If I use this for myself, it will obviously not be for its intended purpose. But if someone needs a tampon in a pinch, there’s one here. And that’s what the Pedestrian Emergency Kit – and urban living – is all about: being ready to assist your fellow flâneurs with the mundane emergencies we can anticipate but too often find ourselves unprepared for.

What are some of the unintended purposes I might wind up using one for? I don’t know. Maybe sopping up a huge spill, or staunching a gushing wound.

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My lash-back at the Joshua Bell viral email

There’s a viral email going around that you can probably google, in which violinist Joshua Bell plays in a DC Metro station wearing a ballcap and jeans. The fact that commuters rush past him notwithstanding the fact that his violin is worth a lot and tickets to his performances are worth a lot is presented as evidence that we tend to take for granted the beauty all around us. I responded:

This irritates me because it makes a judgment about people when it should be making a judgment about performance. I am offended by the idea that this reveals anything striking about the human capacity to ignore beauty. Had I known before embarking on my commute that Josh Bell was playing in the Metro station on an eleventy bajillion dollar violin, accompanied by the ghost of Bach on cherub-fart-pipe-organ and Mozart on heavenly-fartsichord on a Monday morning, I still would have rushed by. Why? Because I’m on my way to work, and though the music is nice we have situations and spaces that let people who want to enjoy music do so. Would I have jerked my kid away? Probably. I don’t want my kid to get knocked down or impede the flow of traffic. The Metro moves a heck of a lot of people, and when there are service interruptions during rush hour, the platforms swell with unhappy commuters. An impediment to the flow of pedestrians in the form of a static audience becomes both a frustration and a potential danger. Music alone will not salve that.
Might this story not say as much about the way that a legitimizing situation overvalues culture than the way that a dilettantish situation undervalues it? If I got a great meal for free when I wasn’t hungry from a truck in an empty stripmall parking lot alone in the pouring rain, would I be able to appreciate it as much as a moderately expensive decent meal in a comfortable restaurant with pleasant company that I was actually craving? No, context is important. Context is a big part of what you pay for when you pay to see a performance. Environmental theatre is great: the thing about it is that plays are made to fit the environment, because it’s outrageous to expect an audience to give a performance out of context the kind of attention they would give to a performance in context. If I gave the best performance anyone ever saw of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, some people might think it was an interesting novelty, but most people would keep doing their damn jobs because that was what they were there to do, and I made an idiotic decision when I decided that this was a context conducive to my work. No one would likely appreciate the subtlety of the performance or the script.
I am, as an artist and performer (I admittedly have not been a performer for several years) critical of the insistence that the value of any art should be so apparent that it transcends context. Why would a performer not try to situate his or her performance in a way that engages the audience? This is poor performance craft, not a failing of the human capacity to appreciate beauty. The performance has already been rendered significantly less identifiably beautiful by this failure in the artist’s craftsmanship.
I am also critical of the notion that the price of an instrument and the price of one’s concert tickets are any kind of objective measure of the quality of one’s work. I say that not to impugn Mr. Bell, whose work I have never heard, but merely to say that dollars and cents do not make a credible yardstick by which to measure the human capacity to be ignorant to beauty.

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My podcast subscriptions


This is my gpodder.net opml, to give myself one more way to keep track of my podcasts when i have to get a new phone.

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