Irritation: or, Drove to Chicago

I've made a lot of mistakes

(Note: I wrote this post a few weeks ago. The upshot: we all survived and are doing okay in a post-vacation world.)

As a kid, I always got far too excited about family vacations, and picked out things to do that went ignored. For example, on a trip to Portland, I wanted to visit the world’s first Self-Cleaning House (currently lived-in, by appointment only, $10 cash per person), which my family declined on the grounds that it was “too weird.” I spent a lot of time on those trips nearly vibrating out of my skin with boredom at: the long car rides, the constant bathroom stops, the sameness of going to different places but always visiting the brewpub-bookstore-art gallery, the sleeping in too late, the never staying out past sunset. Infuriating.

In my early twenties I was living in Maine but everyone I knew lived in Richmond, so I did most of my traveling alone. I booked my tickets through discount sites, talked my friend Anthony into dropping me off at the Bangor Airport (which was about as formal as a bus station) and from there on my cheap-ass online ticket I’d embark on a system of manic layovers (once, improbably, layovers in both New York and Philadelphia). I loved it; it affirmed my competence, even when I got lost, or misplaced important things in mad dashes from gate to gate.

Now of course, I am an adult, and travel with people who believe in my competence. None of them, however, seem to actually enjoy traveling. We are in Chicago, which is gorgeous, and they are all lying down playing on their computers. They are tired and cranky. They want to do nothing and see nothing. The differences between Home and Away strike them as intolerable and they make no secret of it:

  • My Colleague, who would be perfectly content to camp in the wilderness under a big rock, was unsettled by the presence of other apartments in the Airbnb we stayed at for a single night on our way to our final destination. He kept checking the (deadbolted) door that led to an interior hallway with a flight of stairs up to the next apartment. “Is anyone up there?” he kept asking. The noise of me trying to use the bathroom in the early morning caused him to jolt awake in panic.

  • The Other, who is usually nocturnal and reclusive, is unsettled by being out during the day. The woman who owns our current Airbnb in Chicago lingered to chat with us about her broken dishwasher and her grandchildren, and he paced around like a caged tiger the whole time, muttering things like “why is she still here?” right on the edge of earshot. He also categorically hated FallingWater, the Frank Lloyd Wright house we visited on the way; immediately after our guided tour, he declared it a creepy monument to Edgar Kaufman Jr.’s late-blooming sexuality and said “I hope it sinks into the swamp.”

  • The Beloved, the most emotionally solid traveler of our bunch, is manifesting her travel anxiety somatically. She’s been bleary and headachey, which makes her unhelpful in getting anything done, which is a shame, because both of our usually-delightful menfolk are unraveling at the seams. Today she slept until noon, leaving me alone with two men I typically think of as my lodestars, who the trip has bonded into a kind of anxious Laurel and Hardy. Whenever I tried to point out the many delightful things we could see on our walk to buy train tickets, they ignored me and talked exclusively about video games, which they don’t seem to be aware exist at all times, not just when one is in an exciting new location.

But of course, I am not blameless in this. If I were to catalog the things that make your Affectionate Aunt an untenable travel companion for these lovely people, it would probably be something like this:

  • Messed up the start and end dates in their head, and then got mad at everyone else for not correcting them

  • Dismissive of safety concerns, especially about their own driving

  • Clearly jonesing to go shopping, despite already having packed more clothes and doodads than anyone else in the group

  • Keeps up running commentary on the names and appearances of every building we pass, even when other people are clearly having a pleasant conversation about Metroid 2077 or whatever

  • Won’t sit down and stop doing things, but still irritated at everyone else for failing to do anything. Tries to drag people into helping or joining in (on walks, making dinner, etc) without seeming to be at all happy or grateful for their presence when they are there, and reacting with barely-concealed contempt when they decline.

Traveling with a group, it turns out, sets me off in the same way that traveling with my family used to set me off. I feel penned in by everyone else’s (probably actually reasonable) needs for things like rest and quiet, I worry that I am the weird one in a group of people who are themselves experiencing consensus (even if that’s my imagination), and I reflect contemptuously that I’d be better off on my own (even though I would be having a different kind of anxious time if I were here by myself). But knowing I’m bananas doesn’t make me feel any less bananas.

As you can see, after this trip we will all either be much closer, or one or more of us will be dead. Please pray for our continued survival in this beautiful sprawling monument to Art Deco design; more updates once we have managed to leave the house.

What to Wear to a Summer Sex Party: Reprise

I am here to report back from the land of the summer sex party. It was not what I expected, in many ways. I will speak only in general terms to protect the anonymity of those attending, but I can still reveal the following:

  • I was distinctly overdressed. Nudity (or nudity plus towel) were the most common outfits, followed closely by t-shirt and shorts. Mostly people were positive about my tiger bodysuit, but I did get a few snide comments about my enormous hat.

  • This event was enormous—the most people I have ever seen deliberately gathered to celebrate sex, unless you count a Mitski concert. I think I had been expecting a more intimate gathering with an opportunity to chat with a handful of new people; what I got was something a little more akin to waiting in line at an amusement park. When I throw parties of my own I like to set up a quiet room, where people can retreat if the party becomes a bit much. The hosts had tried their best, but I found no quiet room here; there was no place from which my companions and I couldn’t hear yelping. If you are thinking of attending a sex party, and are put off by this description: don’t be. Most that I have attended are not this large or this loud.

  • The party was also a who’s who of people I knew around the time I stopped going to sex parties in 2014, which makes sense; communities like these are notoriously small. It was mostly really pleasant to catch up, but I did re-meet one unsavory character who knows my mother through other arenas, and mentioned her to me several times. The first time felt awkward and later attempts sounded increasingly blackmail-y, but luckily, my parents can no longer be surprised by anything I do.

  • Not only did I not have sex, but I didn’t especially feel like I was missing out by not having sex. Maybe because of aforementioned queueing feeling and the presence of the Unsavory Character, but also because I didn’t feel like I was going to miss out if I didn’t seize the moment this night. Previously at events I often felt a desire to stick myself right in the middle of the action, and I was content here to mostly observe and chat. I still love attention, mind you; I’m just not a slave to it the way I used to be.

  • The organization of this event was impeccable. There were rules and directions sent out beforehand, announcements at the beginning about specific dos and don’ts (such as no glass on the patio), a table with safe sex materials and breath mints, and designated party supervisors, which was good, because:

  • As we were getting ready to bail early due to being overstimulated as hell, the Beloved and I were standing next to one another, and I was holding, for reasons that seemed good at the time, a glass dish full of pimento cheese.

  • The Beloved, gesturing expansively as she is wont to do, brought her hand down on the glass dish, karate chopping it from my hand and sending it shattering onto the concrete patio on which we stood, where shards of glass pierced the foot of a very handsome man to whom we were bidding good night.

  • For a long moment, we stared at one another, both intensely aware that we had fucked up.

  • At that point, the host and a squad of party supervisors arrived, reiterated the No Glass rule of which we were now in severe violation, told us that it was okay and that Accidents Happen, moved us out of the glass incrementally and swept it up so quickly that within two minutes we were back on schedule to leave.

  • Unsavory Character tried to apprehend us at the exit and invite us once more to linger, but no force in the world would keep me at this event more than a second longer now that I had achieved Total Pimento Humiliation, so I grabbed the Beloved’s hand and we booked it into the dark.

In conclusion: I highly recommend this experience, if it is ever offered to you. It is, if nothing else, a fascinating varsity-level socializing opportunity, as you learn how to have an earnest conversation with a fully nude person; a chance to see and hear things outside of your own repertoire; and of course, something to blog about, should the desire strike you.

P.S. to the young man I stabbed with my glass bowl: It was so nice to meet you, I’m very sorry, and I hope that in the weeks to come, you remember my tiger bodysuit more than my pimento cheese.

Proposed Outfits for a Summer Sex Party: An Indecision

Note: this post mentions the existence of sex. Also: I am not being paid for this and if I link to a specific item I own, I promise you, I bought it on sale.

I’ve been invited to an event described to me as a “poolside orgy”. It’s been a little while since my orgy days, so I’m nervous about what exactly I’m supposed to wear. I used to just show up in a pleather dress that my friend Santi and I bought at a Hot Topic in late 2007, but that dress has long since vanished, and also if I remember correctly, it had anyone who wore it sweating balls, so it probably wouldn’t be the right choice for anything outdoors in summer.

Years ago, I read this very helpful guide about what to wear to a kink party. At this point, it’s old and the links are all broken, but the advice and the images are still a great reference point. I’ve been revisiting this article as I try to figure out what my outfit game is. I know I need to come up with something to write in the blank banner tattoo on my leg, but aside from that, I probably need to put some clothes on.

I always hesitate about wearing feminine things when there’s a chance I’m in a meet (meat?) market; being hit on by a straight man who thinks I’m a woman often feels to me like receiving phone sex from a wrong number. But I am also very bad at performing transmasculinity in the summertime; button-downs are for when there is even the faintest semblance of a breeze, thank you. If I had no tits, I’d probably just wear a shirt I planned to take off, some tiny swim shorts, ridiculous gladiator sandals, and fake nipple piercings. I suppose I could just wear that outfit anyway, but in this fantasy universe I also have $120 to buy those sandals, which right now I decidedly do not.

I have a second outfit idea that I am thinking of as “Fancy Goth Bitch.” It’s one up on my proposed Sexy Gladiator look in that I already own everything I need, but for reference, here it is recreated with objects you can buy on the Internet. It goes something like: black tiger bodysuit, sequined shorts, big floppy hat, and cat eye sunglasses, which I have in the now-discontinued red. I’m not sure what shoes go with this; my instinct is either tall platform sandals or seasonally-inappropriate black doc martens. Similarly, I could theme an outfit around my snake bikini, rather than changing into it later. The thing there would be figuring out what to do with the swimsuit when it inevitably becomes waterlogged.

My one concern with all of these looks is approachability. Frequently I’m trundling along through life thinking of myself as kind of a disappointing person, and then I find out, usually years after it’s relevant, that someone I knew had a crush on me, or wanted to get to know me better, but thought I was “unapproachable” or “intimidating”. I think that part of what creates this effect is that, as a person who feels like a sea slug a good amount of the time, I am a heavy user of Weaponized Fashion. But because I am actually not a sea slug but a pretty medium-to-fun person, the Fashion creates the impression that I am just exceptionally cool, and then rather than getting wrong numbers, I get no phone calls at all. Or at least, that’s my going theory. I could really be that cool, I guess, which is a terrifying prospect.

Of course, the idea of dressing in a way that’s “less intimidating” doesn’t sound like much fun, either. At this point, looking exceptionally extra is such a part of what makes me comfortable that I don’t think I’d have fun without it. Or maybe if I’m unapproachable, it’s on me to approach people, if I don’t want to find myself drifting around in a donut-shaped pool floaty, looking very cool and approached by none.

Maybe I should just write “talk to me” in my tattoo and hope for the best.

Postscript: someone who is not me should wear a sheer robe , lemon bikini bottoms, lime pasties, and jelly sandals. If you wear that, I will definitely approach you, mostly to ask if jelly shoes are as great as I assumed they were in middle school.

Pride and Joy

I am not sure to what extent my experience of transness lines up with other people’s, and as such, I never felt comfortable referring to myself as trans until I started testosterone. I think that’s partly because I have always been very stoked on being feminine (I just want to “yes, and” that experience), and also partly because before testosterone, it seemed dishonest to imply that I was the same as the people who were taking material risks for their transness. It felt a little like claiming to be a soldier in wartime when really what you mean is that you fill out paperwork.

Because for me, unlike a lot of people I’ve talked to, being trans has not been a particular struggle. I learned the term genderqueer in college, and was immediately delighted that this was a possibility, a thing humans could do. Eventually, I decided that I was genderqueer, and got a job writing a column about it for a lingerie website, and then didn’t really do anything with that information for several years. I was mostly validated by both my cis and trans friends in my identity and my decision not to transition medically, and then about four weeks ago I decided I wanted testosterone and went to a clinic and they just gave me a prescription, they let me walk out of there with it and everything. It’s all felt pretty light. Being trans, for me, has not been my particular source of strife. I even went to therapy a few years ago, ostensibly because I wanted to process my feelings about being nonbinary, but ended up mostly talking about other things. Being nonbinary was, and has been, the least of my problems.

Partially I’ve had it easy because of exteernal factors. I’m transmasculine (ish) and white so I get away with a lot, I work in academia where plenty of people have awkward estranged relationships to the idea of a body and thus will never fucking ask about yours, and I’m surrounded by fundamentally good people who try their best to accommodate me. But it’s not just that being trans hasn’t been especially hard on me that is difficult to explain to people. I think that part of why I’ve felt reluctant to call myself trans is because the way people often talk about it is as a painful thing to endure, and for me, it is instead a source of great joy.

I think it’s really, really excellent to have an odd and off-kilter relationship to the body. I like when I notice myself slipping between masculine and feminine roles; I like the way people react to me, and I like the range of experiences I feel like I can understand. I like the way it felt to make a decision to take testosterone, and I like the feeling of my body and mind changing and delighting in those changes, as well as in the ways that I am remaining stubbornly exactly the same. I even sometimes take delight in dysphoria, the sensation of being alarmed and hurt that the map of your body in your mind is not the same as the territory. How lucky I am to get to encounter the world in these unusual ways, and to be able to come back and describe them. What a gift it is to be alive in this particularity.

When people talk about The Trans Experience, they usually talk about things like shame and fear and being disgusted with oneself—feelings that other people impose on trans people from an early age to try and push them into a recognizable shape. People often try on pride, then, as a reaction to shame, a way of flouting shame by being extra bold. That’s a beautiful tradition: one that makes shame into an occasion for purposeful celebration. I think pride is good; pride is armor. Pride is protection.

But it’s also not enough for me. Because that pride is important to get people moving, but I don’t think it’s enough to take home with you at the end of the night. A self-love that is outward facing, brash and performative is not enough to sustain you when you’re alone. And pride can sometimes get in the way of vulnerability: “I don’t owe anyone an explanation” is true, but also: it’s good to explain yourself when people sincerely want to understand.

Recently, someone I love asked me questions for the first time about what it was that I wanted from transition, and why it was so important to me. I felt very shy about answering, and I said that, and he immediately responded that I didn’t have to answer. And maybe that was true, but I wanted to answer, because I wanted to be understood and because while I felt embarrassed, I didn’t feel ashamed. And it also occurred to me that on his end, he hadn’t asked these questions before because of a fear of being rude or intrusive—perhaps cracking open the glossy outer layer of pride and exposing shame and misery, exposing me to suffering.

But I’m not all shame and misery on the inside, with my little protective coating of pride applied like a sealant. Shame and misery ebb and flow, of course, but the fundamental quality of what I feel about myself is joy. And I wish that for you, too. I want to propose a self-love that is not built on the foundation of shame, that has its wellspring in curiosity and joy. That is not about “others say I’m terrible, so it’s important that I say I am great”—but rather “I like who I am and I am excited to learn more about myself.” A private space within oneself where all things are possible. Beneath whatever layer of pride you use to hold yourself together and get through the day, I hope that you can love the things that make you strange and uniquely wise.

In Which I Talk About Christianity

In a move that may be at least somewhat born from spite, I like to consider myself a Christian. It’s a sore subject with one particular Acquaintance of mine, who likes to occasionally bring me dead-bird facts like “you know, there’s little evidence that there was a historical Jesus” or “the Gospels are based on Gilgamesh.” Yes, yes, you got me there. I suspect an early run-in with evangelicals soured him on the religion in general.

It’s hard to say why I feel so strongly that I want to call myself a Christian. I don’t go to church; I pray sporadically; I don’t feel compelled one way or the other about the existence of a historical Jesus. I think I’m drawn to the idea that God was angry at mankind, and decided to corporealize to teach us how to live, and then after having lived, reflected that maybe He had been a little harsh. I also really enjoy entering into dialogue with more traditional Christians as a Christian. I’ve only done it a small handful of times over the years, but it’s always satisfying to speak earnestly about how your interpretation of the Pauline Letters is historical, not prescriptive. This may be dishonest.

My conversions to Christianity have been many and short-lived. Once was when father got appendicitis and I instantly flipped from Wiccan to Christian as a literal Hail Mary. Another time, I got broken up with at summer camp and converted to impress an attractive friend of mine, who gave me her copy of The Teen Devotional Bible for my troubles. And of course I was a Christian while attending Baptist preschool, when Christianity meant mostly that I learned songs about Jesus and ate snacks. I remember around that age talking earnestly to a man at a facepainting booth about whether Jesus had been sentenced to the cross or had gone willingly: “I think he could have stopped them, if he really wanted to” was my somewhat milquetoast compromise on this issue.

But I think I call myself Christian now for more serious reasons. I think that God considers us His favored fuckups, a role I’ve always relished as a badly-behaved child of parents with high standards.

My interpretation goes something like: God made the angels first, who were perfect, high-strung Honors students who sang praise with robotic precision. God realized that angels were amoral, because they had no will. God made humans to have will, and then was crushed when we were willful. This relationship was fraught for many years, through our species’ adolescence, but we are now on slightly better terms. God would like to understand finitude, and we want to know eternity. We have something to offer one another, and we will both grow together. Christ, then, is interesting mostly as a model for how we should behave: making big blowout mistakes, conversing with the Devil, doing miracles when we can, getting into weird arguments with our mothers, telling God we’re going to try our best and perhaps asking more of Him as well.

And of course, all of this “then/now” is reductive because God is a four-dimensional being minimum, and so we are constantly in a state of having this same argument, and arriving at the reconciliation, on an individual and collective basis, which is why life continues to be hard but hopeful, and when we eventually step outside of the time stream at the end of our lives we will get a little perspective and understand our parent creature a little better, and perhaps have a drink together as adults, and He will say, “ah yes, that was a difficult time in My life, too, when I had arms and legs and lungs and sweat that dripped in my eyes. You handled it alright, considering.” Or maybe not; I’m not willing to give up my agnostic card entirely here.

I think Christianity feels liberatory to me, rather than confining, when I strip away the dogma and think about it like that: as a religion that asks us to assume that we are going to make mistakes, but that this is inevitable and in fact a good thing, a key part of redemption. That the process of schism and reconciliation is itself a worthwhile pursuit, that it would not be better if we were perfect, but that not being perfect is not an excuse to not be better.

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