One of the realities that I deal with as a bisexual person (yes, I said that word, because silence is good for sleep and stargazing but not so much for changing minds) is that I live with three particular fears. These three fears come alive most vividly when I am dating someone new. They wind around me, bind me tightly, and ask me to choose one of two directions. Fears do not beseech with gentle words; sometimes they speak without words at all, or they shout loudly in the most hidden places, but they always seem to convey their meaning.
One of these fears is that, if I am dating a man, friends from my queer community will reject me (as sometimes has happened in one way or another) for not being or acting queer enough.
Another fear is that, if I am dating a woman, other folks in my life will see it as an experimental whim (as has happened, even from those who are dear to me). Being bi is so often assumed to be just a phase. This is hurtful because to me it is a vital element of my identity.
I am someone who is capable of being romantically and sexually drawn to people of more than one gender. I’ve known this since I was 14-ish, though for many years I seldom spoke of it. I have spoken about it lot more frequently of late. I’ve written about it too, and probably will so more – partly because a dear friend (someone whom I love ferociously and devotedly) recently referred to me as a ‘bisexual activist.’ Coming from this person, these words made me infinitely proud and made me want to shake up the world with words and dancing.
If I am going through a phase, realistically it’s a twenty-year-long phase because I’ll be 34 in less than two weeks. Happy birthday, me, let’s have a party and eat some delicious cake! But oh goodness, that brings me to another assumption: the assumption that as a bi person I want to have my cake and also eat another cake too. That, if I really like more than one gender, then I will never be satisfied. And there it is – there’s the third fear that nestles itself gently between the other aforementioned two.
This third fear is that the person I fall for will believe that someone like me can never love one person fully and completely. That this person will be wary of me because of that notion that bi folks can’t settle down and be satisfied with one love. I can’t speak for everyone, but I for one just want one that person to write songs about forever (as realistic or unrealistic as that hopeless and yet hopeful romanticism of mine may be).
Some people who read this will think to themselves, why can’t she just be more confident? Why focus on fear? Let the fears fall away. Don’t give them your breath, and they will just die naturally on their own.
But the thing is, I am confident. This post was born of fears, but just as much it was born from love. It is about whom I choose to love, but it also comes from a very deep place of self-love. Despite the fears and stereotypes that have haunted me, I am proud of who I am.
And I’ve come to realize that the problem is not that I have these fears. It is that I have good reason to have these fears. I have twenty years’ worth of interactions with friends, lovers, family members, and strangers to confirm to me that these fears are neither irrational nor benign. The problem is not me, but the biphobic stereotypes and myths that still thrive. These stereotypes and myths are often silent but they are still brazen. And their brazen silence is the reason I feel that I need to speak – because people like me have sometimes chosen a long, intricately woven hush rather than bare our authentic selves. Because fear has told us that love and acceptance cannot exist for us without compromise and erasure. This is not a reality I want to endorse; I’m rather fond of love.
I don’t claim to speak for all bi folks. Everybody’s lived experiences are their own. I only have one voice and one heart, but I am at the point in my life where I find value in using both of these instruments unyieldingly. Love is worth the risk. It always is.
You with a tattoo of an anchor on your arm,
you pin down the ocean
like the snow pins down footsteps
of all the strangers who walked there before it covered the ground
All the same, you bound me effortlessly
and without knowing
because you are
the winter light that steals through
the holes in my coat
the shadows of the stray cats that live under the steps
the silence trapped under the ice
and the dried rose petals that were my voice
You swept them off the windowsill
but the vase still stands there filled with time
All of these things have become essential
Though I was only a silhouette
my fingers balanced on the balustrade
and feathers woven into my hair
I brought the cold draft in with me
when I came back inside
were a joke I told that fell flat at a cocktail party
that I carried home in a cardboard box
like a small animal with a broken leg
I could love you in the same way
You gather all the shrill points of light
when the cars move past your basement window
where you have buried your bed
under your body
and all the boxes full of unfinished letters
they bide their time inside
your fortress of closed lungs
I’ve seen the way
you are afraid to speak to me
You hold your tongue
like a banjo holds its tune
I was cold
but I chose not to put on my sweater
because I wanted you to see my bare arms
and realize that I am vulnerable. I also planned
the way the hours moved across the walls,
the wrinkles in my dress,
the way the bridge rises
to let the ships through,
and the manner by which you left through the back door
of the cafe
before I had time
that your eyes make the same sound as rain
on the steps of an old wooden church by the seashore
that I fell in love with when I was a child
and still believed in ghosts
that wear the skin of lost lullabies
I’ve been posting a lot of content about Pride on my facebook this week. And that has made me reflect on the fact that I am probably confusing people, and that maybe friends and acquaintances are making assumptions about me.
I know these assumptions. I’ve heard them spoken out loud, whispered softly, and now I can hear them in my head. I can hear them breathing beside me, walking behind me, following me home from the bus stop, tapping me softly on the shoulder. The assumptions go like this: it’s just a phase, you’re only trying to get attention, you want too much, you’re just a stowaway on someone else’s ship, you’re confused, you need to choose a side. And these: you’re a straight lady if I ever did see one with your long hair and your pretty dresses, and oh wait a second girl didn’t you get all straight-married once when you were 24? Yep. I guess so. I did, sorta kinda.
But no. No, I didn’t. Because I am not a straight person. I never have been straight, though I am often read as straight because I am feminine in presentation and because two of the long-term relationships I’ve had have been with cisgender men (and then there’s that one I refuse to acknowledge – hah). I loved those people (some of them, and oh so profoundly), but I have loved people across the gender spectrum. I have loved other women. Very deeply, completely, with all of myself. That love, that part of me, is there in the songs and stories I’ve written. But that love has not often been spoken out loud.
Yesterday’s lecture was amazing, and made me realize some important things. It made me realize that I don’t tend to speak about my sexual orientation because of fear. This fear derives from the very real reality that when I’ve called myself bi or queer, there are times when I’ve very much been shut down, erased, disbelieved, or judged. And that hurts, particularly when it’s from people you trust and love.
The lecture also made me realize that I don’t want to be invisible anymore.
People like me who are drawn to more than one gender have to come out again and again in a way. Part of this is because we might appear straight for a while to the world because of our choice of who to love. For me, I really never wanted to come out in the first place. I’ve always been a shadow-creature of sorts, an observer who wants to watch the world and then create things from pieces of reality when I find moments of silence. I didn’t want the world to watch me back, scrutinize me, assess me. I wanted to just be who I am, without a cumbersome label or a box to fit inside. So I just moved about in the world, avoiding both spotlights and search beacons, telling people who I am only when I felt they needed to know.
But then something someone I admire said yesterday made me reflect on the reality that coming out can carve out a space for others to be who they are without so much fear. And that is something I would like to do: to make the world a little safer for others, even if it makes it a little less safe for me. I am able to overcome my fear of heights when I remember that I love the sky. Being high above the ground means being surrounded by the sky. And so I can overcome this fear too, this fear of being known, when I remember that I love how in so many ways the world has embraced me, gently encircling around me, because of the very things that make me strange and different.
Closets are cozy, comfortable places. Mine has been a shelter in a world full of colliding storms. My closet is full of all of my nice dresses. But it has also been full of complacency. My closet is a small, contained space, and in that manner has acted like a cast around fractured parts of me, holding these pieces together. But, I remind myself, a closet is not a place to dance wildly. Nor is it a place from which to launch a revolution, write songs, tell stories, and love other human beings. And I want to do all of those things. Very much so.
So, after the talk yesterday, I went away and reflected for a while on how afraid I’ve been to let people know my authentic self because I thought it would cost me love.
I’ve had women in the queer community disbelieve and de-legitimize me because I’m ‘not really gay’ (I paraphrase, but I’ve felt your tone and seen your eyes). I’ve had straight people think that I just haven’t reached a decision yet, that I’m a deftly balanced fence-sitter. I’ve had strangers on the internet think that I just identify as queer or bi to make straight cisgender men like me more. I’ve had queer women not want to date me because of the fear that I will go off and want to be with a man (oh good god I won’t; when I am in love, my heart is so completely full of a particular person that it seeps out into my songs, my mind, my steps, my every moment, and it feels like love has become a beautiful ocean of light around me).
Love is always part of my world. And I think that words concerning love should not ever need to be tucked away in shame. So, this week, I have found a voice that might tremble sometimes like ripples in a pool but that, as a force of its own distinct from the water, will not evaporate.
Though I am very much an introvert, I’ve been out (pun intended) at events a lot this week. This particular Pride Week is infinitely important to me, because this year I’ve vowed to put more of myself out there into the world. So that is what I am doing. And if people keep loving me, great. If you want to love me even more, I’ll love you back just as ferociously because I’m like that. And if someone wants to erase me or make who I am invisible, they can certainly try, and maybe to some extent they will succeed. But I think now they’ll be less able to. Because for the first time in my life, I feel like I am genuinely part of a community of people like me who, in a myriad of both similar and dissimilar ways, are also beautifully strange and different. And that fills up my heart to the point that it just can’t help but spill into the spaces around me.
You placed the blue vase on the windowsill beside my music stand
Through it, we could see the ocean
and the cracks in the window
that have become as steady as the lines on your face
You used to hold me when we were sleeping. But then the cold set in,
and now you hold your heart to the wall, seeking heat
from the room next to us
where the dogs sleep and the moonlight creeps in
You used to call me the same names that my mother once called me:
Sweetheart, little one, violin girl
You loved the way my hair, now white, would tangle with the strings
as I held the instrument close to my face. Violin girl
I used to say that you’d forgotten my real name
And so you would write it for me in the sand, with yours,
as we watched the seals along the shoreline,
their heads like music notes above the water
In the winter, you would work in the garage for hours
before I came home with grocery bags in my snow-worn hands
You were voiceless but covered in webs of light
as you walked out into the evening air
to greet me, looking past me
I held your small words like a child
and you held my hand
like a rock face holds a pool of water
In the evenings now,
we sit on the porch as neighbours’ children play in the streets
We watch the shadows slip between the posts of their hockey nets
They don’t notice the way that the shadows always win
But we do. You know the shadows on my face
You know the way they move, and what they have taken
You know the way they shiver with me
as the air changes
My violin sits in a case under the stairs now
And there is a part of you that is there too
beneath the boxes and books of old photographs:
the curve of your arms
your black hair, now silver,
the tautness of strings,
the light like fine whispers weaving in between the strands of your hair
under the trees by the river beyond your mother’s house
my hair between your outstretched fingers,
my hands across the concave your body makes
between your ribs and hip bone
as you lay down beside me and found my name
somewhere beside the silhouette of reeds
Transphobia and the Bathroom Question:
Or, What’s Really Lurking in Your Public Washroom
I am writing this piece because lately a few self-identified progressive folks I know have brought up the bathroom question with me. I suppose it is because I’m doing a project at work with a strong LGBTQ-inclusivity component. This project makes me really, really happy. It fills my heart. And so I talk about these issues a lot when I’m out with friends.
The notorious bathroom question, if you don’t know of it, asks whether trans folks should get to use the bathroom that fits their gender identity. In other words, should a trans man be entitled to use the men’s washroom? And should a trans woman be entitled to use the women’s washroom?
The answer I always want to give is this:
“Who are we to question someone’s gender? They’ve undoubtedly spent years thinking about it, feeling it, and, regardless of to what extent they’ve felt comfortable expressing it, living it as well. And so they probably know a hell of a lot more about it than we do.”
But I don’t say these words. Because honestly, I am still consistently surprised when the bathroom question comes up among my peer group. It shocks me, and this shock silences me. And, much as I love all-encompassing moments of silence, these are not the silences I want to curl up inside.
I want to note that I’m writing this piece from a position of privilege. I’m a cisgender woman. What this means, if you’re not familiar with the language, is that the sex I was assigned at birth matches the gender with which I identify. In addition to being a cisgender woman, I’m also quite feminine-presenting. And so I’ve never had anyone question my choice of bathroom. I’ve never been threatened with hateful words or subject to violence because someone in a public washroom is uncomfortable with my gender expression. But this violence and these threats happen.
The bathroom question is often brought up by opponents of trans rights who claim that allowing trans women to use women’s washrooms would create danger for cisgender women. One example of the many iterations of this logic was in 2012 when Calgary Member of Parliament Rob Anders adamantly opposed Bill C279, a private member’s bill which would add gender identity and gender expression as protected grounds in the Canadian Human Rights Act and hate crime section of the Canadian Criminal Code. Anders described the bill as the “bathroom bill” and suggested that its purpose was to give trans women (whom he purposely misgendered as men) access to women’s washrooms.
I am quite familiar with the bathroom question as raised by people like Anders. In reality, in such a context it tends to be posited as more of a statement or as a moral truth rather than as a question.
But of late, the bathroom question has been expressed to me by friends over casual coffee through this sort of sentiment: “I don’t mind trans women. In fact, I support their right to express themselves and dress as they like. But I wouldn’t want one in a bathroom with me.” Or, “Trans rights are great, but won’t this mean that a man could sneak into the ladies’ room?”
To which I want to reply:
Seriously, my friend? That logic has all of the beauty, strength, and resilience of that wad of toilet paper that got stuck to the heel of my shoe when I was out on a date that time. Please. Let’s step back and think this one over. If a creepy man really gets his kicks from creeping on women doing their private ladybusiness and is willing to dress himself as a woman just to sneak into the ladies’ loo to do so, one has to wonder about his sense of efficiency because he really hasn’t done a good cost-benefit analysis. There are far simpler, much less involved ways to be creepy to women, such as yelling at them from the comfort of one’s truck window. And there will always be conveniently placed dark alleyways and the shadowed corners in bars for him to make use of. Letting trans women use women’s restrooms is not going to suddenly unleash a deluge of creepers being creepers. They already do this quite well and in locations better suited to their convenience.
So instead let’s do a cost-benefit analysis of our own. If there really are men out there who are willing to go to the lengths of misrepresenting themselves and dressing in drag just to sneak into bathrooms and be menacing to women, is this vague possibility worth the cost of discarding the basic right of trans people to go out in public and feel safe when they need to pee?
Are we as a culture really going to let the spectre of a hypothetical boogeyman guide us? Are we really going to let it justify our fear of and cruelty toward a group of people who have been overwhelmingly marginalized, debased, degraded, and even murdered just for being who they are? Have you seen the stats about murder and suicide rates in the trans community? There are some here and here.
I will never understand why we as feminists, as progressives, and as supposed allies, would ever present the bathroom question as if it has any answer other than this answer:
“You know. You, whoever you are, you know your gender. You know, or maybe you are discovering it as you go, which is great too. But you – YOU – know who you are better than I do. So please use the bathroom that makes you comfortable and that best suits your needs. And I, for my part, will do whatever I should do to make that space comfortable for you. By which I mean this: I will not perpetuate transphobia. By which I mean, I will not ogle you while you’re just trying to do your business, I will not objectify you by judging your body, I will not inappropriately ponder the body parts you have under your clothes, I will not yell at you or say hurtful words, I will not act in such a way so as to make you feel small and vulnerable. In other words, I will not be that predator that we as a culture say we are so afraid of.”
Because maybe, just maybe, that predator has been living among us all along – we who are so averse to compassion, we who are so afraid of the Other, we who are so afraid of disrupting the status quo that, through both our actions and inaction, we participate in the suffering of other human beings.
Transphobia is the real predator that we should fear and that we should want out of our public restrooms. But let me tell you, it’s a serious goddamn lurker. Sometimes it hides in the shadows, and sometimes it presents itself in broad daylight. It’s at our windows, in our schools, in our laws, in our statements, in our silence, and also in the stall next to us. It’s in our minds and in our hearts. It’s in my heart. Because we are all immersed in a sea of transphobic tropes and assumptions that do not loosen their hold easily.
I dislike toilet paper on my shoe when I’m a date. I dislike human suffering even more.
I’ve seen the wounds of transphobia in the eyes of people I love and it makes me ache.
I try to be a good ally, but I have made presumptions that I regret. I have said things I never should have said. And I’ve been quiet at moments when there is so much that needs to be said.
So, this is my vow that I will speak up from now on in those moments of shocked silence when someone brings up the bathroom question. I promise I will do this. I will speak back to those who want to present transphobia as a safety measure instead of the injustice that it is. I will keeping writing things, making art, and fostering kindness in my own way. I will keep my heart and mind open, because I still have so much to learn from the world. And, because there is so much to learn, I will never stop asking questions.
But not that question. That one about the bathroom. I’m going to do my part to flush that one out to sea.
I’ve written about transphobia before in the context of Canadian law and prison policy. You can read my article “Stories of 0s: Transgender Women, Monstrous Bodies, and the Canadian Prison System” here.
And now the latest installment of my silly romance novel rewrites, in which I rewrite the plot synopsis of romance novels based solely on the cover image and title. Older ones are here and here. As always, I find these books at the local grocery store. This one is called “Heart of a Soldier.” Here we go:
Mister Hoofytoes, with his white mane like beautifully frayed kleenex forgotten in pockets of sweaters run through the dryer, was not your average horse. With his subtle smile and a perfectly coiffed goatee too sultry to show on a book cover, Mister Hoofytoes rivaled Ryan Gosling with his delicately masculine allure.
Like Ryan Gosling, Mister Hoofytoes looked incredibly gorgeous and yet somehow approachable while wearing tan sweater-vests. Like Ryan Gosling, Mister Hoofytoes was a passable cellist.
And, also like Ryan Gosling, Mister Hoofytoes was one of two characters in an epic tale of romance that would be remembered throughout the ages. (Alas, unlike Ryan Gosling, Mr. Hoofytoes would never win four Teen Choice Awards, because the world is cruel).
The lady love in Mister Hoofytoes’ epic romance was Catherine.
Catherine was a 26-year old farmgirl with a penchant for lilac blouses that looked awkward when paired with the cowboy boots of which she was so fond. Catherine had named Mister Hoofytoes when she was six years old, and had loved him ever since.
Catherine would ride atop Mister Hoofytoes every morning. She knew Mister Hoofytoes’ shoe size. She knew he liked his oats scattered like bits of fairydust. She knew the way he loved to stand behind appropriately placed men so as to majestically appear as if he only had one back leg.
But Catherine did not know Mister Hoofytoes’ secret.
Mister Hoofytoes had the heart of a soldier. Quite literally. One summer morning, while galloping through a dew-glazed meadow, Mister Hoofytoes jumped over an enticingly high cluster of parsley, sage, and rosemary. While midair, Mister Hoofytoes fell into a temporal rift and wound up in the distant future in a war-torn earth ravaged by hellhounds and hazardous cybernetic spider overlords.
Trapped in this futuristic land for ten years, Mister Hoofytoes befriended the enigmatic ukulele-playing Gordon, who was a soldier in the resistance. Gordon taught Mister Hoofytoes how to fly a fighter plane powered by cold fusion and dreams. Gordon taught Mister Hoofytoes how to fool hovergrenades using light refracted from well posed, steely cheekbones. And, knowing how Mister Hoofytoes pined for Catherine and the charming way she scattered oats, Gordon taught Mister Hoofytoes the importance of not giving up on love.
When Gordon was shot down by a passing arachno-tank, he bestowed upon Mr. Hoofytoes a gift that would make him remember these lessons forever – his bionic heart, the heart of a soldier. After Gordon took his final breath, cybercardiologists transplanted the heart into Mister Hoofytoes’ chest, thus giving him both human emotions and the ability to travel through time using temporal cyberfusion and wishes.
When Mister Hoofytoes returned to his longed-for farm, he saw Catherine there, her hair blowing in the wind with the fervour of burlap. A sub-par human man stood beside her wearing an unsettlingly plain white t-shirt. In that instant, Mister Hoofytoes vowed he would woo Catherine away to be his own, as both fate and Gordon had decreed.
The next time Catherine sat atop Hoofytoes, her legs awkwardly held to one side, surely she would begin to sense the loud mechanical whirr of true love. Even though he could not speak to her, surely with time she would realize that Mister Hoofytoes’ chest was bursting with deep emotion – and with the heavily distended, cybertronic heart of a soldier.