Musings on Life for the Queerly Inclined

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Post-Graduation Blues or How to Survive Mohomesickness

Dear Class of 2014,

My dear, beautiful friends: you are now a month out of Mount Holyoke and in many ways life probably sucks. Perhaps you’ve got your post-graduation shit together: you have a job and/or prestigious graduate school plans. You’ve found an apartment, maybe even with a Moho roomie. You’ve figured out the best bar in your neighborhood, where to get inexpensive yet delicious produce, and public transportation runs past 12:50am, meaning that you never have to fear missing the last PVTA back to campus. All of that is wonderful and I could dwell endlessly on how capable and well prepared you are, how proud I am of you.

But I bet part of you is lonely. Even if it only creeps up on you in the middle of the night—or at 9:30pm when you should be heading to a dining hall for M&Cs—I bet part of you is desperately lonely, so that is what I want to talk about. Your friends have been flung across the world. You’re no longer surrounded by familiar mentors, traditions, and a library full of comfy, extra-large-and-perfect-for-snuggling armchairs. Maybe you’re living somewhere you have a strong community already, maybe not. Maybe you know exactly what you’re gonna do with your future; maybe you’re a constant stream of questions. This can be exciting and it can also be terrifying.

Here’s the thing: graduating sucks. It’s an enormous accomplishment that leads to an enormous period of uncertainty. After packing up my room and bidding goodbye to everyone and everything on campus for the upteenth time, my mom and I started the long drive back to Chicago. As we left South Hadley, I apologized to my mom for the fact that I was about to play the same song for two hours, put the M&Cs’ version of Vienna Teng’s “Harbor” on repeat, and cried non-stop across Massachusetts and New York. Thankfully, my mom understood.

A friend of mine (and Hampshire ’08 alumna—whaddup Five Colleges!) gave me some great advice when I graduated. She told me that the two years after her graduation contained some of the hardest times in her life. It was a period full of highs and lows and figuring out how to handle new circumstances. She told me to expect that and know that it’s natural. That realism has been more valuable to me than any specific career or life advice I’ve received. It’s gonna suck, just go with it and know you’re not alone.

How to handle the suckage that is post-graduation?

  • Listen to your favorite MHC music. I’ve played “Harbor” on repeat a lot over the past couple years. Sink into it and let yourself mourn passing out of this place we call Mohome.
  • Create an awesome, kick-ass playlist of “pump me up so I can handle anything” songs. Attitude is everything and music can have a huge impact on that. A few favorites: “Watch Me Shine” (Joanna Pacitti; you’re damn right it’s on the Legally Blonde soundtrack), “The Bullpen” (Dessa), “The Show Goes On” (Lupe Fiasco), “Stronger” (Kanye), “Can’t Get Me Down” (Lo-Ball; let’s be real: the whole Legally Blonde soundtrack is perfect).
  • Have group Skype dates/Google hangouts with your Moho friends. Someone’s internet connection will inevitably be awful (probably yours), so the quality may be lacking, but hearing that cluster of voices together again is priceless.
  • Read. I was so busy at MHC—even in high school—that I rarely had time to read for pleasure. I’m trying to reclaim this time now. I confess: I’ve read J. Courtney Sullivan’s Commencement several times. It’s set at (and post-) Smith College and, though I have my fair share of criticisms of the novel, I found the setting comforting. It’s about the time we’re living now. I love the fierceness of its women characters and the references to the Calvin Theatre and other Valley landmarks make me feel at home.

  • “Celia remembered how Bree used to refer to their first year out of college as their freshman year of life. Celia might call her crying from a bathroom stall at work, complaining about her boss, or she might send a pained text message from yet another ill-fated first date, and Bree would soothe her gently, saying, ‘You’re only a freshman. It’s going to get better. I swear’” (Sullivan 52). You, Moho grad, are a firstie again. Take it easy on yourself.

  • Reach out to your local MHC alumnae club (if there is one). Seriously, just do it. While at MHC, we hear a ton about inspiring older alumnae—those who are well into their careers and are transforming the world in big ways. That’s terrific and I don’t want to downplay the significance of having these role models; however, they’re probably not the most helpful people when you’ve just graduated. Who will help you find a roommate, navigate public transportation in a new city, or clue you into where to get the best $5 margaritas? Enter young alumnae. Mohos whose time at MHC didn’t even overlap with mine are now huge parts of my social and professional networks. In short, they’re the best.

  • Explore your surroundings. If you’re in a new city, find places that speak to you. If you’re at your pre-college home, venture beyond the places you hung out in high school. Get to know your neighborhood food trucks and restaurants, your local public libraries and parks, become a regular at a bookstore, coffee shop, ice cram parlor, or farmers’ market.
  • Meetup.com can be great. Even if you don’t actually go to any meet ups, it’s helpful to get a sense of what’s available around you and to know that there are strangers out there who have similar interests and could become your friends.
  • Cook. Not everyone likes cooking, but I love it and find it relieves stress. Take advantage of the fact that you’re no longer on a meal plan and try out some new recipes. This is also a wonderful way to build friendships/relationships. Everyone loves being invited to share in some homemade deliciousness. Everything from bringing cookies to the office to inviting new friends over for a potluck dinner is lovely and will most likely be appreciated by those around you. (If inviting someone over, check for allergies/dietary restrictions first. Your meal will go a lot better if everyone can eat something.)

Whoa Tamar, post-grad life sounds pretty rough!

I hear you. Here’s the other thing: it gets less sucky. You’ll take baby steps initially—you’re a firstie, remember?—but slowly, slowly you’ll start making an adult life for yourself outside of MHC. About a year and a half out, you’ll finally look around you and think, “I have friends and a life with things that are important to me. It’s not everything I’ve ever wanted, but I’m creating something real.” That is an amazing feeling. And I assure you that, over time, you will find your footing and the life that you’ve dreamed of will become increasingly real.

All my love, honeybunches! You’re going to do just fine.

Got other suggestions for coping with loneliness, acclimating to new places, or taking the world by storm? Leave comments!

Femmespiration and Femme Wins

This is the post full of femme awesomeness.  Y’all may have noticed that this is a recurring theme, but here’s where it takes center stage.  Why?  Because I have spent way too much time in queer communities and spaces that were/are riddled with femmephobia–in which I was made to feel really insecure about my gender presentation, or felt compelled to dress down all the time to avoid attention, or was constantly told (implicitly and explicitly) that femme was pretty much worthless and if I truly wanted to fight the patriarchy I’d present myself in a masculine way.  Ughhh so much BS.  (Need further explanation?  See: 87% of this blog.)  As a way of retroactively counteracting some of this negativity, I’ve decided to make a list of femme-positive moments.  Most are directly from my life; some I’ve observed.

Note: this is not a checklist of things required in order to ID as femme, nor is it a list of things that all femmes relate to, nor is it my entire conception of femme.  It’s a scattered collection of fun moments that I associate with femme or that exemplify how I do femme.  So, here goes…

  • Seeing other femmes out and about and smiling at one another.  Especially when we’re both reading queer theory on the train.
  • Nail polish with huge chunks of glitter in it.  I like to call this “don’t fuck with me” glitter.
  • Heels: some haters pity me for my apparent lack of awareness that I’m wearing tools of the patriarchy on my feet.  Fuck that~~if I’m in 3″ heels, I walk taller and you’ll be able to hear me coming from down the street.  Heels are powerful.
  • Enormous purses: why yes, I do carry a huge ass Mary Poppins bag at all times.  Laugh all you want, but when you need water, band-aids, medicine, tissues, pens, gum, hand sanitizer, sunblock, gloves (the wool kind or the latex kind), lotion, a bottle opener, books, etc., you know I’ll have them.
  • Realizing that that plum eye shadow really does compliment the gold eye shadow and accentuate your eyes perfectly.
  • Fuchsia lip gloss: I maintain that this is the key to improving any day.
  • Magical jacket: it’s sheer, translucent, green, blue, leopard-print, and chunky zippered all at once.  I know this sounds like an impossible combination, but it’s actually the best thing ever.

Magical jacket
(Oh yes, this is my face.  It’s been a while~~hello.)

  • As a femme cis woman: breaking stereotypes of what queer women are “supposed to look like.”
  • Glitter.  Did y’all here that?  GLITTER.  This is basically my life motto:

(source)

  • Rejecting the notion of “high maintenance.”  I hear this thrown around all the time as a criticism of femme folks.  Femininity is deemed superfluous and superficial; by extension, femmes are viewed as super demanding/unreasonable if we spend a lot of time/energy on our physical appearance.  Fuck that.  If I spend over an hour sitting in front of a mirror doing the most elaborate makeup for a party, I don’t need your approval.  If I bring a bigger suitcase than you because I needed to pack bunches of scarves and shoes (while you brought a pair of jeans and two extra shirts), my choices and opinions aren’t magically less valid.  I just intend to wear different fabulous outfits every day, while spewing my still informed, intelligent, valid opinions.  You’ll look fierce in your jeans and tees; I’ll look fierce in a never-ending series of fabulous shoes. 

(source)

  • Re-imagining femininity on our own terms: defined by our own values and desires, not the kyriarchy.  Resisting the pressure to be white (or at least light-skinned),  slim and also hourglass-shaped, able in all ways at all times, passive/quiet/unopinionated, dressed in ways that require large budgets, etc.  I love seeing and hearing about how other femme folks navigate these pressures and still look and feel fly.
  • Huge flowers: in our hair, pinned on our clothes/bags/shoes, on jewelry, painted on our nails, painted on our faces, etc.
  • Poofy skirts.  They’re the best.  Pencil skirts are the other best, as are huge bell-bottom jeans.  Cozy sweatpants are the other other best.
  • Sequins.  ‘Nuff said.
  • Coincidental fabulousness: that time when my shirt, lingerie, and phone case were all leopard-print, and I didn’t even notice til I was almost out the door.
  • Not being forced into or ashamed of femininity–(re)learning that it can be awesome/fabulous/wonderful/powerful/sharp/full of pizazz.
  • These shoes:

photo_7

  • The story behind that picture: taken on the last day of Femme Con 2012.  I was talking to a new femme friend (and recent Seven Sisters grad~~woot woot!) when suddenly this dapper person races across the lobby to us with a camera, pointing excitedly at our feet. “Can I take a photo of your shoes??”  We looked down.  I was wearing the peep-toe wedges; she’s got the combat boots.  They’re upholstered in exactly the same fabric.  We had no idea.  By this point, we’d been in a workshop together and had been standing next to one another for about ten minutes, never realizing that we were wearing matching shoes.  *Commence OMG squeals*
  • Later realization: that was the first time I’d experienced a masculine-of-center person making a beeline for femmes to compliment our style, rather than the other way around.  Perhaps this seems insignificant or surprising to you, but for me, it was definitely a wow moment of “oh yeah, my gender presentation is valued and appreciated by people besides myself.”
  • Shared experiences: connecting with other femmes and finding words for things you didn’t realize you were struggling with, so now you have a name for that thing that makes you so mad/frustrated/confused/joyful that you weren’t able to articulate before or were afraid no one else would understand.
  • These shoes:

Glitter heels

I own these shoes.  Bonus: I just finished a show for which I wore them every Thurs-Sun for a month.  Holla.

  • Huge shout-out to all the femmes of color!  Y’all are so gorgeous and your styles so fierce and your words so inspiring.  I say this not because I think you need my validation, but because I know that in some queer spaces, femme is most readily visible on white bodies.  In white-dominated queer spaces, we (white folks) often overlook QPOCs and marginalize your experiences.  I’m sorry.  I try my best to recognize when this happens/might happen and to do something proactive about it.  Always a work in progress, but I’m striving to be your ally.
  • Fascinators: Kate Middleton isn’t the only one rocking them; that’s all I’m saying.
  • Femme flagging: y’all get so creative!  I’m impressed.  Femme folks are going all out with strategically pinned flowers, jewelry, handkerchiefs in hair and on shoes/belts/wrists, and oh my god the nail polish.
  • Metal spikes and studs on clothing/shoes: rock on with your tough selves!
  • Cupcakes: baking them, eating them, cupcakes as patterns on cloth, looking like a cupcake personified~~it’s all good.
  • Shout-out to femmes of differing abilities and body shapes/sizes!  Obviously our heteronormative society has a certain set of beauty standards.  Beyond this, queer communities have developed standards of beauty/attractiveness that often perpetuate the same oppressive norms that we’re theoretically fighting.  Fuck all that.  This goes back to my point about defining femininity for ourselves, on our own terms.  Seeing people do this–however they’re doing it–is inspiring and beautiful.
  • Politicizing rhinestoned corsets
  • Mixing colors/patterns and not being afraid of being over the top.  As we learned from To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar 

Larger than life is just the right size!

Summer Nights are for Women; Steel is for Men

Those of you who know me in real life know how much I love deodorant.  Okay, okay, I don’t have some weird obsession with anti-perspirants; I’m just fascinated by the names.  First of all, they’re completely ridiculous.  What do “summer nights” and “playa” smell like exactly?  Second, the names are incredibly gendered, or at least the packaging would suggest as much.  Take a stroll through CVS’s deo aisle and you’ll see a selection of small pastel containers bearing names like “warm rain,” “summer stroll,” and “allure.”  Across the aisle will be larger, squarer containers in black, forest green, and fiery red: “swagger,” “phoenix,” “steel,” “pulse,” and “manliest man who ever manned.”  (I may have made that last one up, but I’m sure you’ll agree that it fits right in.)  Apparently “convict,” “recovery,” and “instinct” are other branded scents.

On a recent shopping excursion, I discovered that “romance” smells disgusting to me and “escape” is great.  Hold on while I go ponder my life…

 

This week I discovered a new favorite soap: “falling rain.”  Let’s be clear now–this does not evoke the rain rushing through the cracks in your driveway.  It’s not the muddied water pooling in the sandbox and obscuring the toy truck than Janine left behind at recess.  It’s falling.  Interestingly enough, this soap smells suspiciously like peppermint.  Who has peppermint rain?  Please come forward.

So what’s the deal with deodorant marketing?  In case you hadn’t noticed, deodorants (and soaps, shampoos, and other toiletries) marketed toward women cost more.  Not only that, they come in smaller packages, so they’re ultimately much more expensive.  This problem is exacerbated by the number of individual products that are marketed to women, where combo products (all-in-one shampoo/conditioner/body wash) are advertised for men.  Women are paid less (hello, people, the pay gap is still alive and well!) and conditioned to pay more for our products.

So what is it we’re paying for?  What makes the difference?  Turquoise packaging and cosmetics industry employees who sit in far away offices devising names like falling rain.

Everyone Take 2 Big Steps Back

TW: harassment, general obnoxiousness

When the bank associate asked how my day was going, I wasn’t sure how to respond.  In my head I snapped, “It’s 95 degrees out and I fucking hate people.  How do you think those combine?”  Out loud I stuck with “I’ve been better” and muttered something about being busy running errands.  As I sat in the Bank of America office, I wondered to myself about the best ways to tell someone to GTFO.  When I got home, I was still stewing about it, so I made this handy graph:

How to find the illusive fuchsia dot?  What is the maximal combination of polite-ish-ness and firmness that gets the point — “you need to back off” — across, without making a huge scene?  And before you even find that perfect phrase, how do you decide when to call things out?  Do you have the energy?  Feel safe enough?  How do you gauge what “counts” as a big enough deal that you’d say something to interrupt it?

Today I went to the dentist.  You know the drill — if your teeth are fine, you spend most of your appointment with the hygienist anyway and then see your dentist after your teeth are already clean and polished.  I still go to a children’s dental practice and, being a children’s practice, they kick you out after you graduate from college or reach the 20-something age range.  I went to this appointment knowing that it would be my last there.

After having my teeth cleaned — that joyous process that includes gum-poking metal instrument thingies — my dentist came in.  The first words out of his mouth were “Looks like you’re gonna hafta find yourself an adult dentist” while simultaneously pinching my nose.

Me in my head: You say as you pinch my nose…excuse you?  When I come here you can touch my mouth and nothing else.  When was the last time you pinched the nose of an adult man?

Me: …  *blank stare*

I contemplated saying something, but decided not to.  I didn’t want to be rude and just wanted to leave ASAP.  (Of all the ridiculous societally-conditioned responses, I was worried about being rude to the 67-year-old man who had just pinched my face.)  He called me honey as I scooted out of the office and told me to come back to visit and say hi.

Me in my head: Fuck off.

Now I’m sitting at home pissed off about this encounter, while I’m sure he didn’t give it another thought.  Had I considered for a moment about how much this would bother me after the fact, I would’ve said something.  Instead, I went to the bank, where the oh-so-friendly bank associate and manager tried to start a long conversation with me about my acting career goals, when all I wanted to do was get home.

The big question that I really want to poll: how do you handle microagressions?

  • The dentist who inappropriately pinches your face
  • The guy on the el who interrupts you 3 times to start conversations about nothing, even though you’re absorbed in a book and also have earbuds in, meaning it’s very unlikely that you want to talk to anyone
  • The much older man who approaches you on the train platform, while you’re engrossed in a book and deliberately not looking at anyone, to ask you all about what you’re reading and do you like it and why are you standing so close to my face?!
  • The long line of eyes that turn away from their tasks and stare unabashedly at you as you walk into/out of a building, evaluating everything on/about your body

These events aren’t calamities.  They don’t signal the end of the world; but they do remind us — women in particular — that we live in a society that doesn’t consider our bodies and time our own.  (Note: there are many types of bodies and gender presentations that society considers public property.  This is not exclusively a “women’s issue.”)

There are some actions that are immediately identifiable as harassment.  Someone yelling or honking at you from a car, calling out to you on the street, following you, yelling a slur, etc.  What about more subtle instances that make us uncomfortable?  How do you respond to long, invasive stares?  People chatting you up and “being really nice” when you’ve made it clear you don’t want to talk to them?  Strangers who assume that they deserve your attention and that you should entertain them with conversation (or more).  All the things that we’re told repeatedly “aren’t a big deal” (code for “Why are you so offended when someone invades your space and won’t leave?”)  Any advice about reasonably low-key ways to tell someone to back the fuck up?

Letters to Public Interactions/Institutions

Dear CTA conductor,

You, the one who looked directly at me as I boarded the train, and told me to smile: I will smile when I damn well please and not on command.

Fuck you,

Tamar

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Lincoln Park drug stores,

Stay classy.  Chicago never ceases to come up with brilliant ideas, including this:

Yep, that’s right–the local CVS has a booze section.  Make that an extensive booze section.  New England and its liquor stores can suck it.

Mostly wine and spirits.  The bottles of hard liquor had locks/alarms on them because, ya know, CVS goods usually aren’t worth more than $10.  Classy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear guys in the truck,

How exactly did you imagine this scene would go down?  I’m honestly curious.

On Friday evening, I was driving to meet a friend.  Having jumped Spider-woman-style directly from the shower out of the window and into the car (as ya do), I realized this would be a putting-mascara-on-in-the-car trip.  (For the record: yes, this is unsafe behavior and I indulge highly infrequently.)  Un/fortunately, there are a couple of intersections within two blocks of my house at which the lights take forever to change.  One of them will actually stay red for up to three and a half minutes (apparently the average wait time at a red is one minute…nobody informed my neighborhood).

While waiting at a long stop light and applying makeup, I heard a light but persistent car horn.  “What is that?” I wondered, “The light is clearly still red.”  The horn kept going.  Turned out it was coming from the enormous truck next to me.  I looked over to find two men–clearly just off work–leaning (head, shoulders, and arms) outta the front passenger window of their company truck, waving madly at me and grinning.  Ummmm…really?

You think ima respond well to that?  I already had a mascara wand next to my eye and was watching both the traffic light and my own rear-view mirror.  You think that was a good time to demand my attention?  Please.

The start of another classy night in Chi-town.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Sprinkles,

Thank you for your genius.  Talk to y’all later–I’m moving to DC stat.

Love T

P.S. Alternately, maybe I’ll just bake rainbow cupcakes with le brother, because that doesn’t involve leaving my kitchen.

Victoria’s Secret > Most Sex-Ed Courses

A couple days ago, I was in Victoria’s Secret.  First of all, let me say that I freakin’ love VS.  So many different types of people shop there, which makes for the best people watching/listening.  Too funny.  As anyone who’s a frequent VS shopper knows, the semi-annual sale just happened, so everything was hella marked down.  Rooting through a huge (and by that point completely disorganized) pile of sale merch?  Don’t mind if I do.

Amid the 5857193 shreds of lace and cotton, I came across something very interesting:

Practice makes perfect?  Hmmm.  “What are they getting at?” I wondered.  Is this a reminder that, despite the fairy-tale romanticized myth of one’s “first time” being a guaranteed magical experience, many people’s first time having is sex is honestly not the best?  Not the most comfortable?  Not the most self-assured?  Not perfect?

Is VS encouraging self-pleasure?  I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that will definitely get better with practice.  Is this a message to a partner, i.e. “with practice (and conversation) you will get to know my body better”?  Either way, I approve.

We’re stuck between abstinence-only sex-ed programs that demonize sex and media that tell us that we should all be having sex–and lots of it–and it should be great and we should inherently be amazing at it and what’s wrong with us if we aren’t???  It’s definitely time to slow down and actually have some critical conversations (especially with young people) about our bodies, sexual (and asexual) agency, communication, and consent.  Not just “no means no” consent, but “this is how to ask for what you want and really check in with your partners about what they want” consent.  Then the world might not be so full of panicked questions like this (and inane answers).

Another intriguing find:

Is VS promoting oral sex on women*?  When was the last time any mainstream media source or consumer advertising endorsed–or even mentioned–that?  Then again, maybe VS is just suggesting making out while practically naked.  I mean…that’s cool too.

*I acknowledge that it is my assumption that most people wearing VS items are women, though I’m sure there are others out there too.  You do you.

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