What Fun Home taught me about being gay

When I was coming out 10 plus years ago, I was pretty sure I was doing it all wrong. Not so much the coming out part, but the being gay part.

Looking for guidance, I sent letters and e-mails to a variety of “accessible” celebrity lesbians. And Barney Frank. By “accessible,” I mean the rung below the power lesbians. The writers and activists who I thought might actually write me back. I asked everyone to identify the single most important thing that a gay person can do to further empower the community.

Alison Bechdel

Alison Bechdel

I wrote to cartoonist Alison Bechdel, among other mildly famous lesbians. Back then, she was best known for her Dykes to Watch Out For comic strip. The magic that is Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home wouldn’t happen until 2006.

I can’t find Bechdel’s response, but I remember her sending one.

Everyone pretty much gave the same answer. Be yourself. Be out. It wasn’t the sexy revelation that I was looking for.

W and I often talk about how her experience as a gay person is different than mine. When I walk down the street with my short hair and cargo pants and baseball cap, it’s a political act. I’m out for the world to see in all of my boy/girl glory. Not so much for W. Unless I’m with her.

Flip to last Saturday and W and I are in New York City watching Fun Home the musical on Broadway.

Ring of Keys

Ring of Keys

I’ve heard the butch anthem “Ring of Keys” perhaps a hundred times.

But sitting there in the theater when the luncheonette doorbell rings and Sydney Lucas belts out “Ring of Keys,” I had an epiphany. I had been doing it right all along. With my short hair, dungarees and my lace-up boots.

Because that’s the best thing any of us can do. Be yourself. Be out.

It takes courage. And practice.

But if I can do it, anyone can.

I’ll blog some more on Fun Home, but wanted to get these thoughts down before they left me.

Queen of my heart

Four years ago today, W and I had a commitment ceremony.

Because that’s what gays and lesbians did in 2011 before marriage equality.

I just read the vows that I wrote the morning of our ceremony. Leave it to a writer to sneak in right before deadline.

Queen of heartsI ended my vows with a story that my grandfather used to tell. He said that when he married my grandmother, she told him that she would treat him like a king if he treated her like a queen. After she died, he confessed that he never did live up to his promise.

Those are perhaps impossible standards to place on any relationship.

There’s a saying and a matching bumper sticker: Chivalry isn’t dead … She’s a butch.

That’s always been my ideal. Not just because I think all women should be treated like queens. But because I derive pleasure from being the knight in shining armor, the butch in a pair of blue jeans and tie, opening doors, pumping gas, sending flowers, tucking love notes in her lunch.

These are the vows that I made to W four years ago:

  • I promise to be your friend, to stand by your side in good times and in bad. To always listen and be your soft place to fall. And, to giggle with you at night, when no one else can hear.
  • I promise to love you just the way you are right at this very minute. To love all the things that make you special — the good, the not-so-good and everything in between.
  • I promise to encourage you to reach for your dreams.
  • I promise to always be caring, understanding and forgiving. To never judge you but to just love you with my whole heart.
  • And, last but not least, I promise to be your partner as we navigate life’s challenges together. Kids, work, bi-focals, the Phillies play-off tension …

I don’t know if I’ve made good on all of these over the past four years.

But I do know that we are best friends. That we both look forward to the end of the work day when we can share our days with each other. That we giggle a lot. Ok, ok, it’s mostly me. (If a butch giggles and no one hears her except her wife, does she really giggle?) That we love each other not despite our foibles and faults but because of them. I love that W is bold and impatient and that the window glass shakes a little bit when she sneezes.

Like when the Grinch's small heart grew three times that day.

Like when the Grinch’s small heart grew three times that day.

Sometimes I love her so much that I feel like my heart will burst. This usually happens when she doesn’t know that I am looking at her like when she is falling asleep on my shoulder or preoccupied with some task.  But then I remember that I pass out when I see blood and reign it all in.

Other times, I get so caught up in my own stuff that I forget she might need care and understanding at this very moment, too. But that is that nature of relationships. When we are loved, we learn how to love.  When we are forgiven, we learn how to forgive.

Winner, winner, YOU are the biggest lesbian ever

TrophyYou know you’re a humongous lesbian when you get engaged to your lady friend. And you happen to be a lady, too.  Plus, foam trucker caps.

Congrats to Family Values Lesbian!  You, my friend, are the biggest lesbian ever and the winner of The Flannel Files’ latest contest!  You can read about FVL’s engagement and other adventures here.  Tell her Middle-age butch sent ya.

Thanks to everyone who participated.  If it makes you feel better, you’re all giant lesbians!  You can read the other entries in the comments section this post.

FVL, send me your mailing address, and I’ll send you out a copy of my book.  Or, e-mail you an e-book, if you prefer.  You can find my contact information on my homepage.


Like this guy.

Or like this guy.

I’ve been feeling really small these days. Not small in a good way. Like, hey, I lost 12 pounds and these cargo shorts are hanging off of me. But small in an all-balled-up way. Like a fist.

I have a slew of things I need to do. One of those things is write a presentation for a corporate event slated for early November. This company has an LGBT group, and I’ve been asked to speak about my book. I’m planning on talking about the power of story — the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we share with others.

I have it all mapped out. A notebook filled with thoughts and quotes. I don’t even need the notebook. Everything is floating around in my head.

But I’ve yet to sit down and type it all up. I was going to do it last weekend. Now, it’s on my to-do list for this weekend.

Writing it out makes it real.

It’s not that I don’t think that I can do it.

It’s that I’m scared.

Even butches get scared sometimes. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.

I’m not sure what I’m scared of.

“I need to get that Marianne Williamson quote tattooed on me,” W tells me.

She’s talking about this:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

It would be a very large tattoo.

So, I will sit and write. Write through the fear.

Biggest lesbian ever contest

Last weekend, I did, perhaps, the lez-iest thing ever.

I went to the vet with my lesbian wife and two of our cats.  Bodhi and Sammy.  We are a walking, talking stereotype.

We had brought them in for their annual exam.  They passed with flying colors.

However, we had to bring one of the cats back today.  He had a cut on his paw that had gotten infected.  I didn’t feel like a giant lesbian today.  It was just me, my lesbian wife and ONE cat.  Totally different.

Here's Bodhi after his vet appointment.

Here’s Bodhi after his vet appointment.

They wrapped his paw in pink leopard print.

They wrapped his paw in a pink leopard print bandage.  He doesn’t seem to mind.  He is not a very butch cat.

All this got me thinking.  What about you?  What have you done recently that left you feeling like the world’s biggest lesbian?  Organized a potluck after your softball game?  Went on a shopping spree and only purchased cargo shorts?

I’ll pick the best answer and send out a copy of my book as a prize.  Or if you already have the book, I’ll send you out some other butch swag.  A bow tie or beer opener or something butch.

So, what are you waiting for?  Leave a comment now!

On Wookies and books and other stuff

Guys, it’s been a crazy couple of weeks.

Chewbacca and me. Abducted by a Wookie in Target of all places.

Chewbacca and me. Abducted by a Wookie in Target of all places.

This explains why I haven’t posted in so long.  It’s a complicated Butch in Spaaaace tale.

While I was away, my book got a really great review on the lesbian website Autostraddle.  You can check it out here.  Perhaps the best compliment any butch writer can get: “A smart and eloquent memoir about becoming butch, Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender will resonate if you have a proud copy of Stone Butch Blues on your shelf, or listen to “Ring of Keys” from the Fun Home musical on repeat.”  That’s pretty great company, folks.

Speaking of Fun Home, just 15 days until W and I become official Fun Homies!


I wanted to be this guy.

I just wrote a new memoir piece about my obsession with my brother’s Big Josh action figure.  Does anyone remember Big Jim and Big Josh?  Geez, Barbie was so lame in comparison.

If you like free stuff, I’m giving away two signed copies of my book on Goodreads.  You can enter here.  But don’t wait too long.  The giveaway ends Sept. 30.

That’s all the news for now.  What’s new with you?


RaccoonWhen I was a kid, my favorite animal was the raccoon.

I loved these little guys.

I collected ceramic raccoon figures.

I drew raccoons.

I painted raccoons.

They were mischievous rascals.  Cute and cuddly critters.  (I didn’t know about rabies back then.)

They wore furry black masks like they had something to hide.  Or were ready to knock over a liquor store.

I never made the connection until recently.  That I was the raccoon hiding behind my mask.

Raccoons don’t hold the same appeal for me these days.

Raccoon plaqueI found this little guy in a box of stuff that my mom had given to me.  He had been affixed to my bedroom door in my parents’ house for many years, guarding against ghosts and kidnappers and a little brother.

I think about getting rid of him but can’t seem to do so.

I look up raccoon totem and this is what I find:

Masks are one of the tools of transformation.
It helps us to change what we are into what we want to be.

Raccoons also teach you how to put asleep the part of you that is not needed
and awaken the aspect of yourself that is.

I will place my raccoon friend on my closet door as a reminder.  A reminder of change and growth, of new beginnings and being who I was always meant to be.


Me and Xena: Warrior Princess

Xena: Warrior PrincessToday is Xena’s 20th anniversary.

A big ayiyiyiyiyi Xena battle cry to all of my Flannel Files followers on this very special occasion.

I’ve been reading the Xena posts and tweets on social media, and I must say it’s taken me back in time.  Not to ancient mythological Greece when Xena roamed the countryside thwarting evildoers with the help of Gabrielle, her trusty sidekick.  But the late 1990s when I was struggling with my sexuality.

The first time I watched Xena: Warrior Princess, I was hooked.  There was something about the show, something I couldn’t explain that left me wanting more Xena all the time.

Let’s be honest.  The Warrior Princess came with an extra helping of cheese.  The bright orange kind that comes in a can and is spread with a knife.

But I was transfixed.

Lucy LawlessWhen I finally admitted that I was attracted to women, I told myself that was it.  I mean, Lucy Lawless is gorgeous.  Why not watch a television show that features a beautiful woman, even if it’s campier than a weenie roast and ghost stories told around a fire?

Here’s the thing that took me a long time to realize.  I never wanted to be with Lucy Lawless.  I wanted to be Lucy Lawless.  Or, more accurately, Xena.

It was her special blend of girl power that I craved.

That I’ve always craved.

Wonder WomanIn the 1970’s, it was Charlie’s Angels and Wonder Woman and Jaime Sommers, TV’s Bionic Woman.

But those women had nothing on Xena.  With her sword and her chakram, her leather, her armor and a hot blonde by her side.  Xena was badass.

I think about the name of the show — Xena: Warrior Princess.

And I think that was always the attraction for me.

Warrior.  Princess.

Not that I’ve ever been a princess or wanted to be one.  (Makes gagging gesture with fingers and open mouth.)

It’s that blend of masculine and feminine that I find so appealing, that magical combination that I live.

There’s always been a lot of Xena: Warrior Princess inside me.

I just never realized it until I started watching the show.

If you’re really into Xena, you can read my Xena sword story here.

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What about you?  Xena fan?  Yea or nay?

Butch books

Fun HomeI am obsessed with Fun Home.

Like I’m changing my major to Fun Home.

I’m talking about the graphic memoir by the brilliant Allison Bechdel and the hit Broadway musical based on the book.

I tell W I’m a Fun Homie.

She grimaces.

But buys us tickets for our anniversary next month.

And sometimes sings Ring of Keys in the shower.

I bought Fun Home in 2007 from Giovanni’s Room, a gay bookstore in Philadelphia.

I just finished re-reading it in anticipation of the play.  I was sad like I always am when I finish a good book.

I started thinking about what to read next.  But when you’re a butch lesbian, how do you top Fun Home?

Stone Butch BluesAnd that’s when I read that Leslie Steinberg’s groundbreaking Stone Butch Blues is being made available for download to celebrate Leslie’s Sept. 1 birthday.  Click here to download your free copy.

So, I will be reading Stone Butch Blues tonight.  And thinking about Leslie Feinberg and Allison Bechdel and all the other butch writers who have made it a little easier for the rest of us to be ourselves.

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What are you reading?

Butch breakfast gaffe

BreakfastWe went out for breakfast on Saturday morning.  Me, W and the kids.

W ordered first.  I was seated next to her.

And then the waitress, who appeared to be 20 or so, asked …

wait for it …

“And, for you, sir?”

That’s when the 15-year-old started to give his order.

“I think she means me,” I said.

AwkwardIt was one of those awkward and uncomfortable butch moments.

The waitress apologized.

I didn’t know what to do.

A year ago, I would have left it at that.

Now, I’m a different person. A different butch.

I feel like I have an obligation to say something.  But what?

I’m not a sir.  I’m a woman.  In the future, you might want to refrain from making assumptions about a person’s gender. It makes us both feel awkward.

I don’t know the right answer.  I just know that I felt annoyed yesterday when I was misgendered. Not embarrassed or apologetic like I have in the past, but offended.

* * *

Thoughts?  Should I have said something or just let that “sir” go?  What would you have done?  What would you have said?

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