Tag Archives: memoir

Broken

My brother and I used to fight all the time when we were kids.

It was usually over something stupid like what we were going to watch on our one TV. I was a big fan of The Brady Bunch and General Hospital (this was way back in the Luke and Laura days). Or who’s turn it was to play on whatever video gaming system we had at the time. Colecovision, anyone?

Things usually turned violent. Punches were thrown. Someone was tossed into a wall.

And then it would happen.

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They looked something like this.

The peace pipes mounted on a little wooden frame over the basement door would fall and break.

They weren’t real peace pipes. At the time, our house was decorated in a style known as colonial. The peace pipes were long and white and made out of some kind of fragile ceramic material. They were arranged in an X with the heads of the pipes at opposite ends of the wooden frame.

The crash always ended the fight.

My brother would run to get the Scotch tape and superglue. I’d start putting the broken pieces back together. We worked as a team as we raced to get the pipes glued back together and back up on the wall before my mother came home.

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This show spoke the truth.

Ironically, it was like that Brady Bunch episode where the boys break Carol’s vase with a basketball. Mom always said don’t play ball in the house.

By the time we were too old to be fighting like that, the peace pipes were in sharp white shards that were held together by tape, luck and sheer will.

Another crash or two, and they would be too broken to put back together.

Luckily, we had stopped fighting by then.

These days, I’m those peace pipes. I’ve fallen too many times to count. I’m in a hundred pieces.

And I worry that the day will come when I’ll be unable to piece myself back together.

 

 

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Interview with the author of Girlish: Growing Up in a Lesbian Home

Happy Friday! I’ve got a special treat for you.

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This is Lara Lillibridge. She likes Joan Jett and writing memoir and people who resist the binary.

Last year, I was at a creative nonfiction conference and met Lara Lillibridge, and we became instant BFFs. Well, we didn’t actually meet at the conference, but I did hear her read from her book, Girlish: Growing Up in a Lesbian Home. And immediately tweeted her about wanting to read her book.

Anyway, I suppose that’s how introverts interact at conferences. Writers, am I right?

The BFF thing is totally true though.

Here’s something else that’s true–Lara’s book totally rocks. Like Joan Jett, who we both adore. See, I told you we’re BFFs.

In a nutshell, Girlish is Lara’s memoir about growing up in a house with a lesbian mom and lesbian step-mom. It’s both hilarious and heartbreaking. Inventively told from the point of view of Girl, Girlish reads like a fairy tale that has gone horribly awry. You’ll find yourself rooting for Girl and a happily-ever-after ending. You’ll have to read the book to find out if she gets one.

Girlish_final coverGirlish confronts such timely topics as feminism, mental illness and gender roles and stereotypes. It’s a must read, not only for gay and lesbian parents and their children, but anyone who has ever struggled with finding their own place in this strange world.

You can pre-order Girlish here.

If you have questions or comments for Lara, please leave them below.

And now, The Flannel Files interview with Lara Lillibridge:

FF: Many Flannel Files followers are lesbian parents. From your personal experience, what was it like growing up with lesbian parents (a lesbian mom and lesbian step-mom)? Best part? Worst part?

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So much toast with sugar.

LL: I’m asked this a lot, and you’d think I’d have a good short answer prepared by now, but I don’t. The truth is, day-to-day life was mostly eating toast with sugar, going to school, eating toast with sugar, playing in the backyard, eating more toast with sugar. Our family only seemed different when we encountered other people.  Being bullied for having lesbian moms was definitely the worst part of it, though I wasn’t exactly a trend-setter fashion-wise anyway. I suspect I would have been bullied regardless, but there is something special about being bullied about your sexual orientation, or your parents’ sexual orientation.

I think as an adult one thing I appreciate is how I don’t have the same built-in stereotypes about queer people that many people—including many queer people—have. Sure, I got fed the same societal BS everyone is fed, but it was countered by my parents and our community of lesbian friends. So I don’t have any of that negative judgement ingrained in me that so many people fight against.

FF: You write about being raised to defy the norms of society. Was this a good or bad thing? How does how you were raised seep into who you are today?

LL: First of all I didn’t exactly choose to be different. I wasn’t necessarily being defiant as much as oblivious. I’d like to think of myself as bravely going against popular opinion, but it wasn’t the case. Left to my own devices, I don’t know how defiant I would have been. Yet, there was more good that came of it, I think. To this day, I have trouble understanding why people get all caught up in what other people think, particularly about sexuality and gender, outside of safety issues. I had a lot of repercussions for being different, but living through the experience gave me the certainty that I can take it and keep going.

FF: How have your experiences affected your own parenting style?

LL: I totally shelter my children as much as possible—pretty much the opposite of how I was raised. I suspect the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle, but I’m not there yet.

FF: I’m curious about the title of your book, Girlish. You refer to yourself in the book as “Girl,” so why the title Girlish?

LL: The original title was Girl, and when I was working on the cover design I did a google search to see what books it would be listed near on Amazon. Much to my chagrin, there was another memoir titled Girl with a gorgeous cover similar to the original look I was going for. My critique partner suggested Girlish as a play on both being girly and not-quite a girl at the same time.

FF: What are you watching these days (TV or movies)? Who’s your Hollywood (or non-Hollywood) crush?

LL: I’m currently watching Jessica Jones, Sneaky Pete, Madam Secretary and Designated Survivor. I’m a binge watcher, so I tend to eat through online series as quickly as possible.

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Sara Ramirez as Kat with the shaved head on Madam Secretary

Crushes…I should give a disclaimer that personality colors how I see people, and since I don’t know these people IRL, they might be total shit balls and then I wouldn’t see them the same way anymore. But if we’re talking just a physical beauty kind of crush, I recently discovered this model named Tzef Montana who is gorgeous. I kind of have a thing for Sara Ramirez, but only as Kat with the shaved head on Madam Secretary—not as the long-haired Callie in Grey’s Anatomy. I like people who resist the binary.

FF: If you could make one law, what would it be?

LL: I meant to say something cute about all people being given kinkajous to carry around, but the school shootings and overall gun violence has so broken my heart that it has to be addressed. While I have some ideas, I’d really like to form a brain trust to attack the issue from multiple angles. It’s bigger than just one law.

FF: Who are the authors who have inspired and influenced you? Who are you reading these days?

LL: I’d like to have a retreat with Jeanette Winterson, Lidia Yuknavitch, Maggie Nelson, and Jenny Boully. I’d just sit at their feet and eat cookies and listen to them talk amongst themselves.

FF: I would be right there with you but with a bag of cheese curls.

LL: I’m currently reading an ARC of the novel THE ONES WE CHOOSE by Julie Clark that is scheduled for release May 8, 2018. It’s a great story about an intentionally single mother and is filled with all sorts of scientific stuff that makes me feel smart and fills me with wonder for the natural world. Check out this line, “…mtDNA does not combine with genes inherited from your other parent but is passed on, whole to you. It will live inside of you—the story of your mother, and her mother, and all the mothers who came before.” That gave me goosebumps.

I’m also reading MODERN GIRLS by Jennifer Brown with my mother. My mother and I have had a strained relationship as my memoir’s release date got closer, so she and I are doing this family book club thing where we are both reading this book simultaneously so we can talk about the characters instead of talking about our family.

FF: What’s your next project? 

LL: I have a zillion projects going on.

I’m about ready to shop my second memoir, Mama, Mama, Only Mama! It’s a humorous book about parenting after divorce, and encompasses my six years as a single mother and our transition into cohabitating with my SigO, who never had children.

I also have a series of children’s books I’m working on about my moms’ travel adventures. I think kids need books with queer characters that aren’t supposed to be life lessons in diversity, but rather are interesting books who just happen to have queer people in them.

I’m working on a draft of a novel that explores sexual mores and gender, but that’s sort of on the back burner at the moment while I figure out how to become better at writing fiction.

Lastly, I’m writing a story just for my family that I read to my kids every night at bedtime. They are interested in my career as a writer, but are too young to read Girlish, so I wanted them to have something they could be vested in—they are my first readers, and they like to give me advice about the plot and characters, though I don’t always take it. I still hate to be told what to do.

I remember

downloadTo my wife:

I remember our first date.

I remember you being late and rushing in the door of the bookstore like a gust of wind.

I remember you laughing and me smiling, not really sure what to make of you but thinking I would like to know more.

I remember walking to the pizza shop that sat at the top of the hill where we ate cheesesteaks and french fries.

I remember how quickly you handed over the money for your half of the bill as if you didn’t want strings, even for a few seconds.

I remember your big, brown eyes, bright and curious like a raccoon’s.

I remember your mask, too, and wondering what was underneath it.

I remember you letting me buy you a beer at that old bar down the street.

I remember sitting on the bench back behind the shops at the end of the night. The small patch of green grass an island for two. “Can I give you a hug?” you had asked, and I said you could.

I remember how you smelled like flowers and patchouli and how hard you hugged me like you were trying to tell me one last thing before we parted and went our separate ways.

* * *

This was from an exercise in today’s writing group. W’s birthday is on Friday, so I thought I’d post today as a small pre-birthday gift. What do you remember about a first date? First love? Start with “I remember” and see where it takes you.

 

 

 

 

Fun with gender roles and stereotypes

So, you might have noticed that I haven’t been posting much these days.

I’ve been busy with work and kids and wife (she’s a handful). And writing my new book.

That’s right, folks. Sometime in 2018, you’ll be cracking the spine of my new book and breathing in that new book smell. Can’t wait, can ya?

You can read all about it over on my publisher’s website. As per usual, I’ll be writing about gender, butchness and how I never knew I was a lesbian. I swear, it’s true.

Which brings up this photo of Middle Age Butch back in the day.

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I’m three years old. It’s Christmas Day. Apparently, I’ve gotten a gold wristwatch as a present. See how it sparkles. That baby with the big bowling ball head is my brother. He got a sleek silver train and a Fisher-Price pop-up toy for Christmas.

That other baby is not real and is sitting inside a baby stroller that I’m posing behind. I’m wearing a shiny dress and shiny black Mary Janes. Do you see my shiny smile?

The only thing missing is a husband. A boy in a three-piece suit, his tiny hand clutching a leather briefcase. And off we’d go into the sunset. Me, Husband and Baby.

I wonder if there was ever a chance for my story to turn out differently than it did. This photo makes me think that the answer to that question is no.

But still, I can’t help but wonder what my life would have been like if I had been dressed in bright red pajamas that Christmas morning and had a silver train to scoot along the floor.

* * *

Who is this little girl? Where is she going? Why does she need a watch?

Feel free to offer a caption.

 

 

On words and sexy beasts

Upon her approach, I recognize the uniform of my tribe: jeans, T-shirt, flannel shirt, bandanna.

She has curly brown hair that sits on top of her head like a sculpture. The glint from her silver lip piercing makes her look like she is grinning, always grinning.

She holds out a copy of my book, eyes aimed at the ground.

“I’ve been wanting to ask you to sign this,” she says.

“Sure,” I reply.

I look at the conference badge around her neck to find her name.

“I read the dedication of your book to my girlfriend last night. She thought it was so cool!”

Her face lights up.

I smile real big.

“Oh, yeah?” I say. “I hope you enjoy the book.”

And then she’s gone.

But in her wake, I’m reminded of the importance of words.

All words.

Even the ones we choose for our book dedications.

Here are the ones I used in my book, Leaving Normal:

To my wife, who thinks me a Sexy Beast.

I’d marry you a third time.

I wonder which words caught her eye.

wife

sexy beast

marry

Or maybe all of them.

Telling a short but sweet story of butch love and possibility.

Pretty

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Me and Dorothy.

“Hi, Pretty,” Dorothy Allison says to me in a southern lilt that could melt three-feet of snow in Philadelphia in February.

I have my book opened to the title page of her memoir and hand it to her to sign.

“You’re another tall one,” she says. Her eyes sparkle.

Allison has just headlined the “Literary Adventures at Sea” program on our Olivia cruise to Alaska where she talked about feminism and lesbian literature and liking the tall butches because they’re fun to climb.

“It’s an honor to meet you,” I say. “I’m a writer, too.” I try to play it cool–Dorothy Allison … no biggie–as butches often do.

When I catch up with W back in our room, she asks how the signing went.

“It’s a good day when Dorothy Allison flirts with you,” I say.

Later, I can’t stop thinking about the word “pretty.” Allison hadn’t used it as an adjective but as a noun.

“Hi, Pretty,” she had said.

I’ve never liked being described as pretty. It always carries with it a feminine connotation.

pretty: “pleasing by delicacy or grace,” the Merriam-Webster definition reads.

I like the concept of pretty as a person or object, especially when the word glides from the lips of Dorothy Allison.

Pretty.

A sunset.

A tree-covered mountaintop.

An eagle soaring in the ice blue Alaskan sky.

A butch still trying to come to terms with her appearance in this pink/blue world of ours.

 

 

 

Watch

Describe an object that describes you:

IMG_1192A vintage Timex wristwatch, circa 1970 with a stretchy metal band.

Dependable.

Consistent.

Comfortable.

Casual.

Plain face.

Stylish in its own way with a flash of silver like a crooked smile.

Always moving forward. Sometimes second by second, other times making bigger leaps until time is lost and I wonder how I ended up here.

At times, a know it all.

It’s 10:30 a.m.

It’s Tuesday.

It’s May 16.

The cold metal on my wrist reminding me I’m alive.

* * *

What about you? What object are you?

 

Mom stuff

My son turned 18 yesterday.

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Middle-age Butch and son back in the day

It was around 11:30 p.m. that the doctor said we would be celebrating his birthday on May 16.

I wasn’t have any of that next day stuff. After a few pushes, he entered the world on May 15, a few minutes before midnight. A month and a half before his due date.

He is stubborn like his mother.

From the beginning, he was setting his own schedule and interrupting any plans I had for a normal pregnancy and delivery.

When he finally came home from the hospital, he weighed a little over 5 pounds. I kept him tucked in the crook of my arm like a football.

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Do you speak sports?

I  assumed he would speak the same language that my dad, my brother and I speak: sports. He doesn’t.

He doesn’t speak books or movies or superheroes or any of my other languages.

He speaks his own, a mix of technology and disdain for everything I like.

He has always been a difficult child. Insisting on paving his own path and refusing to conform to the most basic of rules. He wears shorts in the winter. Says the sky is green. Eats soup from a plate.

I get frustrated. I use the word “normal” more than I want to and then hate myself for doing so. I often worry about what other people will think. When I step back, I can see I am recreating my own childhood.

W always tells me we are supposed to learn from our children. That we can find healing in the parent-child relationship.

I never really understood this.

IMG_1177I have a quote taped to the front of my printer. “Be who you needed when you were younger,” it says.

It reminds me to keep reaching out to young people to tell my story so they can be comfortable with their own.

I wonder if the answer has been there all along.

“Be who you needed when you were younger.”

Maybe I’m supposed to parent my son the way I needed to be parented. Accepting him as he is.

Maybe that’s what finally sets me free.

Assorted butch news and other stuff

“And this gentleman is?”

He arched one eyebrow so it pointed directly at me.

I found myself crafting this response in my head: I’m not a gentleman.

But then I couldn’t say those words, because I pride myself on being a gentleman.

“My name is Rae,” I said, leaving him to figure out the rest.

IMG_0745It’s the hair. I haven’t been misgendered for a long time. Then blam. My hair becomes too long to spike up and sits on top of my head like a lid. There’s a bit of an overhang. It’s like having a little roof over the front portion of my head. It’s the Barney Rubble look that I wrote about here.

What’s a butch to do. Keep calm and Barney Rubble on. Someone make me a T-shirt, please.

In other news, I finally saw The Lego Batman Movie. Now, W and I pew-pew each other and the cats with our invisible laser guns after she gets home from work.

In more other news, check out this cool new documentary called Gender Troubles: The Butches. You can view it for free through March 28, sir.

Oh, one more thing, I’m giving away copies of my book, Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender, on Goodreads. You can enter to win here. You know you want to. Hurry, time’s almost up.

* * *

What’s new with you?

 

Leaving the center empty for God

 

downloadI’m still reading Maggie Nelson’s memoir The Argonauts. This story about Nelson’s relationship with her “fluidly gendered partner” Harry takes a look at the hot button topics of sexuality, gender and what it means to be a family.

It’s been taking me longer than usual to get through this slim book of less than 150 pages. It’s a heavy read, packed with thoughts and insights that seem best suited for slow, meditative pondering.

In the pages I read last night, Nelson writes about a lecture she attended given by poet and professor Anne Carson in which Carson spoke about the concept of leaving a space empty so God can rush in.

imagesNelson said she had heard about this concept from a boyfriend who was into bonsai. In bonsai, people often plant a tree off-center in the pot to allow space for the divine.

“But that night Carson made the concept literary,” Nelson writes. “I went home fastened to the concept of leaving the center empty for God. It was like stumbling into a tarot reading or AA meeting and hearing the one thing that will keep you going, in heart or art, for years.”

That’s what I’m thinking about these days. Leaving the center empty for God in my writing and in my life.

The Argonauts is a terrific read. Dense and intense but worth the effort.

P.S. I’ve been sleeping better.

I find that when I’m focused on social media and the news, I have a bad day,” I told W yesterday at dinner.

“And when I stay away from social media and the news, I have a better day,” I told her.

“Then stay away from social media and the news,” she said like a Sapphic sage.

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Night, night, you big butch.

That’s been helping, plus W has been rubbing my face with lavender butter before bedtime. She rubs the thick cream on her hands and then smooths it on my forehead, my temples, the back of my neck and a little under my nose.

It smooths over the jagged edges of the day. I have been sleeping like a baby these days.

Plus, it makes me feel like I’m being taken care of, which is a nice feeling right before bed.

We just ordered a new batch of butter. Check out Renaissance Lavender on etsy if you are in need of a magic sleeping potion.