These days

I feel empty.  Pointless.  Like just enough possibility was jettisoned into me that I learned to really fuck up.  I want the part of life that comes from trying really hard and having it pay off.

And that should make sense.  Effort should be simple, right?  Just trying shouldn’t be an act of insanity.  I should be able to put my mind to something and do it.

But it doesn’t seem to work that way.  I don’t much understand how it works.  I don’t understand how I can work so well and then just run out, like life is a fuel I’ve derived from an unsustainable resource.

When I’m not asleep, I wish I was.  Except sometimes, sometimes all the time but not always, when I need every part of everything now, right in front of me, easy, and there is only death in down time.  Those days hold the passionate fire of self-immolation, the ecstasy of an apocalypse.

I never thought that the part of me that straightens stacks of paper until they’re perfect, that folds sticky notes into sharp origami, could the the same part that can’t decide between knocking those stacks over or setting them on fire.

I’m battling myself for my own protection, I think, and like most wars, my sleepy ceasefire only leads to starvation and stagnation.

I want to come home having done something.  I don’t want to run from obligation, but I hate the way it follows me.  And mostly, I don’t know what to do.  At all.  My good days are the ones where I can operate, where I’m given something to work on, to fit myself into.  I am the gaseous soul who fills machines, makes them move until they break or become boring.  If I’m lucky, I’ve gotten far enough with one broken endeavor to leap to another.  I’ve stayed lucky, but I don’t know how long it will last.  

I painted my nails pink two nights ago, in preparation for a kind of soft violence.  Last night, I pulled a friend forward from his knees, set him on his hands and made him wait to be touched.  I dug my perfect, pink nails into his shoulders and scratched him when he begged me.  Long lines from his neck to his hip blushed just under the skin, rising to meet the touch of lips and the delicate pads of fingers, but never breaking to the surface.

The day I make him bleed, I’ll paint my nails crimson, halfway between scarlet and burgundy, halfway between fire and wine, and perhaps I’ll light a cigarette for him while he holds my drink.    He’ll call me “Master” and I’ll reward him with marks he can feel long after I’ve left.

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The image collection

It’s rare that I return from a shopping trip anything but stressed or regretful.  It’s hard for me to enter a store without worrying about money or whether or not my body is acceptable.

Of course, most shopping trips don’t happen at Hot Topic.  I only recently realized that I really, truly don’t give a fuck about conservatism as a hallmark of intellectual capacity.  I can rock a suit and nylons and heels, but shopping for them is an abysmal experience.  

Except now, suddenly and unexpectedly, there’s a thrift store in my town, one that sells herringbone wool suits from 1970 for $25 and change.  Its name is reminiscent of one of my favorite, moderately-obscure gay Victorian poets– you’d be surprised to find how many of those there are– and the owner is a short knitter who stacks feminist mints next to the cash register.  I might be knitting for her, but I’m not sure yet.

Except now, I have transportation, can drive the hour it takes to get to the tiny collection of shops that is the largest accessible town in my area.  And there, tucked away like a bastard child, is a Hot Topic.  I’m sure they chose that location just so they could look that much edgier, of course, but it’s close enough to Claire’s and the food court that it draws in the tweens with black metal and the returning college students with the post-ironic brony shirts.  Yes, there is such a thing as post-ironic.  Kids these days.

And me, I’m there because they sell blouses with Dia de los Muertos skulls embroidered into the back, just subtle enough for me to cover with a shrug, to transform abruptly into something very Midwestern.  Stockings and wedges and the perfect blonde bun.  Twenty-five pounds heavier than my natural weight, I don’t look as French as I usually do, but oddly, I still look thin enough to pull off the particular style of pencil skirt I favor.  

I’m losing the cafeteria-food weight again, now that I’m off-campus for good.  I’m excited for muscles, terrified I’ll lose my breasts, and not sure how to deal with the fact that, in general, society will tell me again that I’m acceptable.  I don’t like society, I think, but how much of a statement am I making when I buy things specifically to fly post-ironically under the radar?

Another reason I’m at Hot Topic:  their super-stretchy jeans will still fit twenty-five pounds from now.  I like wearing my skinny jeans baggy, but I hate when my favorite piece of clothing suddenly fits me differently.

The thrift store gives me all the conservatism I need, but it’s cheap and vintage and makes me feel like a rebel, which sounds silly these days.  I didn’t grow up with anyone who thought of style as anything other than personal.  My friends have very distinct, wide-ranging tastes, but I don’t see any of those tastes coming from desperation or visceral need.  I haven’t seen their clothing act as the same kind of safety mine must always be.

I’m sure they’ll disagree.  I would have, a few years and several deaths ago.  But now, if something I’m wearing isn’t in tribute of something, it’s in desperate defiance of it.  A “fashion statement” isn’t something we give a lot of meaning.  The phase of dark clothes and heavy music that sometimes occurs in high school or perhaps college is grown out of, because we’re supposed to come to the eventual conclusion that clothes don’t mean anything, that image is nothing, but quick get another pair of nylons because you can’t be professional if your stockings have runs.  We’re supposed to grow up and think of our past fashions as silly.  And I’m sure that this happens because, when we grow up, we experience things that change us forever.  It’s just, in my case, the things that changed me gave my clothes a whole new level of importance.  A lot of these things were funerals.

I still like black.  But there’s something that happened when I was trying to construct a funeral-casual wardrobe, something I could throw together in case someone died while I was traveling.  Emergency mourning.

I still like fancy, conservative clothes.  But a lot of them are the things I wear to funerals.  What does it mean that I’ll memorialize someone and interview for a position somewhere in the same outfit?

What kind of lingerie are you supposed to wear to a funeral?  In my case, I choose the brightest colors available.  I used to worry about lace showing through shirts, but now, if it does, I see it and laugh.

It’s brilliant marketing, I think, that my favorite stores grew up with me, that I can get the tights I need to wear under a suit together with the fishnets I’ll wear that night, the second pair half off, this week only.  This new thrift store sold me a briefcase and four cases of Fuck Off Mints.  I buy conservative earrings several packs at a time, so I can fill the extra holes in my ears with politely matching silver rings.

The rosary I sometimes wear to the Christian group on campus has a smiley face on the end.  I never take it off, so no one ever sees.

So here I am, with two pairs of jeans that fit and shirts I actually like, tried on without an ounce of stress.  I’d like to say I managed this on my own, but I have no idea how this happened. Actually, it would probably be most accurate to credit this to being relatively alone, surrounded by family and separate from anyone even remotely my age.  I’m best at misery when I’m cornered by my peers, most productive when really, truly alone.  Maybe solitude is the best policy, at least when I’m arming myself for company.

Building myself an image out of clothing, piece by piece, is rather like collecting pennies or squares of toast with which to construct the Mona Lisa.  These clothes have to be worn, presented appropriately with sufficient situational awareness for conservative survival.  No one notices the tiny skull studs on the black pants I wear to concerts, or the giant squid drawing on my belt buckle, but a lot of that has to do with presentation.  And when I want to?  No one can avoid seeing the details.

My grandmother told me I’m theatrical.  She was talking about the way I borrow inflection, but I think the term might also apply to the way I use clothing.  No one cares if the blouse a lead is wearing was bought at Macy’s, as long as the character looks like she’s from 1960.  I’m sure it’s marketing that makes it okay for me to get my tights at Hot Topic or a thrift store, but it’s this marketing that helps me survive.  So thank you, Don Draper.

Weight, and a rant. Slightly less at the same time than you might expect.

People who ask me about my weight invariably assume I’m about thirty pounds lighter than I actually am.  The conversation usually goes something like this:

Person:  “[Something about women, attractiveness, and/or self-esteem.]  Well, you’re good-looking.  How much do you weigh?”

Me:  “Um….”

Person:  “Come on.  What’s your weight?  I’m [whatever their weight is] and you can’t possibly weigh more than [my actual weight, minus at least thirty pounds, presented as though it’s some ludicrously large number].  Why won’t you tell me?  It’s no big deal, I’m just curious.  So what is it?”

Me:  “Um….”

Person (optional extra dialogue):  “I mean, it’s not like you weigh, I don’t know, [my weight, minus at least twenty-five pounds].  Girls like you who weigh that much always look weird, and you’re hot.”

Of course, this conversation has a lot of problems, the first being its context:  It usually occurs in the middle of a conversation about how much a woman should weigh, as though a person or their appearance ought to be subject to our regulation, and that I, simply by virtue of being female-bodied, am an authority on women.  The subject of my weight is always brought up, regardless of other contexts, with the assumption that I am both attractive and a woman.

Second, I’m being badgered for personal information generally accepted to be universally sensitive at least on some level.  Seriously, guys.  If someone doesn’t answer your question after the first time you ask it and they don’t seem like they’ve forgotten you asked it, don’t ask it five seconds later.  Badgering might sometimes be effective for getting a single bit of information, but it’s invasive and generally gives that creepy, I-don’t-know-why-but-you’re-making-me-uncomfortable feeling.  Here’s why they’re uncomfortable:  You’re being rude.  Stop it.

Some tidbits:

  • I am genderqueer.  Sure, I’ll respond to female pronouns, but I’m only comfortable with gender-neutral or male ones.  (That’s its own argument– whether I see male pronouns as gender neutral because of the Western white male viewpoint orientation.  The answer is no, I don’t.  At least, not when it comes to myself and not when it comes to other people and especially not when used to refer to groups of people.  So, no.  A lot of people try to debate this with me because they think my genderqueerness is a static gender orientation.  I’m… nothing and everything and also fluid.  It’s a long story, and maybe someday I’ll pick a beginning and an end and find a way to tell it.)
  • I am female-bodied.  I have the ability to present as really, super femme, and because I attend a pretty conservative military school, I do.  So I understand why people assume I’m a woman.  Some days, I even might be.  But because these conversations usually revolve around the idea of what a woman is and whether a female can be considered a woman if she’s too fat/thin/pretty/ugly/assertive/passive, the assumption that I’m an appropriate representation of womanhood is a bit jarring.  Like, hello?  Weren’t we just trying to define what a woman is?  We haven’t even decided if I’m a woman yet in this conversation!
  • Attractiveness is entirely determined by the beholder.  It is not empirical.  This is one of the reasons why it is possible to be found attractive by others even if you don’t find yourself attractive, because you, too, are a beholder with an eye.  You, too, have an utterly subjective view of yourself.  This isn’t to say subjective opinions can’t affect you; it’s just to say that there’s no universal law of attractiveness.  Not even phi.
  • I’m tall.  But because I’m female, and only slightly taller than the average male, most people don’t realize this.  Most girls I know are about six inches shorter than I am, and according to the people who do the BMI scale (which has tons of issues, btw, and this person set out to illustrate some of them) you’re supposed to weigh about five pounds more for every inch taller you are than someone else.  So if they’re assuming that I am as tall as a shorter person who looks like me, a thirty-pound difference (my extra six inches x 5 pounds per extra inch = 30 pounds difference) could be appropriate.  Unfortunately, though, these conversations have never occurred with more than six feet between me and the questioner or, weirdly, with us sitting down.

Now that we’ve got that down, I have to point out the most important, and probably shortest, bit of all of this.  Because the person asking my weight sees me as at least somewhat attractive– even if they personally are not attracted to me)– they assume I’m thinner than I actually am because anyone above the “attractive weight of a woman” they have already set for themselves couldn’t possibly be attractive.  Therefore, I must not weigh very much.  Because who ever heard of muscle, or height, or well-fitting clothing?  Or, gods forbid, diversity?

While the way I’ve organized this leaves a lot of room for going, “Wait, but this doesn’t make sense.  People don’t assume thin is attractive!  What about Marilyn Monroe?!” and that sort of thing, there is a pretty well-polished, sophisticated argument in there, waiting to be pulled out.  I’d like to do it at some point.  But apparently, Michelangelo only carved away the bits of marble that weren’t David, and this is sort of like that.  So I’m not writing an argument essay.  I’m pointing something out.  I’m making an observation, and probably not including all the tiny details and subtle, nonverbal communication that inevitably goes on that led me to this conclusion. I’m pretty sure you all knew this, and that you have a pretty good idea of what I’m talking about, but I am currently slogging through an extremely painful course with a professor who presents news articles as though they’re essays and doesn’t know the difference between a research paper (Where the question is along the lines of “What?” or “How?”) and an argument essay (Where the question is “Which?”  It’s simplistic, yes, but one of them seeks to inform as comprehensively as possible about a single topic and the other seeks to establish an argument with comprehensive information).  After I pointed out that legally-recognized marriages in the US have some distinct financial benefits like the ability to file joint tax returns, he said that I should write an argument essay about whether or not legally-recognized marriages have some financial benefits.  Not whether marriage is financially beneficial, which is a fuzzier question with many individual factors, but whether there are financial benefits to being married.  When there’s a single fact, it’s a fact.  It’s there, as much as a fact can be.  When there are lots of facts like each other, it’s probably going to lead to a research paper somewhere.  When there are facts that can be collectively interpreted in various ways, there’s an appropriate opportunity for a research paper.  But “Is this fact a fact:  Yes or No circle one” probably isn’t a good argument essay.  Neither is “Are there facts about this topic?  Do facts, in fact, exist?”  Unless you’re a philosophy major, in which case, maybe.  But that’s a whole different boat of bananas.  Grr.

Pride in the body conceptual

I love middle-aged women in holiday sweaters.  Or anyone in sweaters, really, or something they’ve made themselves, or that someone made for them.  But the important part of the DIY isn’t exactly that it was made– it’s that the person wearing it is probably, at least a little bit, wearing whatever it is because it was made.  When I see my grandmother in particularly unflattering, garish Rudolph sweaters in which there’s a bobble nose that actually lights up, I think she knows that she doesn’t look graceful, or sexy, or properly color-coordinated in ways which make her skin tone and her eye color and her hair blend with the makeup she’s wearing and the colors she thinks she should wear.  I think she thinks that the sweater’s comfortable and REALLY COOL.  Like, the nose lights up, see?  And she did it herself, with this kit she bought from the craft store that she had to get the shop lady to explain, but in the end, she put it together herself.  And she spent a whole month on the sweater, picking the yarn and the pattern and deciding whether to intarsia or Fair Isle the reindeer bit.  And so hell, yes, she’s going to wear it, because she made something that’s actually beautiful.

It’s still a hideous holiday sweater with a demented reindeer on it.  But the red and the green and the strange, oddly greenish brown make me feel irrevocably Christmasy, even though I’m not Christian or rabidly, actively consumerist.  I look at the sweater and think, She put a hell of a lot of work into that.  Especially for a sweater that she’ll only wear a few times a year.  The blinking Rudolph nose is pretty damn cool, and I can’t think of any other way she would have ever gotten into DIY circuitry.

So I want one.  I want a hand-knitted holiday sweater, for a holiday I may or may not recognize in passing, something cheerfully oblivious to fashion convention.

When I first started to write music for guitar, composing songs and writing lyrics on journalist notepads, I felt proud when I knew I’d finished a song.  Not because the song was good– it was usually awful, and pointless, and repetitive and too long– but because I had written a song.  Me!  A whole song!  Right there, sitting on the couch in my cold, sweaty bare feet and clammy hands that could somehow still pick a half-decent arpeggio.  I have pride in the things I’ve done that I like, that I think are good, yes, but I also have pride that I’ve produced anything at all.

These aren’t lowered standards.  These are the highest standards of any of them, because it is so incredibly easy for me to not do anything, in the fear that I’ll do it wrong the first time around.

Right now, I have two essays due on Tuesday, and one that was due a week ago but was given a bit of an unspoken extension from the professor.  I haven’t done any of them.  I’m afraid to do them.  But I’m going to do them anyway, because I’ve given myself the permission to revise.  The permission to look at something and say, This is crap but I did it and it’s here and I can do whatever I want with it.

Right now, I’m knitting a sweatervest.  I picked the size because it fit the yardage for the yarn I have, because my gauge seemed about right, because it seemed like the stretch and pull of different parts of the sweater would work with me to make the work fit flatteringly.  But you know what?  Even if the sweatervest doesn’t fit, I’m probably going to wear it, anyway.  Even if I take the pattern, shred it to bits, redo twelve different sections and eventually come up with something that I think looks the most flattering on me, I won’t have made this for it to look good on me.  I’m making it because it looks good.  There’s a beautiful scroll lace pattern, and I have my eye on four gorgeous buttons from the local knitting shop that will go right in front, and I have a beautiful silk dress shirt I got from a thrift store a few weeks ago that I’m excited to wear under it, because I think the colors and styles will go together.  But I like knitting because it’s so much about the process, and the accomplishment of having knit an entire whatever-it-is that’s been knit.  I like following a pattern and knowing that what I knit will probably look exactly like and nothing like the picture shown.  I like inventing something insane and lovely and difficult, or simple and mind-numbing, because it’s a creation of something.  It’s a production.  And I don’t usually produce nearly frequently enough to combat the daily erosion of living, because I forget about it, but knitting and listening to music and writing and reading and sewing and mapping and learning Chinese symbols to turn into lace patterns– it all helps.  It’s all wonderful.

And I am so very, very proud.

High school 2.0, part IV

At my school, females have an obligation to be sexy.  It’s what they’re there for.  And I’m not going to acquiesce by being sexy all the time, but I’m going to be aware of it.  I’m going to wear “natural makeup” to meetings with my more conservative professors.  I’m going to talk in a higher voice in class, no matter what I’m wearing.  I’m going to wear my rainbow fingerless gloves and my white plaid skinny jeans and my shitkicker boots and my leather jacket and my wifebeaters wherever I want, yes, but I’m going to wear my glasses and plaid shirt and normal, unripped jeans to my final exams because I know I’ll be graded accordingly.  (I’m always amused that the high concentration of conservative christian girls obsessed with country music makes my traditionally lesbian costume– plaid shirt, messy ponytail, glasses, ironic rosary, heavy boots– probably one of the most socially-acceptable thing I could wear.  Providing it’s still physically flattering, of course.  This outfit with man-pants becomes immediately socially threatening and a sure sign of lesbianism, and for some reason, even though I’m out, people conveniently forget it most of the time and only react badly when I seem to be flaunting it.  Hmm….)  And then I’m going to go to the women’s group meetings and talk about the fact that our administration isn’t doing enough to stop the serial rapes, the sexist professors, the fact that my tests are graded according to what I’m wearing.  I’m going to post flyers that ask women if they feel like they’re being targeted by their professors because of their sexuality, that post numbers they can call and steps they should take to report this harassment.  I’m going to, as soon as I know that I’ll never have to take a class with them or a colleague they’d bitch to again, talk to the sexist professors about their sexism in the least judgmental, most understanding tone I can muster, with the full understanding that I will not be the first or the last to bring it up with them.

There’s a continuum here, and it’s an important one.  I have to know where I stand, what that means for me, and I need to know exactly what I have to do to keep myself sane.  Because I’ve realized that yes, clothing means a lot to me.  My man-pants are probably the most subversive thing I can possibly wear on campus, because they make me feel incredibly sexy and make all the sexist heterosexual guys ignore me and prompt all the more open-minded guys and gals and queers to hit on me.  I wear my gothic lolita to karaoke and sing the Enormous Penis song.  I wear tiny plaid skirts and thigh-high gray socks with my Doc Martens and modified band t-shirts over a bound chest.  I wear no makeup most of the time, and then apply fantastic drag-queen eyes on a Tuesday morning.  And I do all of this because, if I didn’t, if I could only wear “natural makeup” and symmetrical clothing and muted, girly tones and things that “balanced my body shape” and “enhanced my natural assets,” I would go insane.  I would be the person putting up guerilla graffiti and publishing more than one zine a week and shaving her head, desperate for any possible outlet.

So yes, I’m lucky.  But the fact that my college is the closest thing I can compare to anyone’s high school– and everyone, even the jocks and the happily straight white racist sexist christian boys, says that it’s like never leaving high school– means that I am stuck in a perpetual limbo.  I am 21 Jump Street.  I am every movie that ever made its grownups go back to high school.  And it’s just as disconcerting for me as it is for those characters.  High school is not something anyone should ever have to redo.  But I am, and I am even grateful for it.

Why?  Well, I figured out that yes, music is actually really important to me.  That I love writing novels and wearing strange clothing and that yes, actually, there are people who are meant to express themselves by being emo or goth or preppy or just plain weird-looking and that it’s really important to not judge people by their appearance, which I thought I knew already but has been so repeatedly relevant that it’s like learning it all over again.  That I do, in fact, need my room to be a reflection of myself, my own space, and that I am definitely bringing my Gashlycrumb Tinies poster and my Sherlock Holmes “READ” poster and my signed Anthrax poster and my How To Be An Artist poster, in frames, with tons of sticky tape, with me.  I’m going to buy that beautiful batik wall hanging that is sold by bedsheet size to turn my bottom bunk into a den, and if I can, I’m going to trade my bottom bunk for a futon on which I’ll use that hanging as a sheet.  I’m going to use Zen’s gorgeous cigarette-tube-packing machine to fill a bunch of tubes with sage, roses, and lavender, and give the cigarettes to anyone who asks.  (No, I don’t smoke cigarettes, but yes, I have, and yes, I think I will at some point in the future, and yes, I know that they’re addictive and no, I don’t particularly like them.  The herb-cigarette thing is all about being subversive, about changing people’s expectations.  And seeing if they like lavender cigarettes, of course.)  I’m going to eat as healthily as I can in the dining hall and take walks as often as possible and do my homework on time, not to beat anyone else, but for myself.  I’m going to pass the Army PFT.  And I’m going to read Rookie religiously, because suddenly, out of nowhere, I really do need a magazine about surviving high school, being yourself, and living your life to the fullest.

Because I love my college, I really, really do.  But I also need to survive it.

High school 2.0, part III

That party happens a few weeks after I’ve left my university for the summer, which means that I’m still in the throes of censoring myself, making sure that my bangs aren’t too radical, making sure that every possible unusual thing about me can be softened, feminized, tucked away into conservative clothing.  My hair is long, hippie-long, falling past my ass, and even though long hair registers as female, it has enough ties into the anti-war movement that I put it into a military sock bun every time I meet with someone important.  I roll my bangs so they lie flat against my head, the red-dyed ends hidden and tucked away inside the bun, enough natural-colored strands covering my ears that I know my extra piercings won’t be seen.  I know that, technically, I don’t have to do these things.  I know that my roommate has green hair and a lip ring and a tongue piercing and that her professors love her, but I also know that she’s tiny and wears American Eagle shirts that cover her tattoos and doesn’t argue with her professors about queer interpretations of Victorian poetry, so it sort of evens out.

I got into this school last minute, by the skin of my teeth and some tentative initial endorsements by my student advisor, who I worship, mostly on the basis of my math skills and femaleness.  I don’t know what it actually thinks about me.  I can’t tell if this school wants me there.  I can’t tell if I’m its attempt to change the overwhelming rape culture of its campus, or if I’m what’s standing in the way of its older, preferred habits.  Even though I know that I’ve been accepted as a student, that I’ve been endorsed by professors who knew me for the whole school year, that I’ve been offered jobs and internships by school affiliates and strangers alike, it’s incredibly difficult, so far impossible, for me to avoid the overwhelming feeling that I have no right to be there.

I’m a civilian.  I’m an atheist.  I’m an ordained atheist who joined the on-campus Christian club and attends the weekly Bible studies unironically and intensely, who interprets Scripture to the best of her ability, even when that interpretation disagrees with what the group leader wants it to say.  I’m a queer who, after her club’s Bible study ends, goes to the LGBT group meetings that start five minutes later.  I’m an intellectual who, after the meetings end, will walk up to the President of the LGBT group to tell him that no, a transvestite and a transgender person aren’t the same thing, and that he shouldn’t worry because that’s a mistake that a lot of people make and it just means that he hasn’t gotten to that particular Wikipedia page yet, but now he knows, so next time he’s presenting a slideshow on what various identities are, he can refine it and make sure that there aren’t typos like that, who gets told that she’s nitpicking unnecessarily and needs to stop trying to usurp his position of power.  I’m as politically correct as I have to be, I’ll tell the Vice-President of the LGBT group that her comments are racist and transphobic and sexist, and when she refuses to change her behavior, I’ll take it up to the other leaders of the group, who will inevitably tell me to stop nitpicking and trying to usurp her position of power, who will refuse to recognize the years of research, interviews, and personal experience I have had with every single color on the rainbow flag they keep using the old, discontinued interpretations of that I have stopped commenting on because that would be nitpicking.

In the interview I did with my advisor to get into this school, I told him that I wasn’t an activist, that I wasn’t interested in bringing politics into my everyday life, that I wanted to go to a military school to understand more about the military, to keep myself from staying in a secluded, evolved, queer-friendly little bubble that, while fantastic, didn’t necessarily reflect the rest of the world.  I told him that I was a lesbian.  I told him that I was a feminist, but that feminism is just focused egalitarianism, just another way of saying that everyone should have equal rights and standing.  I told him truth, yes, but I told him the softest, kindest, least threatening truths I could.  I made myself edgy enough to explain my grade dip in the last semester of my senior year, told him that I was still working through some emotional stuff from school and my parents but that I looked forward to this military school as a place of healing, recovery, learning about the world.

(It’s surprisingly uncommon knowledge that most military schools have a fantastic international exchange going on, and that, if you go to one, you’ll probably meet a lot of people from a lot of different places.  Yes, the general student body will be uncomfortably and unconsciously racist, but I’ve found that the racism here leans more toward awkward lurching in the direction of universal acceptance rather than an exclusion.  White christian boys will make black jokes to their black friends, who will laugh, and after a couple of years, the white christian boys realize that maybe their friends are laughing with them, in spite of their jokes.  It’s a slow change, but it’s there.  Or maybe I’m looking for anything that will make my school seem more accepting.  I don’t think I’ll be able to tell for a while.  I think I’m just going to keep hoping.)

These things I told my advisor, fantastically accepting, open-minded individual that he is, were my nervous wish that I could be accepted, at least a little bit.  At the time, I didn’t realize that acceptance was so important to me, because even though I was aware of my luck and privilege of having been born to liberal parents, of living in a liberal school district, of having people go “So?” when I came out to them and not caring when I held a girlfriend’s hand in between classes, I had forgotten what it was like to be not just ostracized but directly targeted by an entire community.

The three years of my second, third, and fourth grade were spent in a small farming town that had recently discovered the twenty-first century and incorporated it rather badly, so it was terribly close-minded but fairly wealthy and technologically advanced, so my love of Edward Gorey and actually reading– novels and nonfiction biographies of Theodore Roosevelt and Shakespeare and every book I could find, really– and strange art and punk/classical/indie/metal/notmainstreampop music didn’t go over particularly well.  I was kicked, punched, excluded, mocked, whatever by other students.  It wasn’t nearly as bad as the experiences of most of my college friends– mine was the most extreme example in that area, and it ultimately came down to a girl pushing me into a snowbank, which, when I told my parents two whole weeks later and didn’t stop them from reporting it, was met with relative sympathy from the administration, who told me that even though they couldn’t punish the girl as harshly as they would have if I’d reported it earlier, they could take away her recess time for the next week and make her go to the guidance counselor.  I was, again, incredibly lucky.  I was also seven, and unable to appreciate my relative privilege in the wake of the self-protection that inevitably occurred– silence, withdrawal into various interminably long fantasy novel series– but I also recovered fairly well.  I never stopped trying to make friends with the people who ostracized me.  I never stopped saying hello in the hallways to people I’d never met.  I never stopped saying “Thank you!” whenever anyone told me I was weird.  Ultimately, I’m grateful for the experience, because I learned a lot very quickly about myself, about others, about the world.

But it really did suck.  And it was what I referenced whenever anyone talked about their shitty experiences with high school ostracism.  Knowing what I know about childhood psychological development, I’d say that the bullying that goes on during those years, six to eleven, probably has more of an effect on personality development than that which goes on in high school, but I don’t mean to discount other experiences.  It’s just that I never had any sort of quintessential high school experience– I took my friend, who happened to be a girl, to my senior prom, after having a sleepover with her in which we made our prom dresses out of satin and duct tape– so the closest thing I can compare others’ stories to is my primary school years.  I’ve never really belonged to a clique, and I’ve never not tried to make friends with anyone at least once, and I’m friends with pretty much every type of person there is, because why not?  And I’m so lucky that I have that ephemeral thing that makes me able to go up to a stranger wearing a pro-life button and a crucifix and start a legitimately intellectual debate about the definition of life without any kind of aggression, to be able to buy that stranger coffee and then friend them on Facebook, where I’ll avoid their page like the plague because of its anti-woman, anti-gay status updates but accept all their incoming messages with a smiley face and legitimate interest.  I think I’d call that ephemeral thing “idealism,” but whatever.  It is what it is, and I’m grateful that I have it.

Mostly, though, I’m grateful for this ability because it means that I can survive at military school.  While there is a fairly large, if extraordinarily well-hidden, liberal population, I’m not a person who wants just a single group of friends.  I want to be able to walk up to someone and say hi, but getting used to that person usually being extremely conservative, extremely sexist and racist, was an adjustment.  I’m still adjusting.  I’m adjusting by changing my hair when I need to, not by no longer dying it strange colors, but by making sure that I can remain a chameleon.  I’m adjusting by recognizing that, when I wear my beautiful, sexy man-pants, I’ll be pretty actively shunned by guys I don’t know, just for not being immediately sexually attractive to them.