The Long and the Short of It

canstockphoto3510855Spring is blowing in and that means two things: we will be confused by what time it is for the next couple of weeks and everybody in the family has gotten haircuts. I realize that as a woman, hair is supposed to be my crowning glory. If I were the ruler of Half-AssedLandia where “otium in aeternum” (idleness forever) is emblazoned on the royal crest, this would be true.

My family with the best haircuts $11 with coupon can buy.
My family with the best haircuts that $11 with a coupon can buy.

When a friend suggested we get a family portrait, my husband wryly remarked that the caption would read “Remember that time we got deloused?” He was referring to the fact that we all had nearly identical short haircuts. The women in my family have beautiful, thick hair. Or at least most of us would if we liked to buy hair doo-dads, goop and real estate in front of the mirror. Instead, my daughter thinks personal hygiene is an affront to her humanity and I am not interested in any activity that involves looking at myself. Short haircuts rule the day.

Still, when I sent my mini-K.D. Lang off to school today, I worried. Life is starting to get a little meaner for my almost 11-year-old. She sits next to a girl on the bus who describes genitals in vivid detail. She gets told repeatedly that she’s in the wrong bathroom, because she looks like a boy.  She gets into arguments when teams are split into girls and boys in gym. And now, she decided to go with a haircut that even makes me do a second take. I am ashamed of the antiquated thoughts it triggers.

I’ve written before about gender issues in regards to raising a daughter who is way cooler than I ever was. My fears are mine and it’s a constant fight not to project them onto this entirely different, mint condition human. I read a lot online about the range of issues impacting gender and I’m late in the game. Raised with a binary gender narrative, I spent a lot of my life trying to fit. As a middle-aged woman, I’ve finally gotten to the point of not giving a shit. Except, apparently, when it comes to my daughter.

These moments crop up that knock me flat. A haircut. A choice of clothing. A misplaced pronoun. In my head, I have the thoughts of an elderly, misguided aunt. She’ll get made fun of. She had such beautiful hair. She’d look so much better in a pastel color now and then. It’s embarrassing. I’m a smart person, capable of imagining a world where the human experience is complex and rich, where sexuality and gender coexist along a massive continuum, where appearance seems to have little to do with who we are as people.

I work hard to be a fair and diplomatic person. Work being the key word. It doesn’t come naturally. I think a lot of shit out in the world is pretty damned weird and that people need to get a grip. I was raised with the specter of biblical judgment hanging over my head and conservative values. I wear matching clothes, use my turn signal, try to live under the radar. I don’t drink or smoke or park in handicapped parking. I am a dreadfully uninteresting human.

Still, my brain is like this ungainly toddler reaching for every new idea and concept, hungrily taking in ideas that contradict the ideas that it took in yesterday. My old brain says “wow, that haircut really makes her look like a boy”. The elderly aunt shakes her cane and makes some remark about how boys won’t like her. My new brain says “Holy shit, look how much bigger the world is getting – all these ideas, all of these artificial boundaries evaporating – this is an exciting time to be alive.”

And it is. We humans keep trying to trap ourselves with labels and ideas about how things should look and be and yet, the human spirit continues to defy categorization. There are a lot of ugly things happening in the world right now. There is suffering and torment and inequality and loads of shame. And we’re seeing horrific backlash, as boundaries are challenged. But it all starts in our heads, with our imagination – I can imagine a world where people fully realize their potential, a potential that relies on our differences as much as our commonalities.

It’s Monday, I started writing about haircuts and ended up in a chorus of “We are the World”. I might need to cut back on the coffee.

Wishing you a week of discovery and imagination!

A Walk on the Ired Side: Gender Rhetoric

canstockphoto7503414It’s been hard to read the news and blogs this week. I’ve been sucked into reading comment sections full of vitriol and spite and rage – not far removed from the emotions that drove a man to kill 4 men and 2 women in California this week. It is only through blogging that I’ve become aware of all the hatred that thrives on this medium of spurious anonymity. I’ve seen the hashtag campaigns, I’ve read a lot of feminist and men’s rights blogs. The tactics, name-calling and dogma are right out of a bipartisan political playbook. We are our own worst enemies.

I don’t talk much about feminism, because there are plenty of people who have taken and twisted it into whatever suits their purpose in the moment. People write blog post after blog post telling us what it is and isn’t. Some men’s blogs have entire forums dedicated to insulting anyone who calls themselves a feminist. The latest backlash includes women proudly proclaiming that they are not feminists. That’s a whole lot of insecurity on parade.

Having been very young and very stupid once, I remember when I thought gender didn’t matter. I blundered through life like that. I thought periods sucked. I didn’t want to get married or have kids. I dated a lot of men people. But I am not beautiful by society’s standards (although I’ll be excited when knock knees and having no chin comes into fashion) and someone once told me that I walked like I was getting ready to kick someone’s ass. Apparently these things in combination insulated me against much of the everyday misbehavior about which many women have posted.

That being said, I’ve been called a whore in the middle of a party. I’ve been called a bitch by male coworkers. I discovered disparate pay situations for equal work. I worked harder than most of my fellow soldiers only to be looked askew at by military wives. Believe me, your husband smelled like dirty sweat socks in the field and so did I – Barry White doesn’t have a song that covers that sweet, sweet romance.

I resist calling myself a feminist, because I hate labels of any kind. I don’t want to belong to any group. I don’t do religion or follow pop stars. I avoid gatherings and groupings of more than two. I don’t want to join a fan base or grocery discount club. I’m not going to follow rules, guidelines or policy if it curtails thinking for myself and making whatever choices are right for me. If somebody is going to keep redefining the labels, I’m always going to be a failure and I don’t see the point.

As a spouse and a parent now, I see things from multiple perspectives. I think it must suck for my husband, a perfectly decent human being, to see all the anger directed at white men. Sure, he might assume some things, but that’s why we have conversations. We also have a daughter – an amazing, confident kid who is entering a world that seems fraught with bias and violence. And it’s time for our talks to go beyond that false “stranger danger” scenario. I am afraid for her and am trying to not let that fear permeate our discussions. No matter how much I teach her, someone, somewhere, will make a judgment about her based on her gender. I hope she kicks their ass, figuratively or otherwise.

I’m trying to teach her to see every individual as an individual and avoid relying on stereotypes to inform her decisions. I am teaching her how to do things the hard way – that is the path of critical thinking. I am teaching her to question everything, including assumptions she might already be carrying with her. I have taught her to lead by example and that no matter what you say, it’s what you do that is important. Kindness is not weakness. Saying no is not cruelty. Above all, I want her to know that she can trust herself, her intuition and her boundaries.

The reading of the last week and my own offline experiences have really made me think about how conversation regarding gender can engage, rather than repel and what does dialogue, instead of competing monologues, look like? We are capable of great imagination and creative solutions, but most of the public forums I’ve seen have been absent of reason, respect and common sense. Just a lot of the same cookie cutter sentiments bouncing around an empty room. It makes one hungry for real conversation and engagement.


Useful reading regarding semantics and rhetoric:

Taking the War Out of Our Words:The Art of Powerful Non-Defensive Communication by Sharon Ellison

Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion by Jay Heinrichs


The Green Study: Have We Met?

canstockphoto8155142This past week, I’ve been ruminating about this exhortation as a writer to “find my voice”. I’ve read so much on and offline lately – voices that are passionate, opinionated, hysterically funny, heartbreaking. There are writers with unique voices who have learned how to get out of their own way. I see myself coming towards the Publish button and I promptly lay down in the road.

I’ve rationalized my moderate ramblings as being thoughtful and respectful, but I have serious doubt about whether I’m being fearful rather than respectful.  I’ve decided to spit out the topics that seem to enrage people all in one post. I apologize for the length of the post. It’s longer than my usual fare. Time to rip off the bandage.


I’m an American leftie and a fiscal conservative, but not the kind of fiscal conservative that believes that social issues should be tied to fiscal policy. I don’t want the state monitoring my calls or my uterus. I don’t think compromise is a dirty word. I loathe that classic misdirect of picking on poor people, while ignoring the military industrial complex and corporate coddling.

I believe strongly that many problems in Congress would be solved by term limits and campaign finance reform that doesn’t get gutted. Seriously, how many more mummified, befuddled congressional representatives do we have to listen to? Apparently they’ve got a really good health plan, because they seem to live a long, long time.


I am skeptical of organized religion – especially those with religious doctrines that still relegate women to chattel and second class citizens. I don’t know ANY answers about the existence of a higher being and I don’t think any other humans do, either. Some humans just like being more right about what they don’t know.

I think, too, belief systems get used to justify really horrible behavior – by nearly every organized religion. I am curious and interested in all belief systems, but I am rarely willing to talk about it, because I’m not sure that I can retain a tone of civility and respect when we start talking about theological rationalization for brutality and judgment by other humans.

Guns and Mental Health

Background checks. No loopholes. Serious regulation of high capacity weaponry. Those weapons are for one thing only – killing a lot of people quickly. For those with home arsenals in anticipation of the zombie apocalypse or less likely, a totalitarian regime (seriously, the government can’t even run websites, much less a takeover of your yahoo asses), see your local mental health experts.

Elevate mental health problems to the level of a physical illness. Give it the funding, resources, media blitz. Make options available, accessible and affordable to families and institutions when someone goes off the rails. Right now a majority of our mental healthcare system resides in the form of law enforcement and a lucrative prison system.

Gender and Race Wars

I have never made life decisions based on traditional gender roles. I’ve done what I wanted to do. I’ve mocked those that think because of my gender, they can suss me out. I’m raising a daughter who is strong and confident and doesn’t give a toss if you think she should dress like a girl. I resent inequality for chromosomes of either ilk. I think boys have a tough uphill battle fighting stereotypes and societal expectation as well.

As for racial disparities, I can read and try to understand, but I’m not going to pretend I have any true knowledge. All I can do is ask questions and listen to what those in the know have to say.

My personal experiences have informed me that being a decent human or a complete jackass have nothing to do with gender or skin color. Here’s the bottom line, though – there’s history and residual resentment and stale attitudes and some systemic shit that needs to be fixed. There is work to be done.

Whether you need to call yourself something or not, we should all be proponents of not judging other people’s intelligence, strength, abilities or worthiness based on their gender or skin color.


I apparently have the basics down, but I don’t find it that interesting of a subject to write about or discuss – enough other people are doing that. The cultural obsession with it in marketing and entertainment has made it all a bit artificial and tiresome and whatever meaningful enjoyment it has, well, there doesn’t need to be that much talking, lighting, costumes and choreography. Unless, of course, that’s your thing.

I think civil unions should be available regardless of sexual preference. I hate the phrase “the sanctity of marriage”, especially coming out of people’s mouths who have just had their married hands on a staffer’s butt. Keep religious laws in the church and out of the state’s legal protections for committed couples.

Fashion and Beauty

I am baffled by the current Western beauty culture. High heels? I don’t understand footwear in which you can’t run.

Weight. Bored with this paragraph already. I’ve struggled to meet life insurance table requirements my whole life. I’ve been in the middle of a thousand conversations with other women about bad/good foods, working out, diets – it’s incredibly tiresome. And so much of it is informed by bad nutritional information, fads, and corporate marketing gimmicks. How do I feel? Do I feel strong, nourished, energetic? I will only get there by feeding myself well, making my body move and confronting body image dissatisfaction with common sense and kindness.

I am an average looking woman and that’s all I’ll ever be. To try to meet cultural standards would kill me – it would take away time I could spend doing things I like to do, it would require chemicals and injections and spackle, possibly some duct tape. It would require money that I could otherwise spend on books and traveling and experiences. It would require me to stare in the mirror, coldly and cruelly, assessing what work should be done next. When I look you in the eye, what you should see is a smart, intuitive, generous and funny human being. If not, I’m still strong enough to knock you on your ass.

Well, I think that about covers everything that could alienate readers. I don’t expect people to agree. I have friends with entirely different opinions and beliefs and we still like each other. That’s the kind of world I’d like to live in – where divisiveness and trolls don’t rule the day, where you and I can disagree and still be friends. There. Now that feels authentic.

Gender Benders

Yesterday, my daughter told me about her recent school picture session. The photographer asked her name and she told him. His assistant came over and asked her what her name was again. He whispered loudly in the photographer’s ear, “He says that IS his name”. My daughter’s name is decidedly a typical girl’s name – even in most foreign languages. They were not to be dissuaded from a quickly drawn, preconceived opinion, despite evidence to the contrary.

My daughter insists on a Harry Potter haircut and refuses to wear girl’s clothes. She has a clear case about the clothes, as those marketed to girls are not utilitarian, primary colors or found without “bling”. Somewhere between the cute-animal-primary-colors toddler clothing and turning six, my daughter was supposed to become a corporate shill for Hannah Montana, with the clothing preferences of a “Jersey Shore” resident. So believe me when I say, I’m thrilled she loves blue jeans and simple cotton t-shirts.

It’s a beautiful age for children to be wild and wonderful, before society steps in and tells them what they are supposed to look like. An elderly family friend expressed concern that my child would become a lesbian if she never wore dresses. That was at least laughable. Less funny was when one of my daughter’s teachers made her draw long hair on a self-portrait, so that people would know she was a girl. I hardily endorsed a subversive replacement of the drawing.  On a fairly regular basis other girls at school tell my daughter that she is in the wrong bathroom. When she relays these stories, I ask her if it bothers her. The mistaken gender doesn’t bother her, it’s being called a liar when she tries to correct them.

My daughter has a lot of friends who are boys and during play dates, they’ll pull out the costume box. He’ll be a wood sprite and she’ll be a Jedi knight – no judgments, no questions, just being what appeals to them in the moment. She’s drawn to adventure and action stories. There are very few fictional venues where girls are the action heroes (at least ones that don’t have pointy Madonna bustiers). There’s lots of super smart sidekick action, but she actually wants to be in the heat of battle with Voldemort or the Sheriff of Nottingham or the White Witch.

I worried early on that I somehow made being a girl seem so incredibly unappealing (housework, discipline, mysterious monthly stomachaches – what the hell kind of imaginative play is that?), that she was simply rejecting gender stereotypes out of hand. That was egocentric of me, since it has become obvious to me that kids are born with their personalities from the get go. This girl kicked her way through my entire pregnancy, already roundhouse kicking my rib cage and having imaginary sword fights with my bladder.

It took me years to become as enlightened as my daughter is at this moment in time. I never questioned dresses or forehead stretching ponytail holders. My tomboy self came in the form of ripped tights, torn lace, missing buttons and “lost” barrettes. I climbed trees, fences, did death-defying skateboard and bicycle stunts, ran with a mob of little hooligans, all at the expense of my ill-fitting, uncomfortable clothes.

I didn’t know anything about gender wars or feminism or how I was supposed to look – I just was. In my preteen years, when boys held more than a passing interest, I recognized that I would rather be a boy than kiss one. I just couldn’t see what the appeal of being a girl was – painful hairdos, being told how unladylike I was and the insistence that I be quiet, be still, be invisible. I knew who had the power and it wasn’t girls. I became quiet and well-behaved, all the while daydreaming that I was the new sheriff in town, six guns a-blazing, with a wild West holler.

These days, it’s easier for girls to cross gender lines in terms of doing, but the expectations of how girls should look have such a long way to go. My daughter is going as Robin Hood for Halloween and wrote a sign to wear: “I am NOT Peter Pan”. She’s my hero.