Response: Gender

Editor Kirsten Larson, Editor's Choice, November 24th, 2014

I identify as superfat genderfucking kinky queer writer...

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In our monthly Response Column, NAILED asks readers to respond to a particular word or phrase. We are seeking raw, honest personal responses that aim less to answer questions and more to raise them. Responses in the form of art, photography, essay, story, poem, and rant will all be considered for publication. December’s topic is ALONE, please email your responses to Kirsten@NailedMagazine.com by December 20th, for publication at the end of the month. (Word count limit: 1,000 words.)

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Response: Gender

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EDITORIAL NOTE: This month’s original header image (below) for Response: Gender gave way to an interesting and important series of debate. Contributor Domi Shoemaker stated their issues with the image and asked that the image to be changed. Editor-in-Chief Carrie Seitzinger explained NAILED‘s point of view in choosing the image. Both parties agreed that voicing concerns about the image would be beneficial to NAILED‘s audience. Below is their correspondence.

response gender nailed magazine

Original header image courtesy of photographer Heather Buckley. To view a gallery of her photos of the Brighton Pride Festival, go here. Current header image courtesy of Domi Shoemaker.

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Hiya, Carrie. Is there any way you could change the header for this column on gender? I know it’s kind of grabby, but it is also predictably offensive to my gender non-conforming sensibilities. I think this header misses the mark and looks like every frat boy bad joke having a scruffy guy in a fat lady suit. I know it came from Brighton Pride, but that doesn’t make it any more acceptable to me. Drag queens might find it funny, but I find it crummy.

Mucho Geande respect~
Domi

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Hi Domi,
Thanks for voicing your opinion. I’m really surprised that this image comes off as offensive, since we are sensitive about these things at NAILED, and Matty and our art’s editor Shenyah and myself love this image for the topic of Gender. I definitely didn’t mean for it to be the photo that accompanies your piece specifically, but that addresses Gender as a topic. I feel it does this. As you mentioned the photo is from Pride and I don’t see people dressing up for Pride as a way of making a joke out of someone else’s identity. Fundamentally that is not what Pride is about. The photo does appear to be about cross-dressing and self expression, which I think addresses the topic of Gender in a valid way.

All of the header images on NAILED are either our own original photography or images sourced with permission by the artists whose work we’ve vetted and published on the mag. Shenyah works diligently for months to send me a batch of images that we can use for headers. From all of the images I have right now, the one selected deals most prominently with Gender.

I hate to see a contributor unexcited to share the column they’ve been published in because of other parts of the column that they don’t agree with. Because of this I’m unsure what to do… Initially Kirsten wanted the header image to be a photo of Freida Kahlo in drag. I explained the importance of having original and exclusive work on NAILED, which is why we didn’t use it, but really I’m not sure why it would be any more “okay” with people that a woman is dressing and expressing herself as a man, than it would be that this man is dressing up as a large woman with pink hair. I don’t believe that it is any less acceptable that that is how he chose to express himself on the most prideful day of the year.

All best,
Carrie

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Hi, Carrie. Thank you for the thoughtful response. I didn’t think for a minute that this had anything to do with me or my piece specifically. That’s not an issue. I know NAILED is sensitive to all kinds of cultural variations, and that is exactly why I love NAILED and the work you do.

My main problem with this can be summed up in the response to your words: “but really I’m not sure why it would be any more “okay” with people that a woman is dressing and expressing herself as a man, than it would be that this man is dressing up as a large woman with pink hair.”
The problem here is that, regardless of intention or origin, this pic exemplifies EXACTLY the kind of stereotype that is already out there, that gender is “just” a thing you put on and take off AND there is no way I would believe for a second that using a fat woman suit is furthering the conversation. I totally agree that cross dressing is a valid and this is not really about that. This image is actually marginalizing because it really does look like it is making fun of fat women. That’ is where my discontent lies. A guy in a fat suit can be gender expression, sure, but it is much MUCH more likely to be read as frivolous at best and downright disrespectful and oppressive at worst.  Call me old fashion, but I seriously doubt I would be the only queer identified gender non conforming person who feels this way. I can’t speak for everyone, but I have to speak for me.
I appreciate your time and the work you do at Nailed, and I get that you want to use an original powerful image that represents gender expression. But I really believe this pic just feeds oppression by feeding us the same old story about gender representation.
I love that we can do this respectfully!
Much much love,
Domi

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Dear Domi,

While I will agree with you that the image presents a rather reductive way of looking at gender, and doesn’t do much to further a conversation in depth, the more important part for NAILED is that the question was asked. I definitely believe that aesthetic concerns and cross-dressing are a piece of the gender conversation, and of course, not all-encompassing. No, it is not something one only puts on and takes off, but the physical and representational part of expressing gender is still meaningful. Attempting to find a header image that represents all accepts of any topic is a sisyphean task.

I couldn’t disagree enough that it looks like this man in the photo is making fun of fat women. I also disagree that the intentions behind both the man dressing up and the artist who took the photo are unimportant. Context means so much in art, especially if the audience is testing the grounds on which to be offended.

I’m really happy to have had this conversation with you! As you know, NAILED cares so much about opening up dialogs like this on a regular basis. Your feedback and thoughts are always welcome here!
All best,
Carrie
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Dear Carrie,

I do agree that intentions and context are TOTALLY important, but this photograph is not in context, its context being a small part of a series of photos from a pride celebration. And since we have no idea what was in the mind of the person wearing the fat suit, or what part of their persona they were trying to portray, I do find it fair to say that a thin person in a fat suit is using thin privilege to portray a fat person, which is probably what this all comes down to. Thin IS privileged. Male IS privileged. Women’s bodies ARE scrutinized. FAT bodies ARE oppressed and ridiculed. There is no context that I can think of where this is okay.

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Honest Hands, by Jackie Hymes
After the painting “In the Dresses Our Mother Made Us” by Emma Webster

 

My knees are scraped
& the blood is silk
in the backyard river.

Mother scolds us,
but the wind softens
her sound, lifts
dirt from our dresses’ fabric.

We hold hands:
My dress stained with mud;
your dress shimmers pastel
paint & crushed hyacinth.

In your room we listen
to our dresses dry—
their clap & flutter, a mirror
of my heart’s patterns.
I use my finger to write
invisible letters of confession—
…………..how I wish
…………..each time my hips bleed,
…………..all that makes me girl
…………..would leave with it—
while you draw clouds
& ask how womanhood feels.

I tell you: the same way my dress
can’t quite zip & the fabric snags.

You place your hand in mine:
squeeze as if to say I know

as if to say your secret is safe.

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Jackie is a poet currently residing in Los Angeles. She is finishing her last year of her presidential term-length stint in the Master’s program at California State University, Northridge where she is hard at work on her poetry thesis and teaching first-year composition. Her work has been published in Chaparral, The Legendary and is forthcoming in the Write Bloody anthology We Will Be Shelter edited by Andrea Gibson.

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You Can Call Me He or You Can Call Me She, Just Don’t Call Me…, by Domi Shoemaker

 

It used to be, “Are you a boy or a girl?”

It started in 1975 Idaho, the first year girls were allowed to play boy’s baseball. I only knew of one other girl in the whole state who played on a boy’s team, and we both had androgynous sounding names. Leigh and Domi. I am not sure how Leigh fared, but I didn’t have much trouble. At first. Most people assumed I was a boy, and didn’t pay much attention. The guys in my neighborhood knew me as a rough and tough competitor with a mouth, so they just thought of me as just another kid. It probably didn’t occur to them to think of me as a girl.

Then, one day I was playing right field and the center fielder missed a fly ball. I ran back to the fence, picked up the ball and winged it all the way in to home plate. Some guy stood up and hollered, “That kid’s got an arm.” In all her excitement, my mom shouted back, “Hey, that’s my daughter.” After that, I got all kinds of attention, including a cleat to the chest and a pitch to the side of my batting helmet. That also happened to be the year that my breasts started growing and I could no longer “pass” as a boy, so I did what most kids do, I worked my ass off to fit in. That meant make-up and curling irons and Bonne Belle Lipsmackers. Grape. It mostly felt like a charade.

The thing is, I didn’t want to be a girl, and I didn’t want to be a boy, either. Not completely. I just wanted to be me. I kept the eyeliner, but I threw out all the other rules and started dressing however I wanted, but I just could not find my groove.

It was 1999. I started dabbling in BDSM online. I had been chatting with a luscious Femme Top who was going to meet me in Vegas for an international leather conference. The idea was that if we hit it off, I would stay with her for the weekend. Well, we hit it off. I am not going to go into detail about our sex, our kink, our play. This is about gender.

Ahem, so about gender. I had seen the word “boi” in leatherdyke chatrooms, but it did not occur to me to call myself one. A boi as I knew it, was a masculine identified submissive. I imagined that most “bois” were tiny, compact, hard-bodied submissives with impeccable manners and a desire to serve. I certainly did not see myself that way, but the first time my date called me “boi” in a room full of other bois of all shapes, sizes, and gender expressions, I knew it fit me. My date also happened to be a “Fatshionista” (look it up if you want to know), and was able to steer me in the direction of clothes that would suit me.

After a few years of defining my style and fashion sense, I finally felt at home in my body. My body. Where cunt and cock are sometimes interchangeable, as are chest and breasts. There are times when I am solidly one way or another, but as quickly as assignations change for just about everything, I would never expect even people in-the-know to keep up.

Now it’s, “What pronoun do you prefer?” I get asked that a lot. My usual response is that I usually do as much as I can without pronouns, but if that is not possible, they/them/their works. I take it a little further and say you can refer to me as anything but lady, girl, or bitch and you will likely get a fair response.

My gender is fluid, as is much of my identity, so it all sort of depends on context. I know that leaves a lot of room for (mis)interpretation, but I have to be honest. I don’t care. I know who I am, and I take misinterpretation and sometimes flat-out confusion or agitation as an opportunity to have a conversation.

I respect the hell out of people who are willing to just come out and ask me how I identify. I especially appreciate people who have never felt comfortable enough to ask anyone before, to ask me. It shows an openness to change and a level of respect.

All that said, I identify most strongly as superfat genderfucking kinky queer writer and seeker of justice. The order of importance changes. Along with the color of my eyeliner.

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Domi J Shoemaker is an Idaho-born genderfucker who created the quarterly reading series, Burnt Tongue, after cutting teeth in Tom Spanbauer’s Dangerous Writers workshop. Domi has published at [PANK], Unshod Quills, Gobshite Quarterly, and has a story in the anthology, The Night and The Rain and The River, from Forest Avenue Press. Domi has worked with Lidia Yuknavitch launching Dora: A Headcase, interned at Chiasmus Media, and is currently an MFA writing student at Pacific University.

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Creation Myth, by Dalton Day

 

I.

boy                 push
boy                                         push
…………………………up
boy                                                                 push
…………………body               up
………………………………like
…………….mountain
boy                             be                                mountain
………………………lift                               mountain
………………………………into                             air
………….like    body               like
boy                                                     be        mountain
…………………don’t               crumble
boy                             better                         not

…………crumble                      even                if
………………………………I
…………………………………….do
boy                                                                 even
………….if         I
………………………………..disappear
boy                 better
………………………………………………..push                push
…………………be                    a                      better
…………………………………………………………………………………..boy

II.

 

Where did you go Mountain I lifted best I can I am sorry maybe I should have lifted higher maybe I should have lifted myself higher I am sorry the sky is so far away Mountain you are so far away too are you Sky now Mountain are you Sky I am trying to lift myself to you Sky will you help me Sky will you hold me up to you Sky will you make me a mountain I want to be lifted I don’t want to lift anymore I don’t want to push against the ground anymore Mountain you crumbled Sky can’t crumble just show me where you are Sky just show me where you are and I will never stop lifting pushing I will never stop doing everything but crumble I am sorry I am sorry I am sorry I made you crumble away from me.

 

III.

 

don’tleavethedirtdon’tleavethedirt
don’tleavethedirtdon’tleavethedirt
don’tleavethedirtdon’tleavethedirt

 

IV.

 

Inside me, flowers. Inside me, the sun looks like hands. The flowers look like bodies. They look like boys. They look like me. They grow toward the hands. The hands lift them from the ground. They are lifted from me. They fly.

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Out of My Sight, by Dalton Day

 

I hand you a knife. It’s okay to cut me open, I say. I will not be hurt. You trust me. You cut off my hands, just above the wrists, allowing the scent of honeysuckle to enter the room. You cut off my feet & roots shatter the floorboards. You cut off my head & the sun becomes bright as an egg. You continue this way until all that’s left is my chest, with a slash across the middle. All around you are trees standing tall as women. You hear animals moving in the shadows. You reach inside my chest to grab my heart, but it isn’t there. You reach further & further until you’re completely inside me. It is snowing. It looks like the sky is shedding her feathers. In front of you is a frozen lake. It spreads so far you think it might be an ocean.

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Dalton Day is a Pushcart nominated poet & editor of FreezeRay Poetry. His work has been featured in PANK, Hobart, The Millions, & Jellyfish among others. He is the author of Supernova Factory as well as the forthcoming Fake Knife. He can be found, here & on Twitter @lilghosthands. He’s absolutely terrified.

 

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The Politics of Polite, by Rachel Charlene Lewis

 

I wake early one morning before fifth grade to pee and find a splotch of brown on the toilet paper when I wipe. I have been prepared for this moment by my mother, who gifted both me and my sister, 2 years younger, The Period Book. I sat, secure and hidden in my bedroom against the bookshelf loaded with pink and light blue YA novels, scouring its pages for hours, trying and failing to imagine how exactly one would shoot a tampon all the way up their vagina without getting screwed over by the spotty breaks in the hymen. Did it break, or didn’t it? Information conflicted. Mom bought me some more books, and I bought myself some more, picking ones that seemed more scandalous, ones that featured condoms with drawn-on smiley faces that had girls in umbrellas (and nothing else) on the cover. I spent my time loading up on all of the information about periods or sex that I could ever need. I learned about blowjobs and spermicide and dental damns.

I did not learn about the ugliness of it all from books. The bed sheets smeared with blood clots. I woke continuously to dried rust thighs and the feeling of several small aliens chopping at my uterus with hammers, swords, and sticks. I got cramps so bad that I threw up. I took to lying in the bathtub and watching the water around my hips shift from clear to red. I could feel the clots moving through my body. Once the water turned cold and no longer soothed me, I would strap a pad to my ugliest underwear, making sure to secure the wings, and walk in a towel from my bathroom to my bedroom. There, I would lie on the floor on my stomach, inhaling dog hair and flattening my breasts with my new weight, feeling the cool winter air against my ass, an ass built like the girls in the videos my male friends jacked off to.

It didn’t take long for me to become nothing more than something for my men to jack off to.

It begins with the separation from my mother. I sit beside her in the doctor’s office where we go on the military base, my two younger siblings to my other side. They bicker with each other, 9 and 4, younger and more immature than I; I remain silent, feet crossed. I’m wearing my favorite sweater, a light pink turtleneck. The office is as sterile as everything else on the military base. A Disney film, The Mighty Ducks, plays on the screen in the corner of the room where the children’s toys are. The toys smell like disinfectant.

The office is empty except for a man, large and black, who sits opposite my family. I re-cross my legs, and the flares of my whitewashed jeans make a scratching noise. The man looks up.

He says something directed at me. I smile politely, nod. Then he says, “Are those your kids?”

My siblings still bicker. The Mighty Ducks gets louder; a goal has been scored. My mother stiffens at my side.

“Um,” is all I say, before my mom speaks up.

“They’re mine. All of them.” She says.

It is declared: from this point forward, my body is not my own. I don’t look anything like her, my blond, tiny, white mother. I am thick, chunky thighs vibrating with my every step, stomach tugged in because no people look at me. Fat girls aren’t cute girls, fat girls are hardly girls at all, are fetishes at best and cellulite at worst; I am dad’s black relatives pinching at my ass, saying girl you’ve gotten big with pride on their faces as if being fat like they are is a good thing; I am mom’s white relatives saying nothing at all.

I don’t learn the language for what I am until years later, thick girl, clean pussy, thot, slut, light skinn-ded chick; (12) you look better from the back; (14) why don’t you get something for your acne, then I’ll like you; (11) I don’t like dark-skinned girls; (16) you could have at least straightened your bangs, left the rest of your hair curly; (18) hey girl, hey girl, hey girl; (20) you don’t gotta be mean, why are you so rude, fuck you anyway, bitch, fuck you anyway.

My white crushes in high school won’t date me because there are white girls with bodies just like mine and they aren’t ready to date a black girl. A white friend’s brother is told by a white girl on Instagram that she doesn’t understand his taste in black girls—she just can’t get down with the brown. I am not down with the brown. I am not down with the black. I am not down with the white.

Yellowbone.

In high school, I do what yellowbones do. I wear short dresses to homecomings and I let boys grab my ass while I pass by. I laugh when Robin Michaels, my classmate in photography, makes Nicki Minaj his background and calls her a “butterface.” I laugh again, weeks later, after I grind on Brian Rowan in the movie theater until he moans, and Robin Michaels hears about it, brings it up in class, raises his eyebrows at me in a way that makes me nauseated and the other guys sitting with us chuckle to themselves.

In college, my friends start getting raped on a regular basis.

Sexual harassment happens everywhere. At 20, I am at work when Autumn comes up to me and says, “Lily just called me and said these guys were following her car and shouting things at her.” I sit at the front desk in the small area where I tutor and I grit my teeth, my arms feel cold. I stare at Autumn and shake my head. I think about Lily, Lily who I just walked back from an event with, an event where we staffed a table as a part of an awareness fair to promote resources for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. After the fair, we walked around campus to show support for survivors of domestic violence and when I asked Lily how it went, she said she thought it went really really well, better than last year’s, and I agreed.

“And we were wearing these shirts,” I say, and Lily nods.

“We were wearing the shirts.” Black v-necks with feminist written on the back.

I notice my knee is bouncing up and down. I think about my sometimes on, sometimes off anxiety disorder. I think about the workshop on supporting survivors of sexual assault and how the staff member in charge of violence prevention on campus, said that many women carry PTSD.

I think about how my knee bouncing up and down is almost always a sign of an anxiety attack. I slowly push my heel deep into the carpeted library floor until my hamstring stretches in a way that hurts. My jeans bunch at the back of my knee. The faux leather of my boot curls against itself at the front of my calf.

“We need to start killing people,” Autumn says.

“We need flaming baseball bats.” I imagine us, a group of girls battered physically or mentally or both. I think about my friend from home, Hannah, and how she came to visit this campus because hers didn’t have a Slutwalk and she wanted that outlet, the place to wear nothing and say, via bright, bold letters on an over-sized poster, you still can’t fucking touch me. I imagine Hannah joining us, and the dozens of other women who step forward every spring as a part of an event where survivors of sexual assault fill a large auditorium overwhelmed with white, a rounded stage at its back and ten rows of red-fabric chairs in three columns facing forward. Bodies, some tearful, some in a rage, many of them classmates, friends, roommates who had no idea what these women had gone through; I imagine all of these women joining, donning black v-necks, holding flaming baseball bats, and saying, Come here. I dare you.

I curl my foot up, and then down again. Denim and faux leather bunches, and unbunches. Autumn shrugs her shoulders, says, “Breathe.”

Co-workers walk by and Autumn and I are pleasant despite our rage, polite in our fury, always polite.

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Rachel Charlene Lewis is currently studying creative writing at Elon University in North Carolina. There, she is the nonfiction editor of Colonnades Literary and Art Journal and the head of EFFECT, Elon’s feminist organization. Off campus, she is the co-founder of The Fem, a feminist literary magazine. Post-grad, Rachel plans to pursue an MFA in Creative Nonfiction or go into nonprofit work. Either way, her goal is to cause a bit of a ruckus about the current state of things in the U.S., especially as relates to gender, sexuality, and race. She tweets @RachelCharleneL, and is a sporadic blogger, here.

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Kirsten Larson

Kirsten Larson is a Contributing Editor at NAILED. She lives near Portland, Oregon. She loves words and is very curious. She received her MFA in writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles. She writes for The Huffington Post, and is an Adjunct Instructor at Portland State University. Her work can be found in NAILED, Huffington Post, Pathos, M Review, and several other places. She is currently working on two books.