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Queer Rock Love

A Family Memoir

Author

Paige Schilt

Queer Rock Chicago on January 20

I’ll be reading from Queer Rock Love in Chicago next Wednesday. I’m thrilled to be speaking at the iconic feminist bookstore Women and Children First. By most counts, there are only about 12 feminist bookstores left in North America, and I hope to visit and support them all. You should too! Trying to get mainstream bookstores to carry Queer Rock Love has reminded me, once again, that queer and feminist bookstores are vital in helping new voices to be heard.

I’ve always loved Chicago, and I love it even more now that my sister lives there. If you haven’t read her book Just One of the Guys? Transgender Men and the Persistence of Gender Inequality, I recommend it. You’ll never think of all the mundane gendered interactions of the workplace in quite the same way.

In the spirit of #tbt, here’s a picture of two future feminists in pink polyester pantsuits. You’ll have to come out to the reading on Wednesday at 7:30 to see if we still dress alike.

matchingoutfits

I’ll be in Chicago all week next week for the Creating Change conference. Will you be attending? Transgress Press will have a booth, so come say hello.

I Wanna Grow Up Like Girls in the Nose

When I was a little girl in the 1970s, my mother told me that someday our TV would be a computer and she’d be able to leave messages on the screen.

My dad told me that someday there would be a woman president and maybe it would even be me.

littlefemme

No one ever predicted a lesbian rock band that would continue to electrify audiences when its lead singer was over 65. Back then, it seemed like women in their sixties were old ladies, grandmothers or old maids who drove too slow and carried purses full of Kleenex. If you had told me that old ladies could be sexy, powerful and creative—well, I think that human colonization of Mars would have seemed more likely.

In keeping with a 1970s-era vision of the future, the release of the new Star Wars movie has inspired a cultural conversation about women entertainers and aging. Everyone wants to weigh in about whether Carrie Fisher has aged well. Does she have too many wrinkles? Has she gained too much weight?

If this conversation seems very tiresome to you, then let me tell you a story about the Girls in the Nose reunion show last Tuesday night.

Let’s start with the way that lead-singer Kay Turner stands. Legs spread wide. Feet planted flat on the ground. Back straight. Hands wrapped around the mic until she grabs the stand and pulls it to her crotch on a song like “Sodomy.”

GITN

“Does Kay’s voice remind you of Iggy Pop?” I ask my wife.

“Patti Smith,” Katy answers, supplying the feminist canonical referent. But I resist. It’s true that there’s a lot of rock-n-roll priestess in Kay’s performance, but it’s more carnal than Patty. If I could pick one song for them to cover, it would be The Stooges’ “Dirt,” a song that makes me blush every time I hear it.

“Can I have a little less reverb on my vocals?” Kay asks. Noooooo, I think, because I’m enjoying the stadium-rock quality of it. But I’m glad that Kay and guitarist Gretchen Phillips keep asking the sound person for exactly what they want. I once stood in a crowded nightclub while the singer for Sebadoh quibbled with the sound guy for 45 minutes. It’s rare to even hear a female musician ask apologetically for a little more or less of something in her monitor.

There’s no need for apologies here. When Kay sings “Menstrual Hut,” she shrugs off the fact that the members of GITN are mostly post-menopausal now. It was always about hanging out with other women anyway. And when Girls in the Nose makes a reference to the women’s health movement in a song like “Breast Exam,” it’s with a sly, sexy wink. Are they really singing about breast cancer screening? Or are they instructing you in how to squeeze and tug a nipple for more nefarious purposes? Does it have to be an either/or? When percussion/keyboard player Joanna Lebow is cavorting with the Les Nez dancers, I forget to care.

Most reunions are about looking back, and there was a warm glow of nostalgia over the evening, but Girls in the Nose’s performance didn’t feel dated. It was as if—to quote another beloved queer Texas band—they were “sent to us in a time capsule from the future.”

When I grow up, I want to be Girls in the Nose.

There’s one more opportunity to see GITN reunite on January 8 at Cheer Up Charlies.

Photo of GITN courtesy of Ann Hudspeth.

Why I Hoist My Own Tree

Last weekend, I scaled the mountain of musty furniture, bicycles and plastic bins in our garage. When I found what I was looking for—a tattered red duffel bag the size of an average middle schooler—I pulled and heaved and cajoled it down from the heap and into the house. It would have been easier with a second pair of hands, but setting up the Christmas tree has become my personal ritual, something I prefer to do alone.

xmastreeI’m writing by the glow of the tree right now. It’s the same white tree that I wrote about in Queer Rock Love, the one I bought at Target when Katy was so sick from interferon that she could barely get out of bed. After 10 years of service, the old tree is frayed and yellowish, but I can’t part with it.

Before Katy’s illness, I had a tendency to pin my happiness on other people. If I wanted to try something new, I needed more than my partner’s approval—I needed total buy-in. “It was stifling but safe. As long as other people had the power, my desires remained conditional and my failures rested on someone else—this is what I would do, if only…”

When Katy got sick, I was faced with a choice: I could tether myself to her bedside, waiting for her to feel better and meanwhile roiling with resentment that life was passing me by, or I could try to balance caretaking with my own needs for independence. But that meant venturing out on my own, without Katy as my constant cheerleader and companion. It was a prospect that filled me with dread. If you’ve read about the episode with the Christmas tree, then you know the pitfalls I faced trying to disentangle my own desires. I was hyper sensitive to any hint of disapproval, always eager to believe that family responsibilities were too demanding for me to follow my dreams or that I probably wasn’t good enough or strong enough to try.

I’ve been thinking about all this after watching Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, which I enjoyed immensely—until the last two episodes. As a queer person, I don’t have a lot of patience for straight people bemoaning how trapped they feel by heteronormative timetables of career, marriage, parenting and death. Oh, what’s that? You feel like you’ll be stigmatized if you don’t follow the script? Join the club. (Did you notice that Dev’s lesbian friend, Denise, basically dropped out of the last two episodes? I think it’s because the presence of a queer character would have undermined the whole pretense that there’s only one way to do committed relationships.)

I know that being in a relationship is not for everyone, but I’m also skeptical of the idea that marriage equals death. There’s a strain of misogyny in that tired old tune about suffocating domesticity. I’m more interested in thinking about a relationship as a creative crucible. Learning to balance my needs and desires with the needs and desires of another person has forced me to define my dreams and to become purposeful about pursuing them.

Katy’s in the next room now, working on the 5′ x 5′ painting that has consumed her imagination for the last two weeks. The white lights on the Christmas tree lend an iridescent glow to the layers of paint that she builds up and then scrapes down to begin again. I’m inspired by the depth of her concentration and her willingness to try something new. In a little while, I’ll read this blog post to her, and she’ll tell me about her latest experiments in color and form. I’m glad the circle of light is wide enough to hold us when we’re separate and to warm us when we come back together.

Spoiler Alert: CURED

If you’ve read through the acknowledgements for Queer Rock Love, then you know there’s a brief addendum at the end:

In May 2015, Katy started taking Harvoni, a new med for hepatitis C. As of this writing, her viral load is undetectable.

The treatment ended in July, just as the book was going to print. We had to wait another three months for the final verdict. Two weeks ago, Katy’s doctor called. “You’re cured!”

That night, Katy and I just stared at each other. “Whoa. I can’t believe it,” we said again and again. Katy lived with hep c for more than 30 years. She endured multiple rounds of pyrrhic treatments that left her body worse off than before. Our entire relationship has been circumscribed by the fear that her time was short.

l7

Of course, any of us could be felled any day by a bus or a bomb or a malignant cell. I believe that we should live each day as if it was our last, but I’m not actually very good at it. When Katy was at her sickest, I spent a lot of my time fretting over future funeral bills instead of enjoying the time we had left.

Eventually, Katy’s death and I came to a kind of detente. It was always there, a fact of life, but it didn’t steal quite so much from the present. Now I wonder what lessons I’ll carry with me in this new time horizon?

The technical term for Katy’s prognosis is SVR, which is short for “sustained virologic response” (not to be confused with SRV, which is short for Stevie Ray Vaughan, whose life was cut short by a helicopter crash).

Sustained virologic response sounds like a status update, not a final verdict. And I’m okay with that–perhaps even more comfortable than I would be with a more triumphant-sounding diagnosis, which might leave me looking over my shoulder, worried about getting sideswiped by some unforeseen circumstance.

Right now, I feel happy and relieved and grateful for the health insurance that made this treatment possible. (Thanks Obama!) I’m so glad that Katy doesn’t have to live with all the shame and fear that were hep c’s constant companions.

Sometimes I dare to imagine what a longer future together might feel like.

My heart feels like a hermit crab tentatively extending a tentacle beyond its shell.

 

 

Throwback Saturday

Well, I made it a whole three weeks before I reneged on my promise to post bonus content related to Queer Rock Love every Thursday! In my defense, I’ve been busy planning upcoming readings in D.C., Baltimore, Lake Jackson and Houston (see below for details).

I’m particularly excited about the Baltimore event on October 31 at Red Emma’s, because I’ll be with my friend Rachael Shannon, who designed the cover of Queer Rock Love and whose song “Dyke Hag” is the inspiration for the book’s title. The song is a celebration of queer creative community and the non-nuclear-family ties that bind. When I was writing the book, the title was like a string around my finger, reminding me to always keep the big picture of queer community in mind, even as I was writing about marriage and parenting.

Also, the reading’s on Halloween! My friend Monica Roberts has a great post about Halloween as the trans national holiday. We love to dress up in our family (Katy is always looking for a reason to wear facial hair), but now that the kid is getting to be a tween, I can’t go posting recent pictures of him willy-nilly (cough, unless you find me on Instagram). So here’s an oldie but a goodie: a picture with Rachael and fancy party hats from the day Waylon was born.

bdayTurn to the chapter titled “The Sun Shines Out of His Behind” if you’d like to read along.

If you live in the Mid-Atlantic or Texas, I hope to see you at one of my readings soon! Here are the deets:

Washington, D.C. — Thursday, October 29

The Cavity, 4820 13th St. NW

8-10pm

Baltimore, MD — Saturday, October 31 @ 4pm

Red Emma’s, 30 W. North Avenue

Freeport/Lake Jackson, TX — Saturday, November 21 (with BUTCH COUNTY)

Bad “S” Icehouse, 2315 Fm 523 Rd

6pm

Houston, TX — Tuesday, November 24 @ 2:30pm

University of Houston, Rockwell Pavilion in the M.D. Anderson Library

My Lily Dale Wedding Pic

Here’s an image from the day Katy and I married ourselves in Lily Dale, New York. This was before the advent of the selfie, so it’s only me in the frame. I would have included this picture in the book, but, you know, the Schilt propensity to blink at the camera. Read below for an account of our nuptials in “the town that talks to the dead.”

lilydale

Katy and I arrived just after the regular season, which lasts from June to August. The weather had turned wet and windy, and mud puddles clotted the narrow streets. Standing water glistened from bright green Astroturf on the ramshackle porches of aging Victorian cottages. It looked like several generations of American optimism had collided and fallen into benign disrepair.

Holding hands, we followed the path to a pet cemetery in a stand of ancient trees. Under their lush green canopy, Katy told me about the deaths of her dogs, Face and General Lee. She told me about her best friend Jane Ellen, who had promised to visit in dreams after she died. Sitting on a stump in the shade of the forest, Katy told me about her crystal meth days, when she could walk into a library or a metaphysical bookstore and literally hear books calling her name.

Normally, this was the kind of talk that caused me to roll my eyes.

As a teenager, I had been hostage to my mother’s New Age awakening, when she bought a condo in Santa Fe and consulted a psychic to help her find husband number three. Surrounded by tanned white people with positive vibrations, I had resisted with the only weapons I knew—sunscreen and a bad attitude. As soon as I could, I fled to the gothic mists of the Pacific Northwest. I vowed that folk art angels would never adorn my home.

Rather than putting me off, Katy’s mysticism made me want to get closer. Her drug-induced visions of talking books had a dark, malevolent edge that was missing from the usual New Age blather. The darkness allowed me to relax my constant vigilance and adopt a guardedly curious posture toward things that I habitually disavowed.

Ready to read more? Order Queer Rock Love: A Family Memoir.

Did love ever lead you to suspend judgments? To try something new? Whether it be blueberries or Buddhism, share your story in the comments.

Sequined Cork

Welcome to my weekly post featuring photos that didn’t make it into Queer Rock Love, but probably should have.

This week’s image complements Chapter 28, “No Shortage.”

sequincork

One afternoon, Waylon was engaged in an art project of his own devising, which involved gluing a bunch of sequins to a cork. As he was working at the kitchen table, I heard him singing a little song that went “God is inside of every thing, God is inside of everything, God is inside of everything!” The melody sounded a lot like the Ramones, but the lyrics gave me pause.

“Who taught you that song? Did you learn that in Sunday school?” I asked. I realized I had no clear idea what he learned when he attended the children’s activities at Trinity.

“No one taught it to me. I taught it to myself.”

“Oh, okay. That’s good.” I picked up a few stray sequins and put them back in his pile.

“Mom,” he said, still gluing.

“Yes?”

“God is inside of this table.”

Ready to read more about a gay, trans, rock-n-roll family raising a son in the South? Order the book or come to Naked Girls Reading Austin this Saturday to hear an excerpt read by a real, live naked girl.

#tbt Butch Boobs

Welcome to my weekly #tbt post featuring photos that couldn’t be included in Queer Rock Love: A Family Memoir. (Our archive is deep, but there was only so much space in the book.)

Today’s photo complements Chapter 12, “Fitted Shirt.”

butchboobs2

“By age thirteen, it was clear that Katy had inherited her mother’s legendary rack. And since she refused to set foot in the lingerie department, Katy was at the mercy of her mother’s taste in bras. Thus, throughout the low-slung seventies, Katy was forced to sport Jayne Mansfield-style bras that launched her boobs up and out, like minor planets orbiting her chin.

It was not a style that complemented a softball uniform. Or a basketball uniform. Or any of the other sporty ensembles that might otherwise have offered androgynous refuge for a budding butch.”

Ready to read more about the journey from Playtex to man chest? Order the book.

Got a memory about butch boobs (or Katy’s mom)? Share in the comments below.

Queer Rock Love to Launch at Gender Odyssey 2015

paigejune2015If all goes according to plan, I’ll get to see and touch my book for the first time this Friday, August 21, at Gender Odyssey in Seattle. We’ve had our share of last-minute publishing trials and tribulations, so I’m not 100% sure that this baby will show up on her due date–but I do know I’ll be reading a selection at a free public event that evening. Here are the details:

Transgress Press – Meet the Authors
7:30PM | Washington State Convention Center – Rm 611
Come and schmooze with our 2015 authors, Rex Butt, Seth Jamison Rainess, Paige Schilt, and Dr. Michael Brownstein, and celebrate their recently published and forthcoming books. Get discounted copies of their books personally autographed for you. Light refreshments will be provided.

I’m thrilled to be part of Gender Odyssey this year. When I set out to write Queer Rock Love, my goal was to write a trans family/partner memoir that wasn’t focused on discovery, coming out, or surgery. I knew Katy was trans from the moment I first laid eyes on her. Her transness was an integral part of the person I fell in love with, and I wanted to write a story that focused on the ups and downs of our everyday life. I’m hopeful that lots of folks at Gender Odyssey will be able to identify with our unorthodox, not-a-poster-family family.

Throughout the conference, I’ll be facilitating workshops on higher education, parenting (with Katy Koonce) and the “rules of attraction.” Check out the schedule here, and come say hi if you can.

In the meantime, I’ll be updating this website to be more of a book-related website. Stay tuned for reviews, bonus photos, and information on how to order Queer Rock Love: A Family Memoir from Transgress Press.

BEARING WITNESS TO VIOLENCE: a therapist’s tips for transgender day of remembrance

This year, the organizers of Austin’s annual Transgender Day of Remembrance memorial have asked psychotherapists from the LGBT community to be available at City Hall for participants who may need support after the event.

Their request is a recognition that bearing witness to violence—both physical and systemic violence—can be emotionally devastating. It’s crucial for communities to come together, mourn their dead, and organize for the future. But how can members of a vulnerable community remember acts of violence without becoming re-traumatized?

christmas_candles

More than 200 names will be read at 2014 DOR memorials all around the country. That’s 200 human beings, many of them trans women of color, who have died because of anti-transgender violence in the past year. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. No one knows how many deaths go uncounted.

“It’s a difficult event to attend,” says blogger Autumn Sandeen. “It’s a difficult event to plan.” In a recent article for San Diego’s LGBT Weekly, Sandeen wrote about the numbness that some long-time trans activists feel in response to the ongoing violence.

My wife, Katy Koonce, has been attending Austin’s TDOR since the beginning. As a trans-identified psychotherapist, she has helped countless clients sort through their feelings after Day of Remembrance. I asked Katy for her tips on emotional self care for folks who are attending this year’s event. Here’s what she had to say:

1. Look around. This may be the most transgender people that you’ve ever seen in one place. Remember that, despite all the violence and discrimination, our community continues to grow and organize. They can’t keep us down.

2. Talk to people. Generally speaking, trans people like to help other trans people. If you’re new to all this, ask about what else is going on in your community. If you’re an old-timer, pay it forward.

3. Resolve to use TDOR as a stepping stone to more community and more action each year. Make a plan to attend the monthly TGQ Social or volunteer for Transgender Education Network of Texas. Ask other people you meet what they’re up to.

4. Observe yourself with compassion. Take note of the things that trigger you. Sometimes the hardest thing about TDOR may be hearing from PFLAG parents and thinking about your relationship to your own family or hearing from trans youth and thinking about your younger self.

5. Remember to breathe. Take in the faces around you. Make eye contact. The anxiety you’re feeling is most likely not about the now. You’re here, surrounded by other people who have come out for similar reasons. Let yourself be in the moment.

Transgender Day of Remembrance
Thursday, November 20th, 2014
6:30 PM
Austin City Hall, 301 W 2nd St, Austin, TX 78701

Photo courtesy of christmasstockimages.com.

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