It has been a tough year for transgender Texans and their allies. Last fall, opponents of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) flooded the region with malicious and misleading advertisements that painted equal access to public facilities as a threat to vulnerable white children. In addition to defeating HERO, the campaign whipped up anti-trans sentiments across the state–and our grandstanding Lieutenant Governor wasted no time in exploiting those emotions.
In January, when the Ft. Worth Independent School District unveiled a nondiscrimination policy that allows students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that reflect their gender identity, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called for the superintendent to resign.
In May, when the Department of Education and the Department of Justice directed schools to allow transgender students to use facilities that match their gender identities, Dan Patrick urged Texas schools to resist. Within ten days, Texas had filed a lawsuit against the DOE and the DOJ, claiming that the Obama administration had “conspired to turn workplaces and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment.”
So yeah. Tough year. And that’s why I’m about to say something I’ve never said before:
I’m really excited to be going to Killeen this weekend.
That’s right, Killeen, Texas, home of Fort Hood, is the site of this year’s Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit. For the eighth year in a row, students and social workers, activists and allies will come together to talk about strategies for social change.
The Summit is always held at a Texas college or university, and this year’s host is Texas A&M Central Texas. I’m particularly excited to see that Title IX officers from Baylor and UT Austin will be presenting, because people in their positions have real power to improve students’ lives.
Other promising sessions include a panel with Organización Latina de Trans en Texas (OLLT), a keynote by TransGriot Monica Roberts, and a session on culturally competent healthcare led by Lou Weaver. My colleague Kimmie Fink will be there to talk about Welcoming Schools, and former TENT Director Katy Stewart will be speaking about trans survivors of sexual assault.
Oh yeah, and I’ll be reading from Queer Rock Love, with an emphasis on how gender-nonconforming families experience health care institutions.
Come out, bask in the balm of community empowerment, and help queer up Killeen.
My friend Erin Walter—badass bass player for Butch County—also happens to be the ministerial intern at Wildflower Church, a Unitarian Universalist congregation in South Austin, Texas. She’ll be preaching this Sunday (May 8) on the topic of vulnerability. On the church website, she promises to delve into her topic through the work of Brené Brown and Beyoncé. I’ll also be sharing a short reading from QRL.
I really admire Erin for her ability to balance motherhood and activism, spirituality and rock-n-roll. Plus, she can wear the hell out of a pair of gold lamé leggings.
I’m honored to be able to collaborate with Erin in this novel way, and I can’t help wondering—what’s next for my quirky little book about a queer family raising a kid in Texas?
If you have an idea for a reading or a collaboration, let me know. In the meantime, I hope to see you this Sunday at 11:30 at 1314 E. Oltorf Street (Wildflower Church meets inside Faith Presbyterian Church).
Three weeks ago today was my dad’s 75th birthday. My sister and I came to Houston to celebrate. We knew he didn’t feel well, but we didn’t have any idea that a blood clot was forming in his leg, that it would break off and travel to his lung, that his 75th year would begin with a massive heart attack.
Dad has been in the ICU for 20 days now. His condition is “critical but stable,” which means that life is a roller coaster of small progress and new symptoms. The only plans we make are tentative plans.
I’m trying to remember the skills I learned from Katy’s illness, the balancing act of saying yes to life without imagining too far into the future. It’s very hard. I’m out of practice.
It feels precarious yet crucial to tell you that I’ll be reading from and talking about my work this Tuesday afternoon at UT Austin. I’m scared to leave Houston, but I know Dad would want me to go.
My respondent for this event is Andy Campbell, whose 2015 Outsider Fest panel on AIDS Activism in the Age of PrEP was one of the inspirations for my presentation’s title, “Queer Rock Love in the Age of Marriage, Tipping Points and Miracle Cures.” Ever since my wife was cured of Hepatitis C this November, I’ve been wanting to talk with Andy about medical interventions and how they impact our queer sense of living with the future in parentheses.
There’s no time like the present. Or, in this case, next Tuesday.
Glickman Conference Center (CLA 1.302D)
University of Texas at Austin
Last week, I was interviewed by a Bay Area reporter who expressed surprise that we were making our queer, gender-nonconforming family in Texas.
I get it.
I agree with Molly Ivins that Texas often functions as the “national laboratory of bad ideas.” And now the Republican voters of this state have inflicted Ted Cruz on the rest of the nation. It’s not hard to understand why people in California might think we’re all just a bunch of Bible-thumping, immigrant-hating homophobes.
Those kind of broad-brush assumptions about Texas are part of what motivated me to write Queer Rock Love. The story of LGBT community in the South is a story of chance alliances and unlikely bedfellows—and what could be more queer than that?
Speaking of unlikely bedfellows, I wanted to tell you about when Butch County met the Clyde band.
Long before I ever held an actual print copy of Queer Rock Love in my hands, I knew I wanted to have a book party in Katy’s home town of Lake Jackson, Texas. There was just one problem: how to find a venue. The main bookstore in Lake Jackson is the Hastings by the mall, and the events manager did not seem to be enthused about a queer memoir from a transgressive press in Californ-I-AY. In fact, he never returned my calls. Which was fine, because my dream was to combine my reading with a rock show featuring Butch County.
Eventually, a friend suggested the Bad “S” Icehouse, a honky tonk nestled among the creeks and bayous and chemical plants that line this part of the South Texas coast. The owner, Shauntae, was a fellow alum from Katy’s high school. She had a band booked for 9 that night, but we just needed to be off the stage by 8:15.
Unfortunately, not everyone shared Shauntae’s welcoming attitude toward a band called “Butch County” and a book called “Queer Rock Love.” When she submitted the listing to a local Country-music bar rag, the calendar editor called with a question: “I thought you were a honky-tonk?” It was hard to tell if it was the queerness or the literary nature of our event that made him suspicious.
On the day of the show, Shauntae had written “Book Reading – Queer Rock Love: A Family Memoir” in neon rainbow letters on the board above the bar. As we milled about, waiting for our friends and audience to show up, I heard several regular patrons grumbling about a “book reading” in the same tone one might reserve for “taxes” or “colonoscopy.”
I was nervous. I made a mental note not to lead with my usual story about watching Katy perform in sexy Viking costume. I decided to stick to Lake Jackson stories—more specifically to stories about Donna Koonce, whom many in the audience had known and loved.
As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. Soon Katy’s friends from high school poured in to the bar, surrounding us in a protective cushion of love. Their enthusiasm inspired Butch County to deliver a raucous, rollicking first set. I even forgot to be nervous because I was too busy dancing and enjoying the band’s onstage antics.
By the time I got on stage, my only worry was whether the crowd would be able to come down from their rock-n-roll rowdiness to be able to listen to me read. But as soon as I launched into my impersonation of Donna Koonce, I knew they were with me. The crowd really wanted to hear how this high-femme Southern diva had come to unconditional acceptance of her transgender butch daughter. It felt like they were hungry to have the best and most expansive sides of themselves reflected back to them. After the reading, I sold out of every copy of Queer Rock Love that I’d brought. Lots of people who swore they’d never attended a “book reading” in their lives bought a copy.
Some time during Butch County’s second-yet-equally-electric set, the guitarist from Clyde, the “porch stomp” band that was scheduled to go on at 9, showed up. Reportedly, Josh texted the other members of Clyde and told them to get on over to the club ASAP, because Butch County was tearing it up.
Now here’s where I have to admit my own small-mindedness, because several members of Clyde look like they’d fit right in on an episode of Duck Dynasty. Although I love country music and Americana, I did not immediately expect that Clyde and Butch County (a classic rock band) would form a mutual admiration society. However, we were all in the mood to celebrate, and Clyde’s songs—replete with wash tub beats and gospel-tinged soul—were the perfect soundtrack for a Lake Jackson-style love fest. Before long, the members of Butch County were turning to me and saying, “these guys are really good.”
What followed was a flurry of Clyde liking Butch County’s facebook page and vice versa. We listened to Clyde’s album all the way home to Austin, and “I Saw Jesus on My Tortilla” became Waylon’s new favorite song.
A few weeks later, Clyde asked Butch County to play their annual “life’s a carnival” show at the Carousel Lounge. So if you’re hungry for an antidote to Ted Cruz’s version of Texas values, come on out and let these unlikely buddies rock your world.
Saturday, February 20 @ 7pm
1110 E. 52nd St.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.
I’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.