She's a Real Mother

Mutha's got eyes in the back of her head.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Don't Stand So Close To Me

Today I thought of my ninth grade Earth Science teacher. It was the word "geology" that made me think of him after all these years and once I did, I remembered that I had a big crush on him. I was a bit of a hippy-type in high school and considering that, this guy was an absolute dream-boat. He wore sandals in the winter (with socks, I think), had a beard, and sat cross-legged on the top of his desk. He thought my topographic maps were so good that I should consider it as a major in college. I remember being bummed when I found out he was married -- as if there was some chance of my map-making career setting me up to be his girlfriend.

It sent me wondering: were there more? A quick tally includes my fifth grade gym teacher (he coached my brother and so joked a bit with me -- which made my heart flutter), my third grade teacher (I found out later there was a big scandal because it was the 70s and he was attempting to be openly gay), and the children's room librarian (he could juggle books and would flip them into a stack when you checked them out).

A goofy jock, a sensitive homosexual, and a misplaced street performer. How could I have known that they told the uncanny story of my failed attractions to come?

Monday, September 18, 2006


I remember being put in dresses all the time as a little girl. This was probably because I was born the only female in a family of boys and my parents were happy for the break in monotony. My room was painted pink and I got dolls for presents a lot but I those are not the things I have the most vivid memories about. What I remember is the debate I consistently had in my head about dresses.

To wear a dress was to be like my mother but unlike my brothers. There were times I thought it was cool to be like this important grown-up lady, but in truth I wanted my brothers' approval over almost anyone else's in the world. So, dresses were a drag, something to throw a fit or sulk over.

I have found myself thinking of the dress-thing since finishing the book She's Not There by Jennifer Finney Boylan. It is the memoir of a writer/professor who describes his life and the events leading up to and through his sex change: James to Jennifer. I found it an interesting read, especially Boylan's poignant telling of childhood and adolescent experiences, but the story lost me at a point. When asked by his wife and his closest male friend to express what becoming a woman means to him, Boylan says things like, "This is who I am already." He points out that he is not a cross-dresser, but a woman in a man's body. Someone in need or anatomical reassignment. In deed, Boylan describes the experience of sneaking into women's clothes since his childhood. He describes how shaving his legs, getting into a skirt and putting on earrings made him feel great. But then it wasn't enough anymore.

This left me wondering how I define my own experience of being female. Clearly not the clothes, but is it the breasts? Is it my reproductive system? As simple as genitals? As predictable as a hormone shift? Or is it something even more than that?

I don't mean to debate Boylan's experience. The author makes it clear that she is finally at peace now that she is a woman. She has managed to salvage her relationship with her wife and retained a loving relationship with her children. What I mean to ask is does medication and surgery make a woman? Do I really believe that with a similar procedure in a different direction I would be a man? Or would it make me something else?

All I know is that the notion that it is so -- that a medical procedure can truly make a man a woman -- makes me feel underestimated. It makes my experience seem reduced to a moment in the womb when things went the way they were supposed to, no mixed up gender message here -- all the parts came out to line up under "girl." But what I know is even with the pink room and the dolls, I wanted to be like the people I loved and admired, my brothers. I found out that I could wear their hand-me-down jeans, play their games, eat the same supper and hope for the best.

But it makes me remember two moments that taught me something else early on. First is the morning my mother sent me back upstairs to put a shirt on. When I asked why I had to wear a shirt all of the sudden, she told me it was because I was growing up and girls never walked around topless. It made me silently wonder how I had grown-up over night and why five years old was the cut-off. The second was when my older brother called me down from the monkey bars to tell me I couldn't climb like that in a dress. When I asked why, he informed that he could see my underwear, and girls were not allowed to show boys their panties.

It is true, dressing like a girl isn't enough. It is the messages that teach us how to feel about the body we've been given, the gender we know we are. It is the life of a girl that made me a woman.

I am a woman science can not create.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

You Scream, I Scream, We All Scream

In the spirit of Labor Day, a signal of the immanent retirement of summer, my fine family and I played a bit of baseball last Monday. It was a sunny, beautiful day here in our little slice of Massachusetts, and we were all happy to get a little dirty and sweaty -- good clean fun. And how else might someone cap-off such a wholesome frolic? By eating a little ice cream of course! From a little ice cream truck? All the better.

But then I was sobered by the choices before us.

I am unsure when, exactly, cartoon characters -- or more accurately, their approximations -- became in vogue. When I was a child, I remember the Super Rocket Pop as being the height of artistic interpretation in hand-held desserts. But now, much is fair game and the results are not pretty and even less appetizing.

First of all whether it be Dora the Explorer or Bugs Bunny, you can bet the eyes are made of frozen, black bubblegum pieces (as in, "CRACK! Ahh Mommy! Dora's eye broke my tooth!"). Another thing to keep in mind is that the pursuit of "authenticity" includes unfortunate ice cream colors (as in, "Daddy, what flavor is gray?").

To taint the icecream truck experience even further, I slipped deep into Old Crank mode by noting that NOTHING was less than $2. Even my old friend the basic ice cream sandwich had been mysteriously promoted to SUPER Ice cream Sandwich and was now $3.

And so, with the sound of repeating "Turkey In the Straw" -- off-key -- still ringing in our ears, we left behind the Sonic and Scoobey-Doo Pops and went to the corner creamery for homemade ice cream on a cone.

It ain't trying to look like nothing, but the good news there ain't nothing gray neither.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Who Are the People in your Neighborhood: Ranch Hand

As a North-Eastern city girl, I can honestly say I have known few people who can include Ranch Hand on their resume. That was before I got talking to Pete.
Pete says things like feedlots and cowboss. He uses the terms draw and nob to describe parts of a terrain. In short, his language is authentic and also poetic. And here I've been calling Hank Williams my Cowboy Poet for years. Probably because I never thought I'd get to interview one for real.

What is the best thing about being a Ranch Hand?
Pete points out that there are distinctions to be made first, categories of cowboying that include Texans vs. Everyone Else in the World and Open Range vs. working cattle in fenced pastures and feedlots (see there's one of those fancy words). Pete hails from the "everyone else in the world" camp and work on the Open Range. So what is the answer for that kind of cowboying?

Pete's answer: "Scenery, scenery, scenery."

Now here comes the poetry.
He says, "I remember riding ridgetops in Eastern California and seeing the sunrise over Utah, spending hours in canyons few people have ever seen. Blended with that, living in wild country you develop a relationship with the wildlife that's about what a quiet person would wish for with humans. You learn to understand the coyote's language a little and to not be minded by deer and other prey. One time, at the top of a draw I climbed up a nob and there was a fawn just standing there. He didn't bother me and I didn't bother him as I rode by. Then I thought, How often do you get the chance? and reached out an slapped him on the butt. He ran off and I'm sure hated humanity and probably built a highway as revenge."

The coyote's language -- how cool is that? And apparently that wide open space also allows the perfect audience for cowboy singing. So I had to ask.

What do you sing while in the saddle?

Pete's top four include "Night Rider's Lament," "Utah Carrol," "That's The Way Love Goes" by Merle Haggard and Van Morrison's "Joey Boy."

What is the worst thing about being a Ranch Hand?

Contradicting every John Wayne Western I've ever seen, a life in the saddle does not get you a lot of dates. "Your dating pool mainly lives in your imagination," Pete says, but adds, "Of course, those ladies were some of the quietest and most adoring I've known."
But get ready, there are some more Duke Myth-Busters.

What might folks not know about being a Ranch Hand?

"That a whole day in the saddle is longer than a two-hour Western and doesn't require a pistol. Oh, and your average ranch hand spends half of his time fixing fences."

Geez, no dates, lots of barbed wire. I hope there is something to lighten up the work.

Anything funny ever happen?

Pete answers, "All the time." But then goes on to explain how it involves mean animals.
"A ranch hand lives in a world of malicious humor. Horses, cows, hogs, goats, chickens and other two-legged ranchlife, him or herself, every creature plots to be entertained at a cost to another. Among all the creatures that walk or creep or fly on the ranch, only the sheep isn't funny."
Pete reports that he had the chance to work with and befriend a comical hoarse named "Smokey." During a trip across a creek chasing the cattle in front of them, Pete braced to go up the bank one way while Smokey went another. The fact that Pete landed out of the saddle is easy to imagine, but he goes on to say that the horse did it on purpose and qualifies this claim by asserting that all who new the creature agreed.

Maybe the livestock need dates too.