Category Archives: Social Health

Lessons and Failures from a Haircut

Below is a post from guest blogger Robson Govine about his experience getting a haircut and having to find a new hairdresser after moving away from his hometown.

“So what are we doing today?  The usual?”   I sat down in the chair and looked at Kristen, my hairdresser, through the mirror.

Who didn't think about getting "The Shane" at one point?

“Actually, no, I thought we’d try something different,” I said, somewhat fearful, as I handed her a picture of the new haircut I had been inching towards for years.  It was stereotypical – beyond that even – the epitome of gay.  Shane, from the L Word, Season Two (I know, I’m judging me too).  “I was thinking this only less strung-out-coke-head-chopped-my-hair-with-a-weed-whacker look.”

“This is different, I think I can manage.” Kristen went to work on chopping off about six inches of hair.  She tweaked the cut, of course, making it my own, and every visit it seemed to get shorter and shorter till we had it down to an unspoken science for the next four years.

One of the first "let's go shorter" cuts.

Kristen had made the task of getting a hair cut easy.  I didn’t have to worry about walking into a barber shop surrounded by men, or going to a random shop with a different person each time trying to explain how to cut my hair. I never thought that getting my haircut would be difficult – until three weeks ago when I moved away from my hometown and relocated to Boston.

My hair was shaggy and I was dying for a clean, fresh, cut – but where to go? I had already clogged the sink of my friend’s bathroom when I stubbornly decided I was just going to trim it myself.  “You’re screwing it up!  Don’t cut your hair in my bathroom, Robbie!  Just wait and go to my friend!  The back isn’t even!”

She wasn’t wrong.  I snipped more generously in some areas as opposed to others and for the next week sported a spotty trim. My roommate had suggested Supercuts because it was cheap. I was tight on cash, I figured it would be fine, it’s just hair right?

After walking in the wrong direction down Mass Ave. for five minutes, I walked into Supercuts, somewhat sweaty, in a pair of baggy shorts and a t-shirt, looking like a twelve year-old boy who had just tried chasing down an ice cream truck and miserably failed.

I checked in, having to use my first name (which sounds like I should have my own line of Southern bake goods) because I had to use a card to pay.  Evaluating my surroundings, I pinpointed the hairdresser with purple hair and decided she should be the one to cut my hair.  Unfortunately, right as I decided this, another woman walked up to the counter and called my name.

She introduced herself as I sat down in the chair.  “So how would you like it cut?”

“So, usually, I have the back taken in, along with the sides, but leave the top a little long.  No layering.  And the bangs just trimmed up, not too short, and chipped into so they’re shaggy and not straight across.”

She seemed confused.  I didn’t blame her.  I just gave her instructions that were as simple as a Rubik’s Cube with some of the colors missing.  “So do you use clippers for the back and sides?”

“Just on the back.”  Kristen had always used scissors for the sides.

“Do you know what number on the clippers?”

“Um…” crap, “no, sorry.”

Lesson number one: clippers have numbers.
Fail number one: I didn’t know clippers had numbers.

Not-Kristen took the clippers and started at a modest number saying we could go shorter if needed.  She began to clip the back, clearly the easy part, since it took her no longer than a minute.   Next she took a spray bottle, wetted down the rest of my hair and began to comb it.  And comb it.  And comb it.  I realized she had no idea what to do.  Any other person would have offered some direction, but I had no direction to give her.  I tried to think about possible terms someone like me could use that she, too, would understand.  Think Ellen meets Justin Beiber?  No, that would confuse her; I don’t think she would have understood what a forty old lesbian would have in common with a fifteen year-old pop singer.  Dani Cambell?  Who?  Gender-queer without the hipster?  Gender-what?   I realized there were no terms that could easily overlap.

Lesson number two: Language and communication is important.
Fail number two: I’m an English major. (I should be good at this, right?)

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The Value of Bodies

This is a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: the value assigned to us, especially to us as queer people. As queer people, we are instantly considered less valuable – since we don’t fit the ideal of heterosexuality. A few things in the interwebs recently backed this up in an interesting way.

First, did you see Rachel Maddow‘s high school year book picture that’s been circulating?

I saw it about a week ago, had the reaction of, “Oh wow! That’s weird, she looked totally different,” and moved on. Apparently, the rest of the world has had a different reaction, with people saying they’d “tap that” and how “hot and sexy” she was while openly wondering why she would “give all that up”. Autostraddle had a really great analysis of mainstream media’s reaction and how Maddow’s gender presentation bothers some people, and how she is called a “man” or “manly”. I would really, really recommend reading it. It’s really well done.

I don’t know about you, but I think Maddow is incredibly attractive, both for her appearance and her amazing brain. She can analyze politics like no other.

The next thing pop culture threw my way that got me thinking about value is RuPaul’s Drag U.

I was a huge fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 1 & 2, especially since a friend of a friend’s was on Season 2 and is now on Drag U. However, I was a little disappointed with the underlying message of this series. The premise of the show is that drag queens from seasons 1 and 2 make over more masculine looking women into drag queens to get them in touch with their “feminine” and “fierce” side. Fierceness, fine, but the show often calls the women “boys” and puts down their style. It really sends the message that women are not allowed to be anything but girly, and if they’re not, there is something very wrong with them.

Only one episode has aired so far (which you can watch at logo.com) so I hope it improves, but it really looks like this is what the show will be – constantly telling women that they need to change.

The last thing I came across recently was this amazing, wonderfully done commentary by Ivan Coyote. It’s kind of long, but it’s worth sticking out to the end. Ivan discusses his love of full bodied femmes and his own experiences of feeling valued.

I, too, am sick of people saying that I’m not valuable or that the people I’m attracted to are not valuable and that I am inherently wrong for finding them attractive. I know there’s a little bit of hippy in me, but there’s beauty in everyone. I see it. Don’t you?

Kids these days…

I sat down with Evan Hubbard, a friend of mine who graduated with me in May from Wheelock College’s MSW program. Evan identifies as a transman on the surface, but a genderqueer transmasculine boi on a deeper level. His concentration is on gender identity and dysphoria and GLBT relationships. He interned for the past year with PFLAG Greater Boston.

Evan and I chatted about today’s queer youth and how they are seeing gender identity and gender expression. We both agreed that kids are more and more embracing non-binary forms of gender. Evan remarked that he’s seen kids walking around in a football jersey, khaki shorts, and heels all at once. We’re both veterans of the awesome True Colors Queer Youth Conference run by True Colors Inc. in Connecticut, where Evan has been noticing that expressing yourself as more gender variant has gone from the handful of trans youth to being more common among queer youth in general. These kids are redefining gender norms and making it their own.

So why exactly is this shift happening? Evan sees it as a generational thing. With more and more trans people coming out of the wood works in both the queer communities and the general public, kids are feeling more comfortable exploring gender expressions in their own way too. Especially among those of us in our 20s and younger, not conforming to the masculine/feminine, butch/femme binaries is much more common. And, messing around with these boundaries does not necessarily mean that you are transitioning, but that you are doing what feels comfortable.

Hipsters are a great example of the trend of stretching the outside of the strictly queer culture. Straight hipsters guys are wearing clothes that would traditionally be considered more feminine and straight hipster girls are wearing things that could be considered masculine. Often, even, the clothes can be interchangeable and shared between genders. Oh, you cute hipsters.

Another thing that is changing is the description and understanding of “transgender”. I’ve noticed the description of what being transgender is in the media is often described as, “being born in the wrong body.” However, more and more trans people are saying that they were not a mistake and that they enjoy being trans. Hopefully the media will catch up on this and recognize that its not necessarily that transgender people hate their bodies. What’s difficult is that to describe a complex idea, such as transgender folks, you sometimes have to start with a not entirely true statement. Hopefully from there you can help them deconstruct the gender binary, though.

So, way to go kids! Stretch all our minds and make us throw our assumptions out the window!

The Problem of Gender Identity Disorder

I recently sat down with Jess Guerriero, a genderqueer activist and trans ally with an MA in Gender and Cultural Studies and a candidate for MSW from Simmons College. For her thesis, Jess examined the diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder in the DSM IV-TR and how the current treatment model does not include folks who identify beyond the gender binary.

Gender Identity Disorder (GID) is the diagnosis currently given to transgender and transexual people. This gives providers a diagnosis they can use for reimbursement from insurance companies. The problem is that GID is very binary based and doesn’t recognize people who do not identify as trans but are gender non-conforming.

The current standards of care for someone who has been diagnosed with GID are that they must meet with a therapist to get a letter in order to get hormones. They must then be on those hormones for 9 months to a year and pass the “real life test” – which is “successfully” living as the opposite gender for one full year before they can get a second letter to approve surgery. There is also a “treatment narrative” that therapists are often looking for – a long standing history of “gender troubles”. For example, “I always knew I was a boy, I liked to play with trucks instead of dolls…” etc. These requirements are becoming a little more fluid, especially here in Massachusetts, but still don’t leave much room for people who may not want to fully transition.

The thing is, there’s really no room for folks who don’t want to play the binary game. While the system works for some, for those who don’t want to fully transition or may not have the narrative that therapists are looking for, providers are not given any kind of system care. The hard thing is that therapists need to be able to get paid for their work. That money needs to either come from out of pocket or from an insurance company, and those insurance companies want a diagnosis. However, being transgender or genderqueer or not fitting on the gender binary is not something that should be diagnosed, much like being gay isn’t something that should be diagnosed.

Before setting out to write her thesis, Jess really hoped that she could create a recommended plan of action. What she found is that there’s no clear fix. The systems are broken – the systems of diagnosis, insurance, and communication between the mental health and medical world. What became clear, though, is that there should not be one uniform treatment path and that the client needs to be involved in creating that path.

So what can professionals do now?

  • Start where the person is. Have them define and describe their gender identity to you.
  • Don’t act as a gate keeper. Be honest about the diagnosis process and allow the client to decide if they would like to use the GID diagnosis for the insurance company. Work within the system, but don’t necessarily follow the system perfectly.
  • Increase communication between the mental health world and the medical world.
  • Increase education on gender identity for yourself and other professionals.
  • Provide services for after any body modification.
  • Pay attention to social policy and advocate for your clients. Help create a world that better includes them.

We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re making small steps. For example, as of yesterday, a huge advancement took place, thanks to the Department of State. In the past, some states required passport applicants to show proof of gender reassignment surgery before they could change the gender on their passport. This is no longer a requirement! The requirement now is to show “certification from an attending medical physician that the applicant has undergone appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition.” This is a step in the right direction. Thanks to the World Professional Association for Transgender Health!

For more information, check out GIDReform.org and World Professional Association for Transgender Health. If you’re interested in reading Jess’s amazing thesis, give me a shout out and I can connect you with her!

For the love of Hanson

Semi related to this blog, here’s a podcast that I was on a few weeks ago. (I come in at 49:30.) In it, I talk about my love of Hanson while at the same time being queer. For anyone looking for some nice ear candy to make your commute a little more tolerable, or anyone that loves commentary on pop culture and hilariously mundane things, I highly suggest Too Beautiful to Live. Affectionately referred to as TBTL and hosted by Luke Burbank.

Me with Taylor (left) and Zac (right) Hanson, when they visited my college in 2006 and I got to interview them on the radio. Isaac was down the hall and missed my photo op.

I fell in love with Luke on his stint of the short lived NPR show The Bryant Park Project. TBTL has a segment called Call Makers, where Luke calls up listeners who have topics they’d like to discuss with him. I called to gush about my ridiculous love of Hanson and the hots I have for Zac Hanson, specifically. I also dragged my girlfriend into it and her love of Justin Bieber (which, to be honest, she’s not as in love with him as I like to tell people. But she does appreciate anyone of the younger male persuasion who can pass as a lesbian. Can you hear me Zac Efron?)

Here’s the amazing video of the song I was talking about – “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin'”. Definitely worth watching. It was made in honor of the Blues Brothers movie and their love for oldies music.

Hanson, actually, made it hard for me to come out. You can ask those who were close to me in my 12-14 aged years; I was boy crazy. I thought about boys, 24-7. So when I started dating a girl at 15, it threw everyone off. I mean, for god’s sake, my room was literally covered – walls and ceiling, with pictures of Hanson and other boys. So, I don’t blame anyone who may not have believed me at the time or thought it was a phase. And here’s the thing, before I started dating my first girlfriend, I had no idea that I was attracted to girls. But I believe sexuality is a fluid thing that can evolve over time, and some studies show that to be true for many other women. I can dig those up sometime so we can all analyze them together.

And Hanson still makes me feel like a 12 year old girl drunk off of hormones from puberty sometimes. And that’s okay with me. It’s also part of the reason why I identify with the label of queer. It leaves room for things like that.

Hanson’s new album, Shout It Out, comes out on June 8th – TODAY. Don’t lie. You loved MmmBop in 1997.

Civil Disobedience – or – Fighting for your Wellbeing

Recently, the wonderful Pam’s House Blend had a great summary of the history of civil disobedience in the LGBTQ fight for civil rights. Seems pretty appropriate with Pride – the annual celebration of the Stonewall riots – just around the corner (or technically, started, here in Boston).

Stonewall Riots - Image from http://www.pamshouseblend.com

Some great points that the post offered:

  • Stonewall was a violent and spontaneous act that lasted days.
  • The earliest cases of AIDS were identified in 1981 and yet ACT UP wasn’t formed until 1987 out of disgust for the governments inaction. (Not to say that the folks that were ACT UP didn’t do enough, but it’s so easy to forget exactly just how long it took the government to do anything.)
  • In 2007 the Employee Non-Discrimination Act was killed for the 34th time.

As LGBTQ people, there is so much that we have been denied. From freedom to assemble – fought for at Stonewall; for the government to see us as legitimate people – especially during a health crisis; for marriage; for the protection from being told that you can’t have a job, rent an apartment, use a restroom that feels right for you; serve in the military; and many other things.

Lately, there has been a new uprising of civil disobedience by the folks who call themselves GetEQUAL. They’re the folks who organized the handcuffing of Lt. Dan Choi and other LGBTQ military folks to the White House fence and the ones who interrupted Obama while he was speaking at a fundraiser for Senator Barbara Boxer. Since GetEQUAL became active, I’ve seen some blog posts questioning their tactics and wondering if the time for civil disobedience is over. It can seem like such a 1960s thing. But, GetEQUAL has been effective. It really feels like the turning point is near. And while we’ve been doing a lot of work on the inside of the system, groups like GetEQUAL have been causing a much needed stir. (Also, a shout out to Join the Impact, specifically Join the Impact MA, who are also doing great work. More on them later.)

Do you know what empowerment feels like?

An Untapped Gem

Ever notice something that should really be happening? For years now, I’ve been talking about the crazy amount of money that could be made off of selling men’s clothing made for women’s bodies (talking in the traditional sense of the words, of course). Butch lesbians and genderqueers have long had to shop in the little boys’ sections, search endlessly in thrift stores, or learn how to alter clothes for affordable clothing that fits their style, but its not typically made for their bodies.

Sadly, there’s still not a lot of resources out there, but here are a few I’ve found in my travels to share with you. Feel free to share yours in the comments as well.

PinkBoyBlueGirl

Did you fall in love with Dani Campbell during the ridiculous A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila? The only good thing to come out of that trainwreck was Dani Campbell. She started a clothing line called Futch which became PinkBoyBlueGirl. Sadly, it looks like it hasn’t really become much yet. But we can hope that she’s putting something together with the other folks she’s brought together to this new label. Anyway, I’d keep my eyes peeled on this site. Especially if she plans on selling things like she’s wearing on the left…

DITC, dykesinthecity

I used to see these guys every time I went to a queer festival of some sort. They started off with t-shifts and a-shirts (the nice way of saying a wife-beater) and moved on to ties and such. Looks like they’ve got a nice selection of products. Not necessarily the tailored shirts, pants, or suits that many people are looking for, but they do have some nice designs that make ties and shirts a little more interesting. They also have some things that are for lesbians who are a little more feminine.

DapperQ

This site is the most promising that I’ve seen so far. While they’re not selling any clothes, DapperQ is a great fashion blog for people with bodies that are traditionally considered female who are interested in masculine and queer gender expression or identity. Susan Herr has done a great job so far of talking to everyday and more well known queer people about their fashion and how they get around the issue of wanting to dress more masculine and finding clothes that they feel comfortable in. I would definitely add this site to my RSS feed if I were you. Also… it doesn’t hurt that they put up a super cute picture and post from my girlfriend (pictured left).

So if I were you, and I was wanting to make a fortune, I’d take advantage of the (oy, am I really going to use this horrible business cliché?) low hanging fruit by getting myself a degree in fashion – or at least take some sewing classes – and get to work on creating the clothes that all these super cute butch or genderqueer identifying (or other identifications) queers would like to be wearing. Because wearing clothes that you feel good in makes you feel better about yourself and better about your prospects in the world.

What do you do to find clothes that make you feel comfortable and confident?