Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ladies Rock Camp, and other stuff

I've been writing a lot for Gapers Block lately, and I don't generally cross-post, but this was a really fun time.  I went to Ladies Rock Camp last weekend, a fundraiser for Girls Rock, a camp for girls that has chapters all over the country.  It was really fun to write this piece, so I'm posting a link here: The Ladies Rock Experience

I'm also getting geared up for Tuesday's Moth GrandSLAM.  I have a story, but I'm starting to feel unsure about it.  I have a feeling I won't be thinking about much else between now and Tuesday night.  Eep.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Getting ready for the GrandSLAM, and other things

Some really exciting stuff has been happening lately with my writing, as well as some really stressful stuff with work.  Between them, the highs in my life are getting higher, and the lows are getting lower.  It's making me feel a little bipolar.

A few weeks ago I sent Kristin and Mark (my boyfriend and his wife) copies of the stories I'd written about them, because I figured they were out there on the Internet and they were going to get wind of them eventually, and it was better if I was up front about it.  I was a little nervous - not very, about how they would react.  There's nothing bad about them in it, but you never know.

"Best case scenario," I said to my husband, "she passes it on to her publisher."
"As opposed to: she never wants to see or speak to you again?" he asked. 

As it turned out, their reaction couldn't have been more positive; Kristin friended me on facebook, sent a link to my blog post to her editor, and tweeted a link to the story out to her twitter followers.  Over two hundred people read my story entitled "Don't Stop Believin'" over the course of the next 48 hours.  By comparison, I generally get between 0-7 visitors a day.

It was an incredible high, and then I had to return to work - where my very performance has been called into question.  I saw my doctor about a skin problem I was having recently, and while I was there she checked my blood pressure: 140/100, pre-hypertension levels.  All these highs and lows are taking their toll on me.

And then I got the news that I'll be performing in next month's Moth GrandSLAM at the Park West.  This is by far the most exciting thing that's ever happened to me with my writing.  I'll be on stage with other Moth StorySLAM winners, competing for the title of GrandSLAM winner, at a venue that will be hosted by NPR's Peter Sagal of Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me.  The theme of the evening is "Identity Crisis," which is both fantastic and completely flummoxing to me.  I'm constantly in a state of identity crisis, and choosing one story is going to be hard.  Here's the material I have to work with: am I Jewish/not Jewish?  American/foreign?  New Yorker/Midwesterner?  Tattooed/not tattooed?  Employed/unemployed?  And for about 4 years of my life, when I first moved to Chicago, I was America's biggest fag hag, what does this say about my sexual identity?

I've been procrastinating, and it's not good.  This thing keeps getting bigger - people have been asking for tickets, and when I consider the size of the Park West, it makes my heart palpitate.  I've never spoken in front of that many people before.  I need to be prepared - I can't get onstage with Peter Sagal and wing it.  Below is my first attempt at an identity crisis story.  I like it, but I don't think it's GrandSLAM winning material.  It would be a shame to scrap it though, so I'm posting it here.   Enjoy.

Summer 1993

I’m standing on the corner of Belmont and Clark, dressed in four inch platform shoes, a dress, a platinum blonde wig, false eyelashes, and copious makeup.  Accompanying me are two drag queens – one who goes by the name of Patty Melt; she easily clears seven feet with hair and heels, the other is named Jane Doe, whose back story is that she woke up in a ditch with amnesia, and hasn’t been identified.

By day Patty works at the customer service desk at Whole Foods, Jane is a bartender at a club called Foxy’s, where we are headed.  It’s a warm night, and I begin sweating under my wig.  This isn’t a sensation I’m used to, and I resist the urge to remove it.  Jane and Patty have helped me with my hair, makeup, and outfit, and between the three of us we’d spent an entire workday getting ready to go out, I don’t want to ruin it before we’ve even reached our destination. 

Jane wears a long, luscious auburn wig, a baby blue dress that falls mid-thigh, and an artificial flower in her hair.  Patty wears a blonde wig styled into a flip, and a skirt suit*.  Both of them have enhanced their cleavage with bags of birdseed.

As we stand on the corner waiting for the light to change, a car full of young men slows down, and then stops.  Loud music thumps through the body of the vehicle and into the night, the bass turned up so loud I can feel it in my chest.  The man riding shotgun to the driver rolls down his window, increasing the decibel count that spills out into the street, leans his head out of the window, and yells: “Fags!” 

He can’t possibly be talking to me, I think.  Clearly I am different than my two friends here - even with help of platform shoes I barely clear 5 feet 9 inches.  Patty and Jane tower over me, we could be featured in the Sesame Street anthem: “one of these things is not like the others”. 

I make eye contact with the name caller, stunned, a little frightened, and for some reason I silently implore him to look closer - look into my eyes, can’t he tell that I’m a real girl?  He meets my gaze, leans further out of the window, and says:  “Fags!”  There’s no question about it this time; I, a biological woman, have just been called a fag.

I’m in female drag, sure, but I’m not impersonating a woman, I’m impersonating a different woman – one who wears false eyelashes and platform shoes, one who spends hours fixing her hair before leaving the apartment, and in less time than it takes to cross a street, a perfect stranger has turned me into a drag queen, one who possibly goes by the name Victor Victoria.

This is not the first time that my identity has been called into question.  I’ve been called a dyke, a fag, white trash (which is hilarious because I grew up speaking French).  People have variously assumed that I speak fluent Spanish, that I’m Native American, and on at least three separate occasions someone has assumed that I’m pregnant.  This is how it works:  if I wear red lipstick, people think I’m Hispanic; if I grow my hair long people think I’m Native American; and if I wear overalls people think I’m pregnant.  This would be fantastic if I were an actress, I could include in my head shots: “I can play anything from a very short drag queen to an expectant mother with equal conviction.”

But the first time I remember my identity being questioned was when I was six years old.  I’d asked my mother to give my hair bangs, and just as she was about to, she was distracted by a phone call.  Impatient, I decided to take things into my own hands.  I stood on a step stool in front of the bathroom mirror, lifted a pair of scissors to my head, and cut my hair from ear to ear, resulting not so much in bangs as in a mullet.  Satisfied with my handiwork, I presented myself to my mother, who was still talking on the phone.  I did not get the reaction I expected, and ended up with a very short, very androgynous haircut.  Compounding the situation was the fact that I was a messy kid; I bathed only when forced to, never wore dresses, played with messy, dirty boys, and wouldn't play dolls with my girl friends - only stuffed animals.

My friend Annie, who wore only clean, feminine clothing, and always had bows in her hair, convinced a boy in our class who was developmentally delayed that I was a boy too; with my short hair I no longer had any recognizable female sex characteristics.  We went into the boy's bathroom together where he pulled down his pants, showed me his hairless member, and said "see?"  The deal was I was supposed to show him mine too, but somehow I was able to get out of revealing myself.  I may have simply left the bathroom before anything could be asked of me, but I distinctly remember leaving with him; we entered that bathroom as two boys, comrades, fellow penis owners, and as far as that kid knew, that's the way we exited.  I never revealed myself to the man who called me a fag either. 

*I can't remember exactly what Patty Melt was wearing - if you're reading this Patty, feel free to correct me.