To Shave or Not To shave

That is the question that I’ve been struggling with lately.  I attended an all-girls catholic high school.  When the weather in Ohio changed from cool to frigid and I traded knee high socks for opaque tights I stopped shaving.  Even as a cheerleader for one of the all-boys high schools I didn’t bother to shave my legs.  To me, it seemed like a waste of time.  Even when cheering, it was only one day a week and why go through the hassle and yoga-like poses to shave for an hour and a half long game? 

As I grew older I adopted this “no shaving in winter philosophy” to the dismay of many ex boyfriends.  I’d argue that I had to deal with their hairy legs and for the cold months they could deal with mine.  I hated the double standard of hairy legs on a man-okay vs. hairy legs on a girl-bad.  It has to be said that the hair on my body is very fine.  You’d never think it by looking at the huge mound of hair on my head but if I go the entire winter without shaving and pull out my shorts for the first spring day you’d not notice the hair unless you were about 2 inches away from my legs. 

The latest eczema attack on my body this winter caused me to make several changes to my day-to-day life.  I stopped eating gluten, dairy, soy, and sugar for over a month to try to get the excessive and painful itching to stop.  I noticed that whenever I shaved my arm pits that I’d get a patch of irritation there so opted to stop shaving my arm pits as well.  A hairy arm pit girl, herself, M didn’t mind the almost non-existent arm pit hair that I started sporting just as summer came to a close last year. 

For my 30th Birthday, however, the fact that my arm pits were hairy came to a surprise to all of my party-goers, well at least the straight ones.  I was pointed at with hands across mouth in disgust. 

“Shave your fucking pits, Erika!”  One girl shrieked after my fist pumping to a slammin’ song exposed my secret. 

“Why?”  I shot back. 

“It’s gross, that’s why, ” she retorted.

“Don’t look at ’em,”  was my reply.  “It’s my fucking birthday, goddamnit!”

The heckling didn’t stop there, though.  I posted my 30th birthday bash pictures to my facebook page and my “Oh man, you’re gay?!” cousin was the first to post a comment about the hairy pits in question.  After, I posted a disclaimer that read, “If hairy armpits offend you, please do not read view these pictures”

Are hairy armpits so offensive?  And if so why?  We’ll start with the first question-I suppose the easy answer is yes, hairy armpits are offensive to some people.  Clearly.  I even shaved my armpits and tortured myself in Costa Rica as to not offend my fellow travelers but why are they so? 

I find hairy armpits to be some what erotic.  I can remember climbing on the shelf in my father’s closet to find his stash of dirty mags and seeing women with soft wisps of hair under their arms.  I hadn’t got hair there yet and there was something naughty, almost, about it.  I found the Joy of Sex in my mom’s hiding spot and would spend hours not reading about the joys of sex but looking at the illustrations of women with hair in places I didn’t have hair.

I’m a big fan of vintage porn from the 70’s I like to full bush, the hairy pits.  Is it a fetish?  Could be, I suppose.  This post isn’t to explore a hair fetish but rather to question why in a span of 30 years have we taken something natural, like hairy pits or hairy bush to this bald world? 

When I first saw a bald crotch in porn I was struck by the nakedness of the woman.  I’ll admit that I found that, too erotic and even shaved my own muff to the naked skin.  The more I think about the lack of hair the more I get disturbed by it.  If you take away something, like hair; a sign of maturity and adulthood for a shaved look are we making a pre-pubescent look more attractive sexually?  Those ramifications are beyond disturbing and again, I’m not going into that topic. 

So why shave?  It has to be said that the notion of shaving is truly a new American idea.  And I’ll go as far as to say a white American idea.  My mom fought me hard when I asked for my first razor and I ended up spending my own money to buy it so that I could talk about shaving along with the other girls in my 6th grade class.  I have pictures of my grandma holding my sister and you can see hair peeking out from under her arms.  Most of my older relatives do not shave and while in Costa Rica I noticed that the people there did not either.

Hippies of the 60s didn’t shave, and I don’t imagine that women’s liberation fighters did either but somehow now it seems that most women do.  Does it make us feel more clean?  Virginal, perhaps?  Or have we just bought, literally, into the culture created by companies like Shiek, Bic, and Gillette who remind us that in order to be a Goddess we must remove all of our hair.

The thing I love about queer culture is the acceptance of hair, of feminine beauty as natural as it is.  That’s not to say that I don’t know plenty of queer girls who happily shave their legs and arms religiously because I do.  It comes down to personal choice, really.  It’s refreshing that us queer folks respect and understand that choice.

Party like a Rockstar-My 30th Birthday Bash

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I have a crush on Staceyann Chin

Yup, that’s right.  Wicked mad crush on Staceyann.  It’s not the way she looks, although she’s very beautiful it’s not even her bangin’ body, which is bangin’.  It’s her memoir, “The Other Side of Paradise” that I started reading this week that has made my crush on Staceyann Chin what it is today.  http://www.staceyannchin.com/v2/bio.html

I’m not that far into it, truth be told.  This really cute (possibly queer) girl at Greenlight books in Fort Green sold the hard cover to me.  I’d been eyeing it for a month but was working on finishing “Wuthering Heights.”  I make a point to only have one new book in my possession at a time, otherwise I’ll drop one for the other and most likely not return to the first.  I just finished “Wuthering  Heights” and had about 15 minutes after yoga and before Tongues to get to the bookstore to buy “The Other Side of Paradise.”  My book store crush asked if I knew anything about the author, that she’d been wanting to read it.

“Well, she’s queer…” I started (to see if she was, too.  She gave me that knowing look.  Aha!  One point for Erika gaydar.)  “She’s a feminist and activist, she had a one woman show on broadway in the mid 2000’s…”  I went on and on spouting my Staceyann knowledge and she agreed that she’s buy it too, when she was finished with the book she was on now.  She also made mention to another author, Dorothy Allison, that I should look into when I was finished with “Paradise” 

innocent flirting at the bookstore.

I’m still in Part One and just wrapped up page 46 through teary eyes on the C Train.  I love when a book can move me to tears.  And it wasn’t just the book or its content but the way that a good writer can not only make you feel like you’re there with them in the text but their ability to make you feel what the protagonist is feeling.  In that moment of feeling like a helpless 7-year-old girl being ridiculed by her Aunt while her grandmother helplessly watches the abuse, I felt like I was Staceyann in that brief moment of prose. 

I’ve never had to watch a woman I love do domestic work, as Staceyann watched her Grandmother.  As I’ve disclosed many times here I lived what most would describe as a priviledge life.  Reading “The Other Side of Paradise” awakens so much of my race identity and the itch that was my memoir (lost in computer oblivion) comes racing back into my mind and the memories of my childhood come pouring to my frontal lobe.  (it is the frontal love of the brain that controls memory, right?)

My parents are both black so my race identity isn’t lost in that.  It is, however lost in my education, my speech, my back ground.  Here’s a little snippet, that “Paradise” has forced me to remember.

I remember being in fourth grade.  We’d just switched from the YMCA day camp to the Catholic Club.  I went from having a mixed race group of friends to all black friends.  I am and always have been a social butterfly.  I walked up to the girls who looked my age and asked their names.  Their names I don’t remember.  I do remember, however the looks they gave me.  The way that made fun of the way that I spoke.  The entire summer, even in the small cluster of friends I managed to make I was mocked and taunted for “sounding like a white girl.” 

Funny thing is, as I grew up and my parents continued to enroll me in predominantly white, upper middle class schools in which I excelled socially and kinda sorta academically my father became the taunter.   It wasn’t just him, though.  At family reunions cousins, aunts, uncles would look at me bewildered when I spoke.   I was told that I wasn’t proud of my color, I didn’t embrace it, I was trying to be someone that I could never be.   Looking back, I’m not sure what else was expected of me.  Was I supposed to ignore the rules of the English language in favor for double negatives and slang?  It’s not who I am.  I sound ridiculous trying to “talk black” whatever that means.  

 Now at 30 as a proud black lesbian when I see him he asks why I don’t relax my hair.   “You’d look more professional with straighter hair, Erika.”  “I was going to buy you a comb for your birthday”   A little ironic, no?

This blog doesn’t make much since.  It’s a stream of thought, ideas, and memories evoked by a special lady whose childhood was way more, dare I say, fucked up then mine ever was.  When I listen to the poems and prose from some of the women in my writing group-stories of mixed race childhood angst echo.  Stories of what it means to be a black Latina, what it means to have a white father who didn’t acknowledge your existence or a white mother who tried to mold you into a white daughter are experiences I can’t relate to.  On the other hand, what does it mean to be a black child and never really know you were black-or more accurately, never know what it meant to be black.

Mirs and I talk about race identity all of the time.  What it will mean for us, as partners, to raise black Jewish children.  Our future children’s Jewish heritage is just, if not more, important to Mirs and our children’s black heritage.  No one will know, looking at them, that they’re Jews.  But they’ll sure as hell know that they’re black.  We have to have answers for them.  We always discuss when you start talking about race, identity, religion, and the injustice of so many peoples in our society. 

When we talk about my black identity, especially as a child, I always have to think about it really hard.  Clearly, looking in the mirror I could see that I was black but what my skin color meant; the struggles of my people, were never relayed to me.  When I honestly think about it I’m pretty sure that I learned the most about the Civil Rights movement from a white nun in school.  I asked my parents, and was given a book on MLK. 

My mother had the most insight, she lived in the segregated south until she was twelve.  She would tell me stories about visiting her mother, a domestic worker, at her job and having to use the back entrance.  She told me stories of using separate water fountains.  And I would listen to them and her and appreciate her taking the time.

My father, on the other hand, never told me anything.  Like so many instances in my life his childhood, his experience of being a black man living in New Jersey during the Civil Rights movement is a mystery to me.  I could ask him now, sure, but for a person so formative in my black identity or lack thereof as he often reminded me his imput is completely obsolete.  It doesn’t exist.  But the scars of his constant ridicule is.

Clearly, another reason for therapy.  Or excess money so I can quit my job and spend all of my time writing my memoirs or a work of autobiographical fiction.  So, thank you Staceyann Chin for what is shaping into an amazing and inspiring memoir.

What Makes the Dyke?

I work retail. I think I’ve said that before. The other day at work one of my co-workers came out of the fitting room and shouted, “Do these pants make me look like a Dyke?”
First-Umm, are you gay? Cause I think not, therefore you shouldn’t be throwing around derogetory language. This is the problem I have with people “reclaiming” words to make them their own again. I don’t really buy using words originally used in hatred and slander and making them “new” again in a community. Granted, the title of my blog has the word “Dyke” in it, and I’ve used it before in blogs, I generally don’t use it. Just as I refuse, as a black woman, to use the “N-Word” I cringe when I hear it thrown around by teenagers on the train, teenagers of every color. Apparenty, the term “Bro” and “Son” have been exchanged for “Nigga” for the youth of today. Really? It gets confusing, I think, when people start to slip in these words in every day speech.

Getting back to this co-worker and her use of the word Dyke. She comes out of the fitting room and she’s wearing a pair of army green cargo pants.
I ask her, “what’s so wrong with being a lesbian, ____?”
“Nothing, I just don’t want to look like one.”
Hmmm
“Well, with that giant arm tattoo and those pants…you may look like a lesbo. You actually look kinda hot, ____” I started to tease her

Then she goes on to say how she lives around a lot of “them” and knows what “they” look like.

“So what do we look like, _____?”
“You know, Erika” was her response.

Do I? Do I know what lesbians look like? I think that my gaydar is pretty good but do the clothes make the dyke (there I go again). I’ll use myself as an example.
Starting up top, I have a mop of newly cut natural black hair. It’s short and curly and sometimes I fashion it into these eccentric designs on my head with bobby pins, feathers, and scarves. I like to make a faux mohawk and I like big statement head bands. I don’t wear make up, because it breaks me out and I have pretty amazing skin when I’m not wearing it. I do, however, love eye makeup and tend to wear mascara and eye liner. In the summer months, I tend to go a little more crazy with colors on my eyes but the winter it’s pretty simple.

As far as dress goes, I don’t own a pair of cargo pants. Okay, I have one pair of cargo pants from Hollister from College and they’re my comfy pants. I don’t have a “style” per se. If I had to describe my style it would have to be a pseudo-preppy-boho-feminine hybrid. For example, I own more cardigans than can be admitted. Cardigans are awfully preppy. It goes back to my all-girls school high school and my catholic schools before that. Compounded by my seven years at J. Crew. Cardigans=Preppy. Then, again, cardigans have always been a staple of old men. While, I have my J. Crew cardigans I also have a handful of wooly old man cardigans and that’s a little boho and grundgy. I love skirts. I have full skirts that swish and sway when I walk and I have micro minis from American Apparel. This week I wore a skirt every single day and in the summer I like to be nearly naked in my dress-tiny skirt, tiny dresses, soft fabrics. When I wear jeans they’re usually straight or boot cut. I own one pair of heels and tons of flats, but I’m the most comfortable in my Jack Purcell Converse shoes.

To work yesterday I wore a short navy blue skirt from AA, Tights and flat green suede boots. A pink and blue striped oxford shirt a navy blue polka dot tie, and a pink cardigan. Did I look like a lesbian? Do I ever? Do I give off Lesbian to the world or just quirky dressed nappy-headed girl?

I’ve read a few surveys on blogs or in magazines like Curve of GO on how to identify yourself as either Butch of Femme. One I remember said that when dressing to go out to a fancy event, whether you pick a tie or a skirt/dress. Yesterday I wore both.

One of my gay associates commented that he liked my hair.

a few months back, towards the end of summer Mirs and I cut my hair. Well, we thinned my hair with thinning shears. I was comfortable with thinning shears because even with relaxed hair, I had the thickest hair known to woman. I would go and sit down in a new salon and inevitably the person doing my hair would make a comment about how much hair I had and pull out the shears. So when my hair got to this natural state it was still a lot of hair, though it felt like more. I was getting sick of going 24 hours after a shower and still having damp hair. We decided to thin it. What happened instead was that I cut it, in bald patches throughout my entire head.
see?—>

I spent a few months trying everything to cover it up and decided, two weeks ago, to just cut it all off. I did it myself, again and it actually looks good. Sorry, no pictures, yet.

So one of my gay associates commented that he liked my hair, I told him I felt like I wasn’t looking gay enough, kept getting hit on by guys, that hopefully it’d do the trick.

In a whiny voice, “Now do I look gay?”

I know ya’ll are reading this and saying. “Erika, do you like pussy? Do you like boobies? Do you see a smokin’ hot chick walkin’ down the street and even though you love your girlfriend do you appreciate that smokin’ hot chick walkin’ down the street?”

I’d answer “Yes, yes, and yes”

And then you’d all go “Then, you’re gay”

I know I’m gay. So what makes this straight girl think that she can tell what makes someone look gay or not. And why’s she so concerned about looking too gay. I’d see her walking down the street in those cargo pants with her big tattoo and know, immediately, that she was straight.

I think that looking like a lesbian is actually quite in fashion now. It’s fashion week, in NYC as we speak. I’m not talking about what’s coming down the runways for fall 2009, though, I’m talking about what I see when I’m walking through Williamsburg or down 5th Avenue. Women with shorter hair-styles, in asymmetrical cuts. Cargo pants are making a huge come back and men’s inspired women’s fashions have been the rage for at least two seasons. Shit, J. Crew’s catalogue is always a jumble-fuck of women in ties, suit jackets with denim, suits with converse sneakers.

So what gives? Why the need for this girl to make sure that she didn’t look like a lesbian? It’s cause she’s probably gay.

Okay, she’s not really gay, or at least I don’t think she is…but it’s still funny.

Wait…So You’re Gay!?

It’s the question that I’ve been getting on Facebook for the last week or so. The beauty of sites like MySpace and Facebook is that you can reconnect with people from your past. Old school mates, old friends from grade school, high school, and college all sort of come out of the wood work, so to speak, on these sites. I’ve found so many people from my past on these sites.   It’s good to see them.  No, it’s great to see them. One friend, Leslie, is one of my absolute favorite people off all time. He’s amazing. I’ve missed him dearly. But when you decide that you’re ready to leave a place like Toledo, Ohio you sometimes leave the people behind as well.

So much of my life has changed. I’ve said it before in previous blogs, and I’ve heard it echoed in blogs that I follow and through conversations with other people who’ve move away from home to start their lives in big cities. I’ve changed in many ways, many ways that people back home just don’t understand.

My hair, for instance. I stopped relaxing it, mainly because I got my hair cut, relaxed and styled at a salon on 5th Avenue that I was referred to by a co-worker at J. Crew in SoHo. I loved my new look, it was amazing. It was bouncy, flowing, and the cut was phenomenal. Not $300 phenomenal, though. I decided that instead of spending money like that relaxing my hair straight, or taking the Dominican route so many black people in NYC take, or doing it myself that I would just let my hair grow out of my head in it’s natural state.  Some people call it Nappy, I think those people don’t have natural hair pride. I call it curly…very, very curly. It was a long process, it took a lot of patience and three years.   After letting Mirs cut my hair a few months back, I’m wrestling with the idea of taking it short, very short.  I love my hair; it’s texture, it’s style, the ability of it to do whatever it wants to do-no matter how much I try to coax it.  It’s not revolutionary or even neo-Afro, it’s just my hair.  
On any given day I can see a dozen black women with natural hair in NYC, it’s just how we do, I suppose.  When I went back home for the first time with my natural hair I felt like I was on show.  Everyone was ooing and ahhing, and I wanted to smack the third person who asked to touch it.  Really?  Yeah, really, in Toledo, Ohio.  It was shocking to me how many black people asked me what I put in my hair to make it curl; what product, what chemical.  I told them, quite matter-of-factly, that it’s how our hair grows.  I told one woman, what do you put in yours to make yours look like that.  Another woman had the nerve to ask me why I would chose to not relax my hair-my response was, why not?  
My hair was just the beginning.  Since my move to the Big Apple, I’ve really let my hair down and allowed my true self to shine.  My natural haired, tofu eating, big, gay self.  The gay thing is still taking the Toledoans a bit more time.  I had someone ask me rapid fire questions- did I have a boyfriend?  A husband?  Was I married?  Kids?  Is that really what life has come to?  Boyfriends, husbands, and kids?  I responded that I didn’t have a boyfriend, but a girlfriend.  That I wasn’t married, because I couldn’t, and that I didn’t have children, yet.  Although my girlfriend and I do want them in the future.  Pretty direct, right?  She responded with, “So, wait, you’re gay?”
I felt that my description of my life was pretty clearly gay-but further clarification was needed.  Yup, I’m gay, I said.  No response.  I’m not sure what it is, exactly, that’s so hard for those folks from Ohio to understand.  Some people are gay.  Take me, for instance, gay.  When my sister finally heard me tell her that I was gay, she asked if I was super gay.  I asked her what she meant, and she said, “You’re, like, totally gay, aren’t you?   Like, you do gay things with gay people.  I bet you already have a group of gay friends and are in gay activist groups and shit, aren’t you, Erika.”
I confirmed her thoughts and she said she expected nothing less, that I do things “all out.”  My cousin who lives in Maryland thought it was a phase.  She told me I went through a white-black girl phase and this was my gay phase.  She is … interesting.  It was an interesting assessment from a woman who barely knows me.  She is correct, in many ways, I’ve always been told that the way that I speak and the way I was brought up wasn’t “black” enough.  My dad told me that a lot growing up.  “Erika, you need to be more black”  Last time I was home he offered me $500 to relax my hair.
I’m black and gay and I don’t relax my hair.  I’m 29 and came out only a year ago.  I spent the majority of my adult life pretending to be, rather molding myself into something that the world wanted me to be.  I didn’t fit into that mold.  That mold is in Toledo, Ohio.  I often wonder what would become of me if I would’ve stayed there.  Would I have gotten married to a man and lived my life as a lie?  It’s hard to say.  I can’t imagine living my life in any other way than I’m living it right now, because for the first time, in my entire life, I feel like I’m living my life on my own terms.  It feels amazing.  I sometimes wish that I could step back and look in on the life that I lead.  I’m always blown away by so many aspects; I live in Manhattan, I have an amazing woman who I’m planning to spend the rest of my life with.  I’m happy, happier than I could have imagined, so much so that I want to pinch myself to make sure it’s all real.  And it is.