T. L. Hayes

Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.

— Oscar Wilde.

Welcome to the new home for my work. Here you’ll find my weekly blog, links to my books, a list of upcoming events, and whatever else it occurs to me to add from time to time. I hope you enjoy the ride.

Atypical Geek?

Recently, I was having a conversation with a new acquaintance, exchanging life stories and getting to know one another, when she hit me with an unexpected question: “Are you neuroatypical?” she asked. I immediately began to wonder why she would ask me that, was it something I said? I mentally reviewed the conversation up to that point and couldn’t pinpoint one specific thing. Was it when I said I make lists every day, even listing household chores, just so I can feel accomplished when I cross them off? Did it have something to do with how I like to sleep in a cold room, with the ac down to 68 and a fan on high two feet from my head, with the covers pulled to my neck? Was it the fact that I keep a clean and orderly house, though not obsessively so? I didn’t ask and I let the conversation go on to other things, but I knew I would analyze the conversation later. And I did.

It wasn’t the first time someone had brought up the subject. The first time had been my ex-husband. He used to claim that it was hard for me to stay on task, that he would witness me start one task, realize I needed to also do something else, so stop the first task to go do the second task before coming back to the first. He continuously reminded me that I was just making more work for myself. It never seemed to occur to him that he was the reason I did things that way. Throughout the majority of our marriage he had been emotionally abusive to me, in part by expecting things done a certain way. In trying to accommodate for his ways, I became erratic in my movements as I remembered halfway through a task that there was something I had forgotten to do. I only realized after I left him that I don’t act that way all the time, that he was the common denominator for that behavior. At the time, however, he had me contemplating whether or not I was on the autism spectrum simply because of his misreading of the situation.

When The Big Bang Theory came out I, along with most other geeks and nerds, eagerly awaited the series. Finally, a show that wasn’t just a mindless sitcom, this show would highlight science and would also be funny. My ex would sit beside me, often dumbfounded by the geek humor, unable to understand why I was laughing at jokes he didn’t understand. This led him to his conclusion that I was just like Sheldon Cooper. I tried to argue that I was more like Leonard if I was like anyone. Meaning that I wasn’t as unaware of social mores as Sheldon is, that my geekiness did not prevent me from interacting with others, it just sometimes made me shy and awkward. But he couldn’t be swayed, and he stayed convinced that I was Sheldon’s twin, and later diagnosed me as ADD.

I was able to dismiss him at the time and not think about it, but when a second person brought it up, it made me doubt myself and sent me on a Google search for reputable articles that explained more about the behavior and mannerisms of someone on the autism spectrum. It wasn’t an in-depth search, I read just enough to ease my mind that nothing in my behavior pointed to any particular diagnosis. I could relax in my geekiness and accept that.

But it didn’t end there. Then I started to analyze my reaction in the first place. Why had I been offended at the implication? Surely I knew that there was nothing wrong with being atypical. And it’s true, I do know that. Then why did it bother me so much? What I finally realized was that for one, I don’t like when anyone thinks they have the authority to put me into a box in which I don’t belong, no matter what’s written on that box. Also, it was the idea that autism is another form of othering, of separating and labeling people to show just how different they are in such a way as to promote ostracism. I had had enough of that being bullied in grade school.

What I finally came to was that atypical is just a synonym for queer, and I have been an out and proud queer for over twenty years. If someday a doctor ever pins the label of atypical on me, I will wear that with pride also. Because there is nothing wrong with thinking and perceiving the world differently from everyone else. Normal is boring and should be avoided at all costs.

 

Writing in the Time of Plague

I know that we’re all going through some stuff right now. Some of us are dealing with anxiety, not knowing when the virus will run its course. Others are dealing with job and/or income loss, as we were sent home, many of us unable to work and not having other means to sustain us. I know things are difficult right now, but this too shall pass. Like you, I wish I knew when, but we can get through this. Hold tight to your loved ones, stay in contact to the ones you can’t visit right now, find things to occupy your mind, and stay safe.

To that end, I’m providing one of my unpublished short stories here in this blog, hopefully it will take your mind off things for a little while. I’ll try to post more things to give you a distraction. Enjoy.

 

Forged By Time

“Here’s your birthday drink love, drink up,” Wynn replied, as she pushed over the mug with the noxious smelling warm beverage before she kissed Alex on the cheek.

            Alex eyed the drink and her girlfriend with trepidation. “You would think after more than five hundred years, you would find a way to make this more palatable. Do you have any idea how gross this is?” Nevertheless, she picked it up and took the first sip, grimacing the entire time.

            “I’m still working on it. I tried chocolate, but you said it tasted muddy, I tried honey but you said it just wasn’t right at all, and that one year when I tried putting all the herbs and spices into a tomato sauce for pasta, you told me you hate red sauce. What do you expect from me? I’m an alchemist, not a cook.” Wynn smiled at her long-time companion as she sat across the table from her, sipping her coffee.

            “I think it’s the mushrooms. I really hate mushrooms.” Alex frowned at her cup, then looked across at Wynn’s coffee with longing.

            “Well, I can’t do anything about that, they’re the main ingredient. Maybe if you drank it faster, it wouldn’t be so bad.” Wynn pointedly picked up her coffee and sipped from it, obviously enjoying it.

            Alex narrowed her eyes at her. “Seriously?”

            “My love, torturing you once a year has been one of my greatest joys.” She winked. “Drink up.”

            Alex grumbled and muttered under her breath something that sounded like, “Insolent cur,” but did as told.

            Wynn laughed. “I think these days the proper term is ‘bitch’.”

            “No, that’s too harsh. Insolent cur sounds better. Keeps me in touch with my roots.” Alex reached across the table and took Wynn’s hand in hers. “No matter how much I hate this, and believe me when I say I hate this concoction with every fiber of my being, I will drink it gladly if it means I get to spend another year with you.”

            “Happy birthday, my love.” They shared a smile before they were interrupted by the buzzing of Wynn’s phone, which beat a dull rhythm against the wooden surface of the kitchen table. Wynn sighed and let go of her lover’s hand to pick up the phone and check her message.

            “What foul, odious beast has the audacity to interrupt us?” Alex growled.

            Wynn, distracted by the message on her screen, didn’t answer directly. Instead, she stood up abruptly and declared, “Dammit, I’m late for a department meeting. I have to go. That was Todd reminding me.” She took another gulp of her coffee before setting the cup in the sink. “Love you sweety. I’ll see you tonight.” She gave Alex a quick peck on the lips before racing out of the room.

            Alex barely got in her, “Love you too,” before Wynn was gone. That had been happening more and more lately, ever since Todd had become Chair of the chemistry department at the university where Wynn worked, a position which should have been Wynn’s as she had the seniority, but she didn’t want the responsibility, she’d said. She’d rather spend her time in her lab or in the classroom, teaching, then being, what she referred to as “a paper pushing figurehead who wasted people’s time with useless meetings and, instead of being an advocate for the faculty, was just a shill for the college president.” The more Alex knew of Todd, the less the liked the man, but department politics were just a part of the job, she was told, so she felt it was wise to stay out of it.

            Staring down at her half-full mug of mushroom-flavored herbal wretchedness, Alex shrugged, then decided to down the rest like a shot of whiskey. Upon doing so, she immediately started coughing and gagging, but it stayed down, miracle of miracles. “Damn. Never gets better.” She took the cup to the sink, where she washed out both cups and put them in the drying rack. She really wanted something to wash down the vile concoction, a cup of coffee, maybe, but she wasn’t allowed even a sip of water for an hour after drinking her yearly herbal cocktail. She had to give it time to work its magic. She was always tempted to cheat and just have a sip of water or suck on a lemon or something, anything would taste better, but she didn’t want to risk it. That foul drink allowed her to stay by her lady’s side for eternity. At least she didn’t have to drink it every day. If so, she might have to rethink this whole “happily ever after” thing.

            Major task of the day accomplished, Alex left the kitchen and went into the living room to retrieve her leather jacket from the entryway closet. On her way through the living room, she passed the wall of pictures that Wynn had so painstakingly kept up with through the years, telling visitors that the people in the photos were long-dead relatives of theirs. Very few knew the truth, as a few of the friends they had made throughout the years had similar walls of their own. In one sepia photograph stood a proud Alex, in full Union uniform, sitting atop her Calvary stead, rifle resting across her lap, giving the photographer the sternest look she could. Another showed her as one amongst the thousand plus soldiers who made up the Rough Riders the day they took San Juan Hill. She, along with the rest of them, had been pissed that, despite them volunteering for calvary duty, they were not sent their horses while in Cuba and were forced to walk everywhere. There was a picture of her from almost every American war, in each she was dressed as a man and had been taken for such, just one of many women who had done so during the young nation’s early years.

            Alex donned her leather jacket to stave off the cold midwestern day, making sure to check the mirror on the back of the closet door to make sure her shoulder spikes were not showing. Her hair, which was longer these days than it had ever been, fell past her collar a few inches, was full of dark brown curls. Every fifty years or so she got a wild idea to grow her hair out again, and would keep it for a few decades before she remembered she actually kind of hated it, and chop it off to just below her ears, usually slicking it back in some fashion or another, a style both she and Wynn preferred.

            Wynn never tried to talk her out of changing her hair, however, partly because she knew she wouldn’t keep it that way, and partly because Wynn was never one to do anything that would get in the way of Alex’s happiness. Over the years of their long relationship together, they had learned that the best way to remain happy was to stay out of each other’s way but to always be there to catch each other after a bad day or a bad haircut, whichever the case may be. They had been through a lot together, and Alex wouldn’t change it for the world. She was grateful that Wynn wanted to keep her with her this long. She could just have easily stopped mixing that vile concoction every year, but she never once failed to brew it up. Despite her making it more than five hundred years straight, Wynn still hadn’t come up with a good tasting recipe.

            Wynn was a skilled alchemist, the best in her field, in fact. More than once she had said, “I’d better be, I’ve gone to all the top schools. All of them.” And it was true. Alongside Alex’s various war photos were photos of Wynn in cap and gown from Oxford, Harvard, MIT, CalTech, and CalPoly, along with another wall just for her various degrees. Along with her degrees in every area of chemistry, there was also a degree in naturopathic medicine and a picture of Wynn alongside a Native American medicine man who had let her apprentice with him for many years. Most of the cures for the diseases which had plagued mankind had come from her research, but she had always worked with other scientists, making sure they received the credit in order to maintain her low profile. Instead, she published research which expanded on the discoveries of her colleagues, often pointing out their flaws.

            Alex grabbed her keys off the hook by the door and headed out into the chill day. She smiled when she saw her current stead: a white 1965 Shelby GT with blue rally stripes on the roof and hood. She had been there the day it rolled off the line in Detroit. It had made her weep, it was so magnificent. Her first drive in the beast was from Detroit to Chicago to pick up Wynn, who had been giving a lecture at the University of Chicago. It had only taken her three hours to drive the nearly three hundred miles. It was all she could do to keep the car under a hundred, as she had wanted to push it to the floor and see what 164 miles an hour actually felt like, but she resisted. Now, the car was over fifty years old and still going strong.

            It was just a ten-minute drive from their house in the north Chicago suburbs to her blacksmith shop, where she now spent her days making anything one could possibly think of out of metal. The bread and butter of her business was making lawn art for rich people who wanted to show off how cool they were because they could say, “My blacksmith made that,” as if she was their personal metalworker on retainer, and not an artist. Her pride and joy, however, were swords. She had many on display in the shop and they were always her biggest sellers at art shows and medieval fairs, where no one there realized she was the real deal and that her sword and her clothing were the genuine article. Instead, she was often complemented on how authentic she looked, or criticized by some drunk college kid for being a woman in armor, her armor no less, and told that wasn’t true to the time period, as if he would know.

            She flipped on the lights before turning the closed sign around, then went behind the front counter to switch on the computer in order to check her company email. She had three new orders that morning, one for an art piece, with the instruction, “Something that could fit on an entry table or something,” which made her roll her eyes. Then, there was an order for a broadsword and one for custom silverware. She worked up her estimates for each and mailed the customers back, making sure to send the silverware guy pictures of the patterns she had done before, hoping none of them decided they didn’t want to go through with it once they saw her prices, but that invariably happened at least once a day. People didn’t seem to realize or care how much work and skill went into custom made anything these days, and they sure as hell didn’t want to pay for it.

            After the last estimate was sent out, Alex looked up at the clock and smiled. An hour had passed. She could finally have coffee. She kept a container of her favorite beans in the small kitchenette in the back of the shop, along with a grinder, a French press, a single serve coffee maker, and part of her massive coffee mug collection that she had amassed over the years. She stood in front of them now, deciding between one with the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier and a metal one she had made herself that reminded her of the ones from days of old. She decided on the latter, as it fit in better with the shop, then proceeded to use the single serve machine, not having the patience to wait four minutes for the French press.

            Two minutes later, steaming mug in hand, she went back to the shop and checked her email again, and noticed that the silverware customer has said yes and picked out the pattern he liked best. Alex stood up from her computer, making sure to take her coffee with her, and went to her worktable to start hammering out the silverware from bars of sterling silver.

            It had taken awhile for her to figure out that blacksmithing was what she wanted to do. After several hundred years as a soldier, she had finally grown tired of fighting, and for the last fifty years had been honing her craft. She had opted out of Vietnam and all the Middle Eastern wars, preferring to stay stateside and hold Wynn close, grateful that she was still able to do so. When she and Wynn had first come to the new country, after the War of 1812, she had been eager to help the new nation defend itself, and even believed in Manifest Destiny, but when the Civil War broke out thirteen years later, she had told Wynn she could not sit idly by while people were being kept as slaves. Wynn had agreed, and had volunteered her time, along with many other women, to help the wounded, praying that Alex would never be among them.

            She took a break to refill her coffee. That’s when she noticed she had a text from Wynn: Sorry I had to rush out on you this morning. And all for a meeting that could have been an email. I’ll make it up to you, I promise. Love you, sweety.

Alex could feel the smile on her face. Even after all these years, the woman could still melt her heart with just a few words. She quickly typed back, Want me to have a talk with Todd? I think I can convince him to stop wasting your time. And, I look forward to it.

The quick reply from Wynn read: I know what “talk to” means, at ease, soldier. I’ll let you know, though. Kiss.

Alex shook her head and replaced her phone in her pocket, then proceeded with her refill before heading back to work. Next month would be their 545th anniversary, and she was still trying to figure out what to do for it. It got harder every year, as she was running out of ways to impress her. Although, Wynn insisted that Alex didn’t have to do anything special, that just being together was enough, Alex still felt that it was her duty to always come up with something wonderful to surprise her. They loved traveling, and often revisited their favorite places, admiring or occasionally saddened by the changes which time had wrought. Alex had been thinking that maybe this year they would return to the country of their birth, Ireland, and explore that vast green island.

She couldn’t remember exactly had long it’d been since they’d last seen it. There had been so much unrest in her home country, it often made going back equal parts dangerous and sad, though Wynn kept insisting that it wasn’t any worse than anywhere else, especially not lately. That didn’t make it any better. Though she had trouble remembering the last time she had seen the Isle, she could still remember vividly the first time she had seen Wynn.

That was the first time she had disguised herself as a man in order to find work. She had taken to following around a man named Niall, a soldier of fortune, who didn’t know she was a female. They had been on their way to ask a king if he would hire them on for his army, when they had come across a beautiful blond lass gathering herbs in the woods not far from the castle. Niall had stopped the horses to engage her in conversation, pretending to ask directions to the castle. She had seen through his ruse, however, and had simply told him to keep on the path. She hadn’t been able to take her eyes off Alex, however, and even blushed when Alex said hello. There was no time for small talk, however, as once he realized that his young companion had caught her eye, Niall had spurred on his horse and continued on, forcing Alex to follow. It was only later, at the castle, that they learned the young woman was the princess.

It wasn’t long before the princess and Alex started spending more and more time together, soon falling in love. After they had declared their love for each other, Wynn had revealed the family secret: that she and her father were immortal, due to a strange family trait they didn’t understand. It would be several hundred years before they were able to put words to their condition and realize their immortality was due to a genetic mutation that had been in Wynn’s family for several generations before she and Alex ever met. Once she and Alex had decided they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together, Wynn worked feverishly trying to find a way to keep her lover by her side, until finally, after twenty years of happiness together, she had been able to come up with the mushroom and herb concoction for anti-aging that did far more than just smooth out wrinkles.

Alex would have lost track of the time, had she not set an alarm in the shop, which was attached to an old-fashioned school recess bell. It told her it was time to stop working and head home. She had to shower and change before she met Wynn on campus to go out for her birthday dinner. Birthday parties had long since lost their appeal. Once you’ve had a few hundred of them, another party is the last thing you want. Instead, they always spent their birthdays with only each other, sometimes just doing a quiet evening out, or an even quieter evening in. They had always preferred each other’s company to anyone else’s anyway.

Alex threw her safety glasses onto her worktable and went to turn off the computer. If there were more emails they could wait until tomorrow. She was done with this day. She smelled like the shop, and no matter how often Wynn told her she kinda liked it, Alex thought she was just being nice. Either way, it was not how she wanted to smell on their date. Tonight they were going to her favorite Greek place for gyros, nothing fancy, but the best gyros this far out from the city.

She turned out the lights then flipped the sign to closed, locking the door behind her. She tried not to speed on the quick drive home, promising herself that this coming weekend she would take the car out on the backroads, maybe take a short road trip, just to get the car out of the city and opened up.

After a quick shower, she stood dressed in the tight black jeans Wynn liked seeing her in, along with a light blue button up. Once she rolled up the sleeves, half-assedly, she put on the leather bracelet Wynn had given her for their 500th anniversary, bent down to cuff her jeans over her engineer boots, patted her right front pocket to make sure the knife she always carried was there and she was ready to roll.

Thanks to the extra parking pass Wynn had purchased for her years ago, she was able to pull up next to Wynn’s old Jeep in the faculty parking lot closest to the chemistry building. She enjoyed the stares the car always seemed to get, especially from older men, many of whom would often talk her ear off about the cars they owned or wish they did. Tonight there were no old men about, but a few gray-haired professors nodded at her as their eyes took in the car. Some of them she recognized as colleagues of Wynn’s whom she’d either met because she was on campus so often, or at some faculty party Wynn invariably dragged her to at least once a year. None of them ever said anything to her if she was alone, however, which she was absolutely fine with.

After going down several hallways and making several turns, a path she knew well, Alex came to Wynn’s office door, which was ajar. She was about to go in, when she heard talking and realized Todd was in there with her. She decided to give them a few minutes, in case they were discussing something important.

“What do you have to do that’s more important?”

“First of all, I told you earlier that it’s Alex’s birthday tonight, but more importantly the answer’s no. It will always be no, so you can stop asking.”

Todd sighed. “I don’t see why you have to be this obstinate.”

“And I don’t see why you have to be this much of an asshole, but here we are.”

Alex perked up. She wasn’t sure what was happening yet, but she recognized the note of warning in her lover’s voice and went on instant alert. It didn’t seem as if Todd was getting the message, however. Alex decided to give it another minute, wait and see if her services were needed. No matter how much Wynn loved her protectiveness, she also knew that if she went charging ahead when Wynn clearly had things under control, she would never hear the end of it. Her girl may have been a princess, but she was no shrinking violet.

“Gwendolyn, Gwendolyn, you think that bothers me, but it doesn’t. I’ve been called worse.”

“Cliffs Notes for you, Todd: I’m gay, I’m happily married, and my name’s not Gwendolyn. Oh, and I’m leaving.”

Alex heard Wynn’s chair slide back and the rustle of papers, and tried to stifle her laughter, thinking, “That’s my girl.”

Then, “Let go of my wrist, you bastard!”

Alex didn’t wait to hear more. She quickly pulled the knife out of her pocket and pushed the button on the side, releasing the five-inch stiletto blade, which she wasn’t legally supposed to carry, and charged into Wynn’s office startling Wynn and Todd both. The smile Wynn gave her was enough to know she wasn’t upset with her for barging in, while the look on Todd’s face went from surprise to blanched-faced fear. “You heard her, let go.” Alex stepped closer, making sure he saw the blade in her hand.

He saw the knife, alright, because his eyes widened and he quickly let go of Wynn’s wrist and sat back in the chair. “Hey, Alex. Happy birthday.”

Wynn rolled her eyes and took a step towards Alex. “You need to leave, Todd.”

Todd slowly stood, being careful of the blade, which seemed to be getting closer to him. “Can you put that away? This is not the place for that. I’d hate to have to call campus security.”

Alex took half a step forward and Todd backed into the desk. “Go ahead and call them. When you do, make sure to tell them you were about to assault a woman.”

“Assault? No, no, no, there’s just been a misunderstanding. I wasn’t going to assault anyone. Maybe, if you weren’t such a Neanderthal, you would understand the difference between simple conversation and assault,” Todd smirked.

Still holding her ground, Alex turned to Wynn, “Do you want to kill him or should I?”

Wynn sighed as if greatly inconvenienced, and replied, “I vote neither. We do have dinner reservations.”

Alex nodded, as if considering Wynn’s words. “You make a good point.”

“You ladies are just being ridiculous. If you’ll excuse me.” Todd made to leave Wynn’s office, but Alex blocked the doorway for a moment, narrowing her eyes at him in a menacing fashion before finally moving out of his way.

Before he could get too far down the hallway, Wynn called out, “Oh, Todd?”

“Yes?”

“I will be going to HR in the morning, just so you know.” Wynn declared.

“Is that supposed to scare me?”

“No, that’s my job,” Alex growled.

“Come along, love, I’ll finish this tomorrow.” Wynn looped her arm in Alex’s once they were both in the hall and she had locked up her office.

Todd finally walked off, trying to pretend as if what they had just said didn’t bother him.

Once it was just them in the hallway, Alex put the knife away and asked, “What reservations? I thought we were going to the Greek place?”

Instead of answering, Wynn just laughed and said, “I love you, you goofball. You will always be my knight in shining armor, whether I need one or not. Happy birthday, my love.” She placed a more intimate kiss on Alex’s lips than she had given her that morning, then they left the building arm in arm.

 

I Did a Thing!

Besides the novels and short stories I currently have published, I write in many different genres. One of them is poetry. I just published a slim volume of some of my best poems, and you can get your own copy from Amazon.

From the author of the Prairieland State series of lesbian romance novels, comes their first book of poetry. Inside this slim volume you will find poems about love, friendship, identity and queerness, as well as loss, hope, and forgiveness. There’s also one or two humor pieces to lighten the mood.

Title Change

Just a quick announcement that my short story, “Earning Her Wings,” which is set to appear in the anthology, “Silk and Leather: Lesbian Erotica with an Edge,” which comes out in April 2020 has a new title. The new title of the short story is “The Layover.” The title of the anthology is still the same. It’s currently up for preorder on Amazon.

https://www.amazon

This Just In!

My short story, “Earning Her Wings,” will appear in the Bold Strokes Books BDSM anthology, “Silk and Leather,” which is due out in April 2020. You can preorder through Amazon now if you wish.

Hiatus

The blog is going on indefinite hiatus, as I work on other projects. My other job is also picking up, which is good, but it makes it difficult to have the time needed for the blog. I hope to be able to do these again in about a month, we will see. I will keep you posted.

Also, keep checking back for publication announcements, which I will update when they happen. I will have something to announce very soon, as soon as the publisher gets back to me on the publications date. Keep checking in. Happy Sunday. 🙂

‘Tis But thy Name that is My Enemy*

               This past week, I was finally able to decide something about myself that I have been struggling with for years. I’m changing my name. The name I have chosen, Samuel McAuliff, requires some explanation, as does the reasons for the change. I will say here what I said to my friends when I told them: I am not transitioning to male, but I will be switching to “they/them/their” pronouns. And, embracing the term “gender neutral” as a term that applies to me.

               I have never felt inclined towards one gender or another, which is why I won’t be transitioning to male. If I were to flip to male pronouns and refer to myself as a man, it would be just as much a lie as it is when I say I’m a woman. Even before I had come to terms with this realization, I’ve always known that I’m a “somewhere in between” kind of person, in more areas than gender. Ask me about a topic, and though I will lean to the left of any given issue, I will also clearly see the middle ground. And that’s what my gender and my gender presentation has always been: the neutral middle ground.

               Every time I’m in a waiting room and hear my birth name called, I cringe and grudgingly admit that I am the one they just called. Every time I must fill out a form and check “F”, I hesitate. Always. I look hopefully to see if, in this enlightened age, someone will have finally seen fit to include a third option. It could say “other”, it could be fill in the blank, just something that allows those of us who are in the middle or on the margins to be able to stand up and be counted in the way we feel the most comfortable. So that I wouldn’t feel as if I just lied to my doctor or a future employer or anyone else who wants me to make that arbitrary choice. But, they haven’t, and I choose “female,” and feel like a fraud.

               This is what the DSM-5 has to say about gender dysphoria:

For a person to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, there must be a marked difference between the individual’s expressed/experienced gender and the gender others would assign him or her, and it must continue for at least six months. In children, the desire to be of the other gender must be present and verbalized. This condition causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Nope, I’m not in there either. There is no room for gender neutral or non-binary folks in that definition. The APA, though they have made great strides in their care and treatment of gay and trans folks, is still, as usual, behind the times. They still see the world through a hetero-normative lens, at least officially.

               So, how are we, those who don’t fit in the prefabricated, carved out niches, supposed to find our place? Simple: we forge ahead and make our own way. We tell you the names and pronouns we have chosen and ask you to use them. If you love and respect us, you will.

               The name I have chosen, like all who change their name (trans or otherwise) has meaning to me. It’s not a name that my parents picked, which I’ve never related to. That name has meaning to them. My first name that they had chosen, depending on who you ask, my mother or her brother, Vic, came with a story. The way my mother always told the story, she had been set to name me after her baby sister, Penny Sue, but then my six-year-old brother asked her to name the baby after a neighbor girl he had a crush on. My uncle claims that I was named for the woman he was dating at the time. Since my mother’s story is cuter and she’s not around to ask, I’ve chosen to believe her story as the right one. My middle name, there is no mystery, it was my paternal grandmother’s first name. It’s a bit of a mouthful, a bit old-fashioned, and not representative of me at all. Over the last several years, while I’ve been contemplating what to do about my name and what I would change it to, two names kept recurring to me: Samuel and Maxwell. So, that’s where I’ve landed, Samuel Maxwell. I know what you might be thinking, they’re both male names and I clearly said I’m not a male. Simple answer: I like them. They are just words we have all collectively decided to use as names. They, like the rest of us, were assigned a gender they didn’t ask for. For my last name, I have chosen McAulliff. I have my reasons. It was the maiden name of my paternal grandmother, the one whose name I have as a middle name. It is also the side of our family with the most Irish heritage, which is appealing to me, as I’ve always identified more with that side of my heritage. Plus, since I am planning to divest myself of her first name, taking her maiden name is the least I can do to pay homage to the woman I have come to terms with that I am the most alike.

               My grandmother was a formidable woman, even though her stature didn’t bear that out. She was a tavern owner since before I was born, and could and did throw grown, drunken men out on their ear if they misbehaved in her bar. More to the point, she could make them contrite and apologetic. She had a keen, biting sense of humor. She saw the humor in everything and would often use her sarcastic humor against people, usually to the point where they weren’t always aware, they had just been made fun of. Every time she’d crack wise against someone else, she would catch my eye and wink, drawing me into the joke. Of course, just because she could see in me a fellow conspirator, that didn’t mean I was immune from her barbs. This is a behavior I have often engaged in myself as an adult, but it took me forever to realize that I am doing the same things she did.

               I’m not ready to run down to the courthouse and change it legally, not yet. I’m going to follow the same protocol that a trans person follows when they change their name: I’m going to use it for a year and see how it feels. If it continues to feel right, then I will make the appointment. Although, I have to say, I used it for the first time publicly a few nights ago at the writer’s open mic I go to. They accepted this change without question and when they called me by my chosen name it felt more right than the one I’ve been called for the past forty-six years. As my best friend later said, “That’s not surprising at all. You’ve always known you weren’t a Tammy.” She’s not wrong.

  • Title is a reference to Romeo and Juliet, Act II Scene II, Juliet’s “What’s in a name?” speech.

Chasing Windmills and Rooting for Underdogs

Though I started college as an English major, with the intent of honing my writing skills and someday making my living as a writer, I did not finish my undergrad in that major. Instead, I had grown frustrated with my department (not the last time in my entire college career I would do so, see grad school) and decided, as they say in the world of drama, to go off book. In this case, I ended up designing my own major, comprising elements from English, psychology, and speech communications. All to avoid one man. I was successful in this venture and have not regretted the education I left there with. However, it did leave me with some holes in my reading, which I have only recently started to rectify. I recently finished Thoreau’s Walden, which, if you’re a reader of this blog, you were aware that I wrote on it a few times. Yesterday I picked up Don Quixote for the first time. My goal is to have it halfway completed by the end of the day. So, while I take a break from reading, I thought I would go ahead and write up this week’s blog.

            Having never read the story before, I wasn’t sure what to expect, though it has become such a part of popular culture that I knew of fighting windmills and that the musical, (which I’ve never seen) Man of La Mancha was based on the story. That’s really it. What I couldn’t have known was that Don Quixote is a slapstick comedy, on par with anything Mel Brooks has ever done. There’re witty asides, toilet humor, pratfalls, and one loyal squire who occasionally makes sport of his coocoo for Cocoa Puffs master. It has it all. I have laughed out loud more times than I care to admit over a story written over three hundred years ago. But, there’s more to the book than that, there are definite serious elements.

            For those who haven’t read it, the story begins by telling us that a middle-aged country gentlemen, who spends all his time reading books about knights of yore and that of chivalry, has gone mad with all this reading, and gone off in search of adventure after renaming himself Don Quixote of La Mancha, with the intent to fight for his lady fair (who has no idea she is thus regarded), a comely lass from a nearby village, whom he renames Dulcinea. Upon his adventures, he mistakes inns for castles, windmills for dragons, and sheep for opposing armies. These things are used for comedic effect, which is done quite well. At different times in history, the story has been read in different lights, depending upon the time. At the time I’m reading it, I see the story, though hilarious, also from a different angle. Don Quixote’s madness is seen as something to be made fun of, and the idea that one could go mad from too much reading amuses me and makes sense, as it should to anyone pursuing higher education.

            However, seen from a different angle, one could see the loyal knight’s misadventures as a manifestation of schizophrenic behavior, or, given his age, simply dementia. Were the novel written today, our hapless hero may well have been seen as a tragic hero, instead of one to simply laugh and point fingers at. But, reading the novel this way is to fall into what we call in academia, historical bias. Meaning, to read a work written a long time ago through the lenses of current mores and social sensibilities.  It is something I and my fellow grad school classmates received more than one lecture against.

            Also, this novel did something way ahead of its time: it made a stand for women’s independence in the form of Marcella the shepherd, beloved of Chrysostom, who did not return his feelings. Her spurning his love was seen as a betrayal, by Chrysostom, as well as by his male comrades, especially when, out of grief, he took his own life. When the men tried to turn on Marcella in defense of their fallen brother, she turned the tables on them and gave her own sermon on the mount, with the subject being women’s independence. She gave such a stirring speech, I had to read it out loud. It is so on point with today’s mindset, that I could hear the sass in her voice and see the side to side head bod each time she made her case. The points she brought up were such as, why should she, even after she told a man she wasn’t interested in him,  be responsible for whatever stupid thing he did in her name? Also, it was her contention that she just wanted to be left in peace, though the men didn’t seem to care about that. “I was born free and, so that I might live free, I chose the solitude of the fields…My life is free and I do not wish to be subject to the will of another person. I neither love nor hate anyone. I do not deceive this man nor entice that man. nor do I jest with one man or amuse myself with another.” Then, after saying a bit more about how the forests and God’s creation was more than enough for her, she dropped the proverbial mic and turned her back on the men and went back into the forest. Once she was gone, Don Quixote stood up for her right to do as she pleased, and thus declared her the most virtuous of all. However, the other men didn’t pay the crazy man any heed, as they had just buried their brother and needed someone to blame. All that said, I was cheering Marcella’s “go girl” speech the whole time. It’s a rousing moment for women everywhere. It is my hope that Marcella got her wish and was able to live out the rest of her days alone in the forest, with nothing but nature surrounding her, abiding by her will alone.

            Over the next few days as I finish this novel, I’m not sure what ending awaits Don Quixote. I’ve promised myself not to Google it ahead of time. Will he eventually find a real enemy to slay, and actually win a fight? Will he win the heart of Dulcinea, whose real name is Aldonza Lorenzo? Or will his niece and the town priest, who have already burned most of his books and sealed off the rest in his study, succeed in breaking his spirit and turning him into just the retched old man who has lost his wits, as they perceive him to be? I am anxious to find out. I’m rooting for him, as Don Quixote, nee Alonso Quixano, is the ultimate underdog we all want to succeed.

The Week I Share My Homework

What can I say? It’s been a busy week. And next week is stacking up to be just as bad. What that means is I was brain dead when it came time to come up with a blog post this week. So, I decided to get into the Way Way Back Machine, and where I came out was February, 2012. It was a simpler time then. There was a sane, black man in the White House, and I was attending The University of Oklahoma in pursuit of my second masters degree. With that in mind, what follows was a weekly class assignment for one of my feminism classes. No, I was not a feminism major, but you might say it was a minor. But, that part’s boring. Every week we were tasked with writing reports on the week’s reading. I chose this particular one because I’ve always liked the Virginia Woolf quote. And because, writing. Good luck next week, there might be new material then. Only time will tell.

…”give her a room of her own and five hundred a year, let her speak her mind and leave out half that she now puts in, and she will write a better book one of these days” (Woolf, 1929)[i].  Though not quite as forthright as Helene Cixous in The Laugh of the Medusa but the point is the same:  leave women alone and let them write.  Cixous points out that often women don’t write because they don’t feel that their writing is good enough but she calls upon women to write in order that their voices be heard in this phallocentric world. 

The work is quite clearly a call to arms, so to speak, to all women to not be afraid of their creativity, whatever way that creativity expresses itself.  Cixous uses sexual metaphors repeatedly to express her point.  She equates writing in secret with masturbation, which, in a way, it is.  It is a way of expressing yourself, of releasing pent-up feelings, of letting yourself go.  Cixous wants women to no longer be afraid of their bodies or their minds.  She wants women to follow whatever desires they have because if they don’t no one is going to do it for them.  The only way to survive in this man’s world is to finally speak out and be heard.  Cixous is trying to rouse women to action with her stirring words.  It’s a pep talk of phallic proportions. 

I think the comparison to Woolf is an accurate one, as Woolf also wanted women to write.  She wanted women to write the works of genius she knew they were capable of and wanted women to know they had permission to do so.  But her main point was that in order to create these works of genius women needed privacy and security, two things women often lacked.  She also wanted women to appreciate the works of those who came before.  She extolled women to pay homage to their foremothers for having the courage to write and pave the way.[ii]  Cixous, however, mainly just wanted women to not let anyone hold them back.  She knew that woman was her own worst enemy. 


[i]

Woolf, V. (1929). A Room of One’s Own. San Diego: Harcourt Brace and Company.

[ii] “Jane Austen should have laid a wreath upon the grave of Fanny Burney, George Eliot done homage to the robust shade of Eliza Carter…All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the grave of Aphra Behn, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds” (Woolf, 1929).

Open Letter to Generation Z

            I couple nights ago I attended a writer’s open mic at a local café. It was sponsored by the local university and the venue is just a block off campus. Not a part of town I go to often and I had never been to that café before, but I had some idea of what to expect: college kids. And that’s who was there, a whole gaggle of them. I arrived early and began scoping out the crowd, trying to decide if I was going to sign up to read my work or not. I wasn’t sure how I, a forty-six year old butch lesbian, or my work, autobiographical fiction, would play with the crowd. I was relieved when a friend in my age range showed up and he confirmed that he was going to read, also autobiographical prose. So, I said the hell with it and put my name on the list.

            As before any event wherein I speak in front of people, I started to get a little nervous, but not nearly as nervous as I used to. College helped cure the larger part of my jitters by constantly having me give presentations of one type or another. I’ve done book reports, persuasive speeches, research presentations, debates, two theses defenses (one in front of a theater audience), and book readings of my own work. But, there were still some nerves. It was a new crowd to me, plus I was literally twice their age. I was worried that my work wouldn’t be relatable to them, and, to be fair, they generally weren’t my target audience, though I’d be happy to count them as such. So, I had some concerns.

            I contemplated texting a writer friend of mine to get her advice, sort of a WWAD (What Would April Do?) moment. Then, I realized what she would do, and that is that she would tell me to go for it. I’m sure she would have said something encouraging also, a textual pat on the back. With that in mind, I stood up to read my piece, trying to keep my voice from shaking. I found it difficult to make eye contact with the audience until the very end, where the text was written in such a way that it was more poignant to do so, because, though I had practiced, I didn’t have it memorized. That being said, the audience reacted the way I had hoped they would by laughing in the right places, knowing nods back and forth when I read something that they related to, and the proverbial snaps of approval.

            Granted, the applause and snaps are expected out of politeness, as they are a supportive group, but for me it was the laughs and knowing nods that did it. It wasn’t a polite reaction, it was a connection with the work, even if it was for a moment, one line maybe. Something I had written was relatable to them, and that was encouragement enough for me.  

            I was inspired to write the following poem, which I plan to read at the next open mic.

Open Letter to Gen. Z

Upon our last meeting, I was ruminating on our age difference,

and wondered if there was something, I could share with you,

pass on, as it were, considering my advanced years.

After thinking on it some time, I concluded

that anything I would have to say would be outdated

at best and condescending at worst. So, I almost chucked

it all, but I’m not a quitter, so I figured I’d give it the ol’

college try. College try, that’s just something we use to say.

As I went through my vast rolodex of topics I could talk about—

rolodex, that’s this thing that use to sit on desks and hold information—

like a paper version of Google. Anyway, as I was going through my mental

notes, I wondered what wisdom I could pass on to you—

I figured the best course of action would be to go from my own experience

and pass on some hard-learned truths.

Okay, here goes:

don’t fuck someone because they have a nice smile,

and definitely don’t marry them and let them ruin your credit.

Don’t go for style, go for substance, because pretty

doesn’t last but substance will stand by you.

Don’t apply for a job if you don’t understand what the qualifications mean,

and don’t turn your nose up taking a job you didn’t go to school for

because your landlord won’t give two shits that you aced all your English classes.

Remember what it’s like to be poor so that you don’t become an asshole

in your forties who thinks only slackers are on welfare and the homeless lack motivation.

March, and protest, and yell, and make your voices heard and do not go gentle into that good night…rage against the dying of the planet and all the bullshit and fuckery

that the generations before you have left you with.

Someone has to save this place.

Considering your inheritance, it’s amazing that your generation is so peaceful. But I understand.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired. I’m tired of the dying, and I’m tired of the hate.

I’m tired of the lying and I’m tired of wondering how many people will die today.

So, I leave you with this: good luck. We’re counting on you. No pressure.

After all, how worse could it get?