Much Ado About North: Another Theory on the True Authorship of Shakespeare’s Plays

I spent the majority of the weekend finishing Michael Blanding’s North by Shakespeare: A Rogue Scholar’s Quest for the Truth Behind the Bard’s Work. Because I’m cool like that. If you’re unfamiliar with the name Michael Blanding, as was I when I first picked up this tome, Blanding, a journalist by trade, whose articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe Magazine, and Slate, among others, was the man behind The Map Thief: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps; as well as The Coke Machine: The Dirty Truth Behind the World’s Favorite Soft Drink. And if those lengthy titles don’t tell you he’s also an academic, who has taught writing at several big-name universities, nothing else will. That said, you may be wondering, what qualifies him to do a deep dive on the true authorship of Shakespeare’s plays? To quote Lord Helmet, “Absolutely nothing.” But Blanding’s not the one doing that research. Dennis McCarthy is. In North by Shakespeare Blanding is chronicling McCarthy’s journey.

And who is Dennis McCarthy, you may be wondering. Don’t worry, you’re not the first to ask, though you’ve probably asked it with less of a sneer than the Shakespearean scholars have over the years. Dennis McCarthy is a college dropout polymath (someone with an expert knowledge of a wide variety of topics) who had previously spent many years of his life researching a subject known as ”biogeography”, basically, the study of why we see animals and plants in the places we see them. That research culminated in a book called, Here Be Dragons: How the Study of Animal and Plant Distribution Revolutionized Our Views of Life and Earth. They should have given him a college degree just for that very academic title. Anyway, once McCarthy finished with that topic, he quickly moved on to (became obsessed with) the true authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. McCarthy’s premise is that Will’s plays were actually written by a man named Sir Thomas North, a man who was sort of a contemporary of Shakespeare’s, though North was thirty years Shakespeare’s senior, and Shakespeare outlived him by twelve years. North was known as a translator, most notably for translating Plutarch’s Parallel Lives into English. North’s work has been known to Shakespeare scholars for years as source material for Will’s plays, one of many such author’s that the Bard borrowed/stole from, depending on your opinion. However, McCarthy went further to say that North was the true author of most of the plays we now attribute to Shakespeare, basically accusing Shakespeare of plagiarism, not that he’s the first to do that.

Given the nature of how the world came to know about Shakespeare, it’s no wonder that the question of the true authorship has been fraught with conspiracy theories and numerous other authors have been put forth as having been the ‘real’ writer. Though I am far from a Shakespeare scholar, I’ve also had my doubts. I, however, was not motivated by the same bias as most of those doubters have been, by the idea that someone with Shakespeare’s lackluster education, a glover’s son, could possibly be smart enough. No, my doubts came upon learning how the plays were collected. For those who haven’t heard the story, during Shakespeare’s lifetime no plays were published as being attributed to him. The first folio (the first gathering together of his plays in book form) was done posthumously by two actors from the theatre troupe he acted with. They gathered together what they could find from the notes left behind, usually scripts used during the production of said plays, and cobbled together the folio, not attributing dates to any of them, forcing later scholars to take their best educated guess. Needless to say, this story gave me pause, but didn’t make me dismiss the idea whole cloth that Shakespeare was the writer of all the plays attributed to him, and possibly more that haven’t been found. Rather, it made me think that Shakespeare, along with other actors in his troupe, could have all had a hand in writing them. Why the actors compiling the folio would attribute them all to one man is anyone’s guess. Maybe he did write the bulk of them, or they were thinking any royalties (if that was even a thing back then) should go to his family. Who knows?

I was never of the “not educated enough” crowd who snobbishly thought Shakespeare couldn’t have been smart enough to write them. One would think that being a self-educated college dropout would give McCarthy more sympathy than most on this matter, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. North was a gentleman’s son, the family had a history of service and favor with Queen Elizabeth I, and North was well traveled. All things Shakespeare was not. McCarthy makes a compelling case for North by pointing out all the ways North was more qualified to write on the subjects Shakespeare wrote about, considering his traveling, his soldering, North’s own books, which scholars agree that Shakespeare used as source material. Where McCarthy loses me is his constant insistence of shoehorning in details of North’s life with scenes from the plays, using his theories as proof that North is the true author. Most of which is supposition based on McCarthy’s flights of fancy. Reading McCarthy’s theories was like listening to those Christians who sweep aside things they have no explanation for with the blanket statement of, “God works in mysterious ways.” And McCarthy is a true believer in North’s divinity, with a zealot’s confirmation bias firmly in tow.

The other thing that makes me skeptical is McCarthy’s method of proof: he used an open source plagiarism software to compare North’s work with Shakespeare, looking for recurring phrases in common that couldn’t be found in other sources from the same period. Now, I have never used plagiarism software so I can’t speak to its accuracy, but at best, it comes across like the lie detector of literary research: inadmissible at best. Like many of the peer reviewers who reviewed the articles McCarthy tried to publish about his work, I’m skeptical of the search parameters used to detect these similarities in the texts, agreeing that they are too broad. Also, though I fully believe that you can become well-educated without the benefit of college, as McCarthy has, it takes years of linguistics study to be able to find all the nuisances of commonly used phrases from one text to another, and I just don’t believe McCarthy is qualified to do so, despite his wide breath of knowledge. This is why we don’t let people who haven’t been to medical school, but have read a lot of books about medicine, operate on us. Does this mean that I too am falling into the trap of thinking someone with a lackluster education isn’t qualified to do something? Yes it does. Could I be wrong? Sure I could. But am I going to change my mind? Not at this time.

McCarthy’s credentials, or lack thereof, aside, Blanding’s book is very readable. He intersperses McCarthy’s theories with Elizabethan history, putting into context the lives of the North family, as well as that of the Court and the little we know about Shakespeare. These were the areas of the book I truly enjoyed, and it made me want to seek out more information on Elizabeth I. Though definitely not the best of them, she surely wasn’t the worst monarch Britain’s ever had. And her refusal to marry makes my little queer heart wonder and hope that she was one of the several queer monarchs, even though I doubt it at the same time. Like a true journalist, Blanding stays mostly neutral throughout, though he does admit to being a bit swayed by McCarthy’s theories. And there is compelling evidence for a few things he posits. I’ll let the reader decide where they fall.

My consensus on the true authorship of the plays attributed to Shakespeare: I think Will did write them. I think, though he lacked a formal education, he was well read. He drew upon the books he read, as well as the stories he heard others tell about adventures they’ve had, as all writers do. This secondhand accounting of far away places and events that he never saw is the reason why one can find so many mistakes, namely geographical ones, in the plays. Will had never been to these places and Google didn’t exist, so he had to go with the information available to him and make up the parts he didn’t know. That, and the fact that there was a high demand for more plays to be performed in the burgeoning theatre scene, he had to churn them out rather quickly to meet audience demand. That doesn’t exactly give one much time for research. And it wasn’t as if the audience cared (nor knew the difference) about the finer details, they just wanted to be entertained. So, I think we need to cut Will some slack and give him the benefit of the doubt and stop looking for better educated men to have written the plays. Besides, does it matter who the writer was? Especially when the play’s the thing.

 Congratulations, it’s a boy!

National Coming Out Day is upon us once again, and once again I find myself in a position to come out. This summer marked my 25th outiversary as gay. In 1997 I was sure of who I was and was ready to tell the world. At that time, I knew myself to be a butch lesbian, even if I shrank from the word “lesbian” because of its femme connotations, or so went my misogynist butch mindset at the time. I actually preferred the moniker “dyke”, though several of my lesbian sisters informed me that that was a reductionist way of referring to myself. And to be fair, I didn’t know that much about butch lesbians, and had honestly not really lived as one, not really. After years of reading LGBT+ history, I now know that when I first started using the term, I hadn’t really earned it, not really. My life had not been full of strive. I had not fought for my right to exist. I just liked dressing in “men’s” clothing and dating other women who did the same. Or so my limited understanding of myself at the time went.

I didn’t mean to bury the lead like this, so here goes: I’m a trans man. When I first started experimenting with using Samuel, instead of the name my parents gave me, in 2019, I wasn’t at all sure how far my gender exploration would take me. However, at the time, I honestly thought that I would, eventually, legally change my name and go by they/them pronouns and that would be that. I protested that I knew I wasn’t a man, so male pronouns and male terms (such as the idea of my nieces calling me “uncle”) didn’t apply. I accepted they/them as my personal savior because it’s what was available to me as a way to stop using female pronouns, which had always felt wrong. I was going to use the name for a year, as is recommended, before changing my name legally in 2020. However, things didn’t exactly go according to plan.

By the time 2020 came around the world was in chaos, trying to cope with a pandemic that we should have been prepared for, but weren’t. In the turmoil, I temporarily lost my job, scrambled for another one, and, unsuccessful, lost my apartment. This upheaval forced me to move in with a friend while I got back on my feet and to put any further plans for changing my name on hold. While I was waiting for my fortunes to change, I started thinking about top surgery. I argued with myself that I was still nonbinary, that just because I wanted to get rid of my chest that didn’t change my identity as I then knew it to be. A perfectly legitimate argument. So, I began the process of finding a surgeon and jumping through all the hoops necessary to get this surgery. The surgery was performed in March of this year. At the time of surgery, I STILL hadn’t gotten my name legally changed, but all my doctors, as well as those in my life, were calling me Sam.

I think the slow progression of my true self making itself known to me began after my surgery. During the recovery process I discovered I actually liked being shirtless, something I didn’t expect. Shortly after I graduated from my plastic surgeon’s care (six weeks after surgery), I took a trip to Oklahoma to see my chosen family. (This incident was discussed at length in a previous blog.) By the end of this trip, I was ready to talk to my doctor about starting testosterone. I also, finally, filled out the paperwork to change my name. That name change was granted on July 13th. When I went to the DMV to get my new ID made, I had a decision to make: which gender marker do I go with? Illinois voted the X gender marker legal several years ago, but due to contracts the state has with the company that makes the IDs, it wouldn’t be an available option until 2024. I knew that once I started taking T that if I chose F on my ID that soon enough my visible gender would not match my ID, and I feared the repercussions of that. Choosing to declare M on my ID was one of the easiest decisions I’ve had to make thus far. However, as the months have passed, I’ve grown into this letter.

I’ve come to realize what I’ve been suppressing from myself this whole time: I AM a male. I have always denied this to myself, pshawing it away, doth protesting too much. There are so many things I could list here that would point to my true self, that I have only recently been able to admit to myself, but that would get tedious and seem like I’m justifying, and I have no need to do that. Suffice it to say, having surgery and taking T have allowed me to finally be who I’ve always been and admit it to myself. Every new discovery I have about my body on T, about how I experience the world now, has been euphoric. And I’ve become one of those people that strokes the hairs on their chin, making it look like I’m in deep thought, when in reality I’m just thinking, “This feels cool.” I also will run my hand over my chest and my newly growing chest hair, marveling at the new growth and not hating it as much as I thought I would. There are definitely things to get used to about this new body as it develops, not the least of which is how the world reacts to it and how affirming it is to be referred to by male pronouns, for my gender to be taken as a given and not something to puzzle over and guess at. While my world isn’t perfect, there are often many states of bliss.

So, on this National Coming Out Day, I find myself coming out again, twenty-five years after the first time, as male. My pronouns are he/him, my name is Sam or Samuel, and my sexuality is always evolving. Happy National Coming Out Day everyone.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Other than the dreaded five paragraph theme that high school teachers are so fond of, (they used to say writing that way would prepare one for college, only to get to college and be told to forget all about that) the other dreaded writing assignment was the one we all imaginatively titled, How I Spent My Summer Vacation. I dreaded it mainly because I hadn’t done much of anything all summer, as my family couldn’t afford to go anywhere. How boring and short the essay would have been if I had actually told the truth? “This summer, the family spent two months begging my father to turn on the AC. Then, I went to every yard sale within a five-mile radius with my mother, hoping no one I knew would see me. Then, I stayed up late watching TV because that was the only time my dad relinquished control of it. By the way, Joan Rivers is a great replacement host, I don’t care what anyone says.” Not super exciting, right? Well, since it’s been a while since I’ve posted here, I thought I’d write an update as to what’s been happening the last few months.

Since the last post, where I mentioned I had traveled to Oklahoma in April, I took another short trip, this time to Chicago. Since I live in Illinois, Chicago is only a three-hour train ride for me, so no arduous journey for me. However, I was meeting a friend there who was coming in from Arizona who had never been to the city before. For him, it was a much longer trip, made longer by numerous delays. So Amtrak. Since we were only going to stay the weekend, I had tried to plan the most concise experience for him as I could, making sure to include as much of the things he wanted to do as I could, while making sure to add a couple things I wanted to share with him of my favorite places. There was definitely wiggle room in this itinerary, as I’ve learned that when traveling it doesn’t pay to be so set on a schedule going exactly according to plan. You will just be disappointed and probably out some money. Well, staying true to form, his train didn’t get into Union Station until four hours after it was scheduled to, thus making me have to shift that evening’s planned activity to a different day, and wing it. I took him to Giordano’s for deep dish, then we went to our hotel, where I had already checked in. We capped off the evening by walking over to Buckingham Fountain, which was directly across from our hotel, to see the light display at the fountain and enjoy the party atmosphere of the people congregated around it. Because of his train delay, we ended up staying an extra day in the city to make sure we were able to get to as many things as we could. His train home was even more delayed, however, at least he didn’t travel the following week, for it was the very same train that he took home that derailed a week later in Missouri.

The week after that trip something more personal happened in my life: I had an appointment with my endo for my first T shot. After my experiences during the trip to Oklahoma, which I chronicled in a previous post, I decided it was time to take that step. I started noticing changes right away, including the voice drop, the hair on the chest, the hunger, and the excess sweating, which leads to the boy funk. There are other things, but I won’t list them all. Pro tip for anyone considering T: add more protein to your diet, that will stop your body from feeling like it’s starving even after it just ate. Also, you’re going to have to shower more. That’s the only way to combat the boy funk. And be prepared for the amount of sweat your body will produce. It might surprise you. In the past, even when exercising, I didn’t sweat that much. Now, buckets. As a consequence, drinking more water is essential to avoid dehydration. Honestly, I fucking hate water. I drink it grudgingly, and not enough. I know this. But since starting T, I’m drinking it more. I sometimes think me wanting to start T was just my body staging a coup as a last-ditch effort to try anything to get me to drink more water. Well, it worked.

The other personal thing that happened was that in July I went to court and was granted a legal name change. Now, I am officially Samuel McAuliff. That was just the beginning of a long, hellish bout of admin that I had to take care of, including numerous phone calls, emails, snail mails, finding a notary, copying documents, and changing my personal info with every online service I have given my name to. It’s been nearly six weeks since I became legal, and I am almost done with this process. The only things left on the list are: birth certificate, passport, and getting new copies of my college degrees. All that aside, (and trust me, all of that was a lot), nothing can prepare you for the joy you feel when your new bank card comes in the mail, or customer service calls you by your new name, even if they grossly mispronounce it, or to be called Mr. for the very first time. There is now an M on my state ID, which, oddly, was the easiest bit. All I had to do was fill out a piece of paper at the DMV saying I wanted to make this change, and it was done. If only all of it could have been that easy. Pro tip for anyone thinking of changing your name: you will have to let the credit bureaus know personally about your name change. Otherwise, if you try to get a new bank account or credit card during this process (as I did) you will be flagged for identity theft, and you’ll have to go in person to prove you are who you say you are. Because even though the Social Security Administration has been updated (this is your first stop after court), the credit bureaus are the last to know. Save yourself some time and call them. They will tell you what you need to do. This will involve more snail mail.

The other big thing I’ve done this summer, besides work my day job, is finish a novel. I just sent it to a publisher yesterday, so it might be a few months before I hear back as to whether or not they will publish it. I won’t say too much about it now, other than it was inspired by my recent top surgery. If the book gets picked up (fingers crossed) I will definitely be posting more about it.

Well, it looks like I’ve met the requirements for my five paragraph theme, so I should be ending this here. This summer I had a very, very, very, very, very good time.

The End

New Short Story Release

Hey everyone. Just a reminder that my latest short erotica piece will be coming out on June 1st in this anthology. My piece is titled, “The Pink Lady Bar and Social Club.” It’s just a little bit of time travel erotica, set in modern day Chicago, as well as turn of the last century Chicago. The ebook is currently up for sale on the Bold Strokes Books website, and the paperback drops on June 1st. Go check it out. Tell all your trans and nonbinary friends as well. 🙂

How Samuel Got Their Swagger Back

            I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these, but the last couple months have been an incredibly busy, healing time for me. And I mean healing, literally. On March 7th, after a year of slogging through the system (I was fortunate that it only took a year) I had top surgery. I had an excellent surgeon, whom, given the opportunity, I’ll praise to the moon and back about her skill, as well as her bedside manner, and I’m ecstatic with the results and my recovery went well. My best friend, Sarah, wanted to come up from Oklahoma to help take care of me that first week after surgery when I would need the most care, but work commitments prevented her from doing so. So, to make both of us feel better about that shared time lost, as soon as I was cleared from surgery restrictions I boarded an Amtrak to Oklahoma, under the guise of going shopping for my new body, but really just an excuse to hang with my bff, not that I needed one.

            I’m sure you’ve heard it said that the journey is more important than the destination. While I argue the logic of that statement, especially when the destination is definitely somewhere I want to go, I can’t argue with the fact that every journey is a learning experience. And this journey on the Amtrak was no different. When you spend that many hours (30 hours going and 27 hours back) just sitting there, hurling through Arkansas during the blackness of night, not sleeping because you’re not in your bed and you’re surrounded by strangers, your thoughts are bound to wander. Before the trip started, I had already decided that I wasn’t going to use the bathrooms in the stations, particularly Ft. Worth where I had a long layover, because they didn’t have a unisex bathroom. I present as masculine, though my I.D. is still clearly marked with an F, a fact I haven’t decided yet whether or not I’m going to change. Those who have had to deal with bathroom issues already know what I’m referring to. For those who don’t spend your time in public risking a UTI because the thought of going through the hassle of public bathrooms is just not something you want to deal with, try to sympathize. The public bathroom debate still rages, particularly in the south. However, turns out my precautions were unwarranted.

            It started on the train. Everyone who had a reason to speak to me did so using feminine pronouns. Every. Single. One. I, of course, did not tell them that was my preference, because it isn’t. I prefer they/them. I often don’t insist on it, however, for transitory interactions, such as customer service situations or when I’m in a metal tube journeying through the night surrounded by people I will never see again. I have learned to pick my battles. I save those conversations for people who matter, such as friends and family, and my doctor. People I trust have my best interest in mind and need to know. However, being misgendered so much without even trying (I was dressed in old, “men’s” jeans, a button up “men’s” shirt, a black hoodie, and dark blue Skechers and I have very short hair), made me wonder what it was they were all queuing up on. Was it my voice? One gentlemen, whom I’d been on the train with for hours, and had rare occasion to speak with me, started using female pronouns as soon as he heard me answer a question he had put to me. The same with the station attendants when I had a question about my connection. It really started to get to me. Here, six weeks ago I lay on a metal table while one of the best plastic surgeons in the Midwest (or the country, as far as I know) removed my most outward sign of gender, I was dressed as described, and I go by a male name. What more did I have to do to really be seen? The obvious answer came to me at once, but it’s an answer I still haven’t accepted yet as an option I want to take. I know the medical risks, and I had my endo clear me for take off last year, just in case I wanted to take that step, and I know the side effects. I have practical, but somewhat shallow, reasons that hold me back from taking that last step. T, the final frontier.

            I’m not going to go into all my misgivings about it, because they are mine, and trans people don’t owe others an explanation into our thought process about what got us to where we are or where we’re thinking of going just so the outside world can understand and accept us. What I will say is that this journey had me thinking more and more about a question I thought I had put to rest a year ago. I had put the question to rest because I know (or, at least, think I do) that I’m not male. When my brother said, “Well, I’ve always wondered what it would be like having a brother,” I responded with, “You still don’t have one.” I wanted to express to him that, 1. I don’t see myself as a male, and 2. even if I did I’m still the same person he grew up with. My childhood experiences are those of a tomboy, not as a male. It’s complicated, and I don’t know that he completely gets it, but that’s ok, as I’m sure I don’t completely get it myself.

            What it has taken me until now to realize is that, despite how the medical establishment makes one feel that transgenderism is an either/or decision, it just isn’t. There are plenty of folx who take hormones but also maintain their nonbinary identity. It’s a thing I can do, I have the agency. So, is that where I’ve landed? Well, I haven’t landed anywhere yet. I’m taking my time, I’m allowed. But I am closer than I’ve ever been to making that decision.

            One other thing occurred to me on that train. Something else inside me has shifted, but not shifted away to a place it’s never been, more like back to a place it once was and is meant to be. I’ll try and explain. The post op me, who just recently discovered they like to go shirtless and is growing out my normally buzzed hair again and using pomade, is getting their swagger back. This is the same swagger I had in my mid-twenties, newly out and newly in love, trying to figure out this gay thing, and loving life. I identified as a dyke then, because I was reclaiming the word, even if I didn’t completely understand what that meant. I had a comb in my back pocket and Docs on my feet and my hair was slicked back within an inch of its life. Life was good. The differences between that baby dyke and me, however, are vast, and full of all the stuff that the twenty odd years that separates us could jam in there. My hair is grayer, I’ve loved and lost a few times, I’ve been through divorce and bankruptcy, my parents are gone, my first love is gone from this world, I’ve become a published author, my chest is gone, but I still have those Docs. They are a relic, a time capsule to the me I used to be, to the me I was meant to be. That is what top surgery has ultimately left me with: the realization that I’m not on the road to becoming someone new, but that I’m on my way back to being the person I was always supposed to be and would have been if life hadn’t gotten in the way. So, while I contemplate my next steps, I can rest easy knowing that every step forward is one I was meant to take.

            Gosh, I just hope I don’t end up looking like my brother.

You Can’t Beat the Devil, But you Can Die Trying

In March 1983, Larry Kramer, American playwright and gay men’s health activist, published an article entitled, “1,112 and Counting,” which chronicled the number of AIDS cases so far. It was a call to action not just to the government and news media, but also to the gay community, who, except for a few activists in big cities, were mostly ignoring what they considered hype trumped up by alarmists. Larry Kramer, who was a long-time advocate for gay men not to be promiscuous and had made enemies in the community because of it, finally had their attention. However, one of the major points of contention, which had been bandied about for the last year or so when cases of the as yet unnamed “gay cancer” were first being diagnosed, had been the closing of the bathhouses. No one wanted to even talk about that, not the business owners, for obvious reasons, nor the patrons, who balked that such a measure spoke of inhibiting sexual freedom and body autonomy. Dr. Selma Dritz said to Gaetan Dugas (the man later erroneously referred to as “Patient Zero”) when Gaetan had made a similar claim, “It’s not your right to go out and give other people disease. Then you’re making decisions for their bodies, not yours.”

Current statistics for AIDS-related deaths are as follows: As of 2018, about 700,000 people have died of HIV/AIDS in the U.S. since the beginning of the HIV epidemic, and nearly 13,000 people with AIDS in the United States die each year. Or, more simply, around 35 people a day. Still.

I’m not trying to blame the victim here, which was another thing mentioned in the early days of the crisis. What I’m saying, and what medical professionals and advocates were saying then, was that common sense dictated certain actions to help prevent the spread of a disease they were still learning about. It cannot be understated that the Reagan administration, with their CDC budget cuts and their complete ignoring of the burgeoning epidemic, are largely to blame for these deaths. What I am saying, however, is that there was a contingent of the gay community who put pleasure ahead of safety. There are a lot of reasons for this, I know. Some of those stem from years of oppression, both at a government level, and from their own families. I know it’s easy for me to sit here, nearly 40 years later, and be angry at these people. Part of that anger comes from the fact that I have friends who have been diagnosed with HIV, most of us have by this point. One can only wonder how many less deaths there would have been if both government entities, as well as some members of the gay community who continued to have unprotected sex and fight for their right to do so, hadn’t acted sooner to take preventative measures.

It brings me to parallels with the current pandemic and those who refuse to wear a mask and/or get vaccinated. As Dr. Dritz so eloquently stated, “Then you’re making the decisions for their [unsuspecting victims] bodies and not yours.” We have already had 944,517 COVID related deaths in the US in just over two years. And yet, there are still people advocating for body autonomy, not caring that their body isn’t the only one affected. Maybe fear plays a part in it, the thought that they can beat the Devil if they have a strong enough attitude. I’m not sure how much is that fear and how much is stupid pride, but I honestly don’t care. It’s irresponsible, negligent homicide.

It Gets Better

Just finished watching the movie The Prom on Netflix. I’m a sucker for a Broadway musical. And a queer one with a fabulous score and cast? I’m in! But the story depicted in the movie was based on a real one and the movie borrowed greatly from the real thing. But I’m not mad at it. I honestly loved everything about this movie. Not only is it right up there on my list of favorite Broadway shows, it surpasses them. If you’re interested, the other two in my top three are Rent and A Chorus Line.

Underneath all the glitz of this movie was a soft, blueberry center of a heart about love and acceptance…and high school. The movie inspired me to think about my high school experiences as a small-town gay kid. No, there was no prom controversy, I wasn’t dating the daughter of the PTA president, and my parents never disowned me. I wasn’t even out of the closet yet.

 I was in high school in the late eighties/early nineties. The town I grew up in had only about 5,000 people in it. And the only lesbian I knew of in town was a little older than me and scared me a little. But she was kind of cute. I never even considered being out in high school. Hell, even though I’d known I liked girls since I was ten years old, I hadn’t put the name to it until I was 15. The one thing I did know was that I had to keep my feelings to myself. So, I avoided any conversation about who I might have a crush on or who I thought was hot by either turning the conversation back to the person trying to get me to talk or by making a joke. I think being a closeted queer helped develop my sense of humor. Deflect, deflect, deflect.

One reason I had no concept of what it would be like to be out of the closet was because it just wasn’t talked about. Being gay was something that, if it was mentioned it all, was only mentioned with fear and derision. As Melissa Etheridge would later sing about, it was “thinly veiled intolerance, bigotry and hate.” Who would want to come out to that? So, I spent my high school years hiding who I really was from everyone. I didn’t even let my eyes linger on any girl I liked for too long for fear of being found out. And I didn’t let anyone get too close because it was easier to keep up the ruse that way. But I also didn’t date guys either, opting instead for an asexual persona, even though I had yet to hear the term and definitely wasn’t that anyway.

            It wasn’t until college that I got the courage to come out. By then I had a group of friends who truly understood and accepted me. When I finally did get the courage to come out, at the age of 24, not one friend rejected me or said anything unkind. And I even lucked out with my family’s reaction too. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, but they accepted me and that was enough. Today, I am fortunate to have many friends in my life, queer and otherwise, who love me for me and don’t mind my quirks.

            The movie also briefly touched on the idea of going back to your high school self and telling them that it gets better, repeating the campaign started by author and activist Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller. The It Gets Better Project aims to stop queer suicide by letting queer teens know that life does indeed get better. If I could go back to my closeted teen self, I would tell her: just wait. You will meet so many wonderful people who will love you for you and accept all that you are. You will know love. Some of it romantic, most of it platonic, but so much more love than you ever expected. You will find joy and fulfillment in using your creativity to tell stories about what it’s like to be queer, and you will love every minute of it. It won’t always be easy, but it will be better. Because you will be you and you will let the world see you. And you will shine.  

Upcoming Short Story Anthology

It’s official. Just signed the contract for another erotica anthology. My story contribution is titled, “The Pink Lady Bar and Social Club.” If you’re interested in ordering it to read this and other heckin lewd own voices trans erotica, it’s up for preorder (ebook and paperback) on the Bold Strokes website, as well as other places. Available from Bold Strokes on June 1st. You can also get it from Amazon but the release date through them is June 14th.

From the Bold Strokes Books website:

If you’ve been searching for smutty, fearless, gender diverse erotica written by affirming own-voices folks who get it, then this is the book you’ve been looking for! Packed with explicit erotic stories from trans and nonbinary gender diverse writers, Heckin’ Lewd celebrates sexual nonconformity, queerness, nontraditional relationship structures, and unrestrained lust, pleasure, and kink.

Heckin' Lewd: Trans and Nonbinary Erotica

In a Relationship with: Chicago. Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

On Monday I came into the city (Chicago) to meet up with an old friend, someone I haven’t seen since she jumped the pond in the late 90s. The few times she’s been back I wasn’t able to come up and see her so I make sure to set the time aside this time. Our personal history is an interesting one, at least to me. Without delving too much into it, I will say that she and I used to date the same woman—but not at the same time! Though that woman is no longer with us, she and I have been able to form a friendship. Come to find out we have other shared interests than just our taste in romantic partners. Though, as to that, she also knows that I have a platonic/intellectual crush on her husband, a man I’ve never met, as he’s still on the other side of the pond, not being able to accompany her for this trip. I was glad we were able to spend time together without the intervention of a screen. Though, it should be noted, we are both vaxxed, boosted, and took in person precautions, so it was a safe meeting.

As I said, this meeting took place in downtown Chicago. She is in town this week visiting family and I came up from downstate. It was no bother for me, as I love coming into the city and do so every chance I get. But, if I’m being honest, over the past few months something has changed for me. It doesn’t give me the same excitement as it once did to come up here and explore. Now, I’m just left with the prevailing sense of how expensive the city is and how much my feet and hip hurt after walking all day. And I’m not even walking as much as I used to, so I have no reason to complain. But, complain I do, albeit silently. Maybe I’m just getting older and would rather be comfortable. This city is not comfortable. You are hard pressed to find a cushioned chair anywhere if you want to rest your weary feet. Instead, you are offered hard wood or plastic chairs wherever you go. I’m sure it’s to discourage “campers”, which is, admittedly, what I was hoping to do somewhere so I could rest and not have to spend money. I am taking Amtrak home tonight, where I will have a cushion, finally.

Other than my lack of a cushion, let me give you some highlights from my trip this week that are quintessentially Chicago:

  • After my friend and I parted ways I hailed a cab to go to my hotel. While on Wacker, coming up on Michigan, there was a homeless woman standing in the middle of the street, yelling at the passing cars. I don’t know what she was saying, as the windows were up in the cab. She looked angry.
  • I stayed at a hotel I’ve never stayed at before, as I always try to stay somewhere new. The hotel has a long history, and a beautiful ballroom. I’m a sucker for period architecture. But I didn’t see any of that. I just saw the small, nondescript room I was shown to. The bedside lamp didn’t work, the carpet was filthy, and once I adjusted the heater to a cooler temp, it no longer came on, making the room dead silent and hard for me to sleep. Bonus feature, I suppose, is the half side of the John Hancock, as well as the fire escape, which was next to my window. The last few times I’ve been into the city I’ve paid for rooms that were advertised to be in beautiful old hotels (the price reflected this) only for them to be unkempt and me to be stashed in the worst room possible.
  • After a day of some light shopping and sight seeing of places I haven’t been before, I am now ensconced in Union Station. As I walked through the food court I passed a table with a woman of indeterminate age (30-40s I would guess) who was sitting at a table randomly singing. She wasn’t very good, just how you would sing along to music on your headphones. She wasn’t wearing headphones, the music was within her. I kept walking and found a table to myself. After sitting here for about ten minutes four police officers came into the food court to escort a woman out of the building. She was refusing to go. I don’t know what she did, if anything. She may simply have been homeless, but I really don’t know. As that was getting cleared up, the singer from further down in the food court left her table and took one next to me. I don’t know why. She was singing when she sat down. The singing has mostly subsided but she has randomly burst into song a few times since she sat down.

I know I just sound whiney, and I guess I am. Please understand, I’m tired. My feet hurt. And I want to go home. I was wondering earlier today if my weariness with Chicago might be because I’ve fallen in love with the idea of a city (and my old memories of it) but I’m not completely prepared for the city that it is. Maybe it was a surface love this whole time. Maybe I’m just getting older and less tolerant of being slightly inconvenienced. Whatever the reason, I’m not quite ready to call this affair over, but maybe it needs reevaluated. But, I really do want a comfortable place to sit.

I’ve Got a Ticket to Ride

This past Monday I received approval from a psychiatrist (in training) to get top surgery. It was the last hurdle. Now, I have to wait for that approval to work its way through the hospital’s computer system to reach my plastic surgeon (that could take two weeks, maybe four), then for her to call me to get on her calendar (that could be up to three months out last I heard). The young woman sitting across from me replied, “I don’t see why you shouldn’t get the surgery you want.” My thoughts exactly. I could fill volumes about what I think of the medical system in the US, especially concerning the process of approval for transgender surgeries. But it would get preachy and tend to run on a bit and no one needs that. Instead, I want to talk about my relationship with my chest over the years and why I’m suddenly feeling nostalgic for something I never wanted in the first place and was resentful of when I received it, sort of like the obligatory gift from a distant relative at Christmas who doesn’t really know you but felt like they had to get you something anyway, then you’re stuck thanking them for an ugly sweater or a toy you grew out of three years ago. I never wanted them, never asked for them, yet here they are.

To clarify, when I say nostalgic, I don’t mean in the sense that I will miss them or that I’m having regrets. I only mean that I’m remembering different things, some of which I’ll talk about here, but I’ve forgotten one of the very basic things that people who develop breasts usually remember, when I first got them and going for the first bra shopping. I think my brain has decided that that’s just something I really don’t want to remember anyway, so it’s obliged me by forgetting it. I believe, however, that I first began to develop them around the age of ten. I was a chubby kid, so they came in earlier for me than they would have non chubby kids. I don’t remember the shopping at all, but I do remember the bra had a little blue ribbon bottom center and that adjustable bra straps and hooks in the back were the worse thing ever. My main problem was that I don’t really have shoulders. I just have arms attached to my body with no room left over to hold straps of any kind. Even carrying a backpack on one shoulder was always a challenge. Bra straps were always prone to loosening the longer you wore them and would creep down my poor excuse for a shoulder and hang there, sort of a precursor to what the breast themselves would eventually do in front.

As I got older I was constantly told by female relatives, “You were blessed.” They would say this with a knowing, humorous smile. This expression always confused me. As if bigger breasts were a gift from God. When I was a teenager I understood them to be saying, though they never said it outright, that I would not be wanting for male attention because of my big breasts. I never wanted that either, though I couldn’t tell them that. Thankfully they were wrong about that, mostly. The chubbiness I had as a kid followed me into adulthood, so the amount of men looking at me wasn’t that many. Though, there were a few, and they were always older, creepy men who should have known better. There were several of those incidents, but those are stories for another day.

I suffered with those horrible adjustable strap bras until I was twenty-nine. The person I was dating at the time finally got tired of me complaining about them (and the female underwear, which I also hated) that he (not his pronoun at the time) said the most simplest thing: “Why don’t you change out the underwear for boxers and wear sports bras?” The boxers were a revelation in and of itself, but the sports bra thing was another matter. I honestly didn’t think I could find one in my size, but Wal-Mart to the rescue. It may not have been the best choice for them, but it was the right choice for me. Now no more wrestling with straps and hooks. Easier to get on and off, especially when getting naked quickly is important.

There is one funny story I can tell about them. I’ll try to be brief. My ex-husband (who was identified female at birth and should have known better) had a peculiar fascination with them. I used to tease him about being a boob man, which was true, if you look at his exes. That was fine and good, but there was one thing he would do that hurt like hell and it took a while for me to break him of the habit. He would lift one up, look at it fascinated, like a scientist, then abruptly drop it and it would fall like a dead weight. I should mention that I wear a size 44D. They are quite substantial. Dropping them like that caused me pain, and I told him so, yet he wouldn’t stop. One day he was watching me towel off after a shower and he had that look in his eye. I knew what he wanted to do. So, I tugged the towel around my waist, slowly walked over to the edge of the bed where he was sitting and coaxed him to come closer. Once he was closer to me I had him lean his face towards me and close his eyes. He did so. Then, I leaned in, put my hand under my left breast, lifted it a little, and then swung it like a bat and smacked him in the face with the full force my 44D. He reeled back, nearly doing a full head over heals tumble on the bed, holding his face and crying in pain. Then I said, “That hurt, didn’t it?” He whimpered “yes” after he sat back up. “I told you they were heavy. Now you’re not going to do that to me again, are you?” He said no. And he kept his word. Disclaimer: no boob fetishist ex husbands were hurt in this incident.

One of the things that have been on my mind lately is the bathroom thing. Because of my masculine presentation I sometimes get the second looks and occasional “helpful” tips about being in the wrong bathroom and where the correct one is, when I go into public bathrooms. Because of this, if I am wearing a coat or jacket I make sure to unzip it before I go in to make sure they can see that I have a female chest. This doesn’t always work but it usually does. Now, with a flat chest, I’m going to have a problem, I know this. In my every day I don’t go to a lot of places with gendered bathrooms. The coffee shops I go to are unisex and I often get my food to go at restaurants now because of covid. But I do like to travel and when traveling bathroom options are varied and often lack a family option. That’s something I know I’m going to have to figure out. To be clear, I don’t have a problem using the men’s bathroom if it comes to that, but how everyone else will feel about my bathroom choice, that’ll be the problem. A bridge I’ll have to cross at some point, but a bridge I definitely know is there.

One of the things that gave me pause for the longest time about getting this surgery was the consequence of losing nipple sensation. This was important to me. I’m sure I don’t have to explain why. If you’ve never looked into the surgery, whether for your own needs or because someone you know was having the surgery, here’s an insight: the nipple is briefly removed while they take off the excess tissue and reattached to a different location to give a more masculine appearance. This means the nerve endings are severed. Which means there goes sensation. It’s a tough one to give up for me but the thing that finally pushed me over the edge to accept this outcome was the fact that I can get turned on just as much from my partner’s reaction as I can anything being done to me. So, I reasoned, I think I can muddle through.

Since I’ve been given the green light for surgery I’ve been thinking of my chest like old friends. After all, they’ve been with me longer than anyone else. They are large, heavy, prone to getting heat rashes underneath them in the summer, make button up shirts fit weird, and were never wanted, but they’re mine, like it or not, and though I’ve never learned to love them and won’t miss them, I’m somewhat attached to them.

I’ll keep you all abreast of the situation as it develops.