Michelle Tea; "I Love Gender"

Folks in my world have separated sex from gender so wholly that there is no way to comfortably relax into the idea of a baby girl being like THIS, or a baby boy being like THAT.

Jun 4, 2012 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

 On our long, long drive back to San Francisco I get a call from my sister, who is having baby-name issues.

Have I told you that my sister is having a boy?

“Michelle!” she gasped in excitement and bewilderment upon learning. “What will I do with a boy?” 

“Just keep an eye on him,” said the childless, formerly lesbian-separatist Aunt. “Figure out what kind of boy he is. It will all become clear.”

Really, I was thinking about my friend Betsy, who just gave birth to a boy. Betsy’s partner is genderqueer; a "female," I suppose, who is super manly and identifies as a "tweener"  -- an in-betweener. Betsy and her Tweener live with a child from the Tweener’s previous relationship, who at the age of seven is deeply schooled on the vast possibilities of gender. 

“Actually, we don’t know if the baby is really a boy, because it might grow up and become a girl,” he informs everyone about his new sibling.

Folks in my world have separated sex from gender so wholly that there is no way to comfortably relax into the idea of a baby girl being like THIS, or a baby boy being like THAT.

And my sister is also very up-to-date on the realm of gender realities, having seen me through relationships with transitioned trans men, and now Dashiell, who, like Prince is “not a woman ... not a man ... something that you’ll never comprehend.”

But I think that in Madeline’s world, boys are more likely to have boy genders and girls are more likely to have girl genders, so her baby name issues are not the same as mine and Dashiell’s baby name issues, which are along the lines of What Is A Cute Girl Name That Can Be Easily Converted Into A Cute Boy Name Should Our Child Wind Up Being Transgender / Vice-Versa. 

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Bobby is a great name for a girl or a boy!

 We’re pretty hooked on Theodore for a boy and Theodora for a girl, both having the handy gender-neutral nickname Theo, which Dashiell finds extra-cute, being a bit younger than me and having Theo Huxtable as a cultural reference point. Valentine could also swing both ways, and is a close second. 

Believe me, I would LOVE to name a girl child something hideously looping and feminine, like Isabella or Isadora or Eugenia or Lucretia or Sophia or Antoinette, and I would love to name a boy something eccentrically masculine like Baldwin (after James) or Spencer or  Beauford or Maximilian.

I love gendered names -- I love gender, actually. But as Dashiell spent most of her life trying to work with the name Anna -- knowing what we know, it would be hard to give our baby a heavily gendered name. Sigh. 

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Dashiell putting the man in mani-ped.

But this is about my sister’s baby name issue, which is more pressing than mine as she is actually pregnant. 

 “So . . . I am thinking about naming the baby Nigel,” Madeline says. 

“Nigel is so cute!” I am happy that my sister is moving forward with the eccentrically masculine boy’s names.

“You don’t think it’s weird?” she asks. “Do you remember Nigel?”

 Oh right! Madeline had been obsessed with this guy Nigel that she’d dated a million years ago. She didn’t quite stalk him after they broke up -- it was more like one of those twenty-something break-up moments, when your coping mechanisms and judgement aren’t yet fully formed and maybe you, um, hold on a bit to intensely to the faded romance. I had a lot of those. 

“I barely remember Nigel,” I said truthfully. “If you didn’t prod me, I wouldn’t have remembered.”

“Is it weird to give your kid a name that one of your exes had?” she asks. “I just love that name. I even remember, when we were dating, thinking, ‘God, it would be cute to name a little boy Nigel.’

It would be cute,” I agree. “What does Walden think?”

“He doesn’t care. He likes Nigel, too.”

“Well, then, I think it’s fine. That was a long time ago.”

“But what if I ever run into him? With the kid? I’d have to quickly give the baby a fake name, right? It would be too weird?”


“Would you even ever run into him?” I asked. “You haven’t ever. You live on different coasts."

“Yeah, but there’s Facebook,” She said ruefully. 

It’s true. Because of Facebook, the dance teacher I had when I was 11 years old in dumpy Chelsea, Massachusetts knows there is a chapter about her in my book. Because of Facebook I know that Nathanial Weber -- who was my boyfriend for two hours in fourth grade, until he tried to kiss me in the schoolyard -- has only a single adult interest, strip clubs. I know that my old high school best friend who turned me onto Norwegian black metal in the 80s now is a hardcore Christian with a quiverfull of children looking forward to meeting up with all her friends in the afterlife.

So, who knows -- maybe Madeline’s ex Nigel could learn of her baby Nigel, and everyone can share an unpleasant moment of Internet uneasiness.

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I lose my call with Madeline as we roll into another chunk of California forest. When I get a signal again I am gripped with a terrible, selfish urge -- to text Quentin, asking him if he would come over and inseminate me after his birthday party.

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As I mentioned in a previous column, Quentin is not having a normal birthday party, with some pals and a birthday cake. Quentin is a QUEEN. His birthday party is a public event held at an art gallery he has transformed into a roller rink. There will be a company providing roller skates. There is a cover charge. A vodka company has donated vodka.

Because it is not just Quentin’s birthday party, it’s Miss Extra Super Deluxe Pandemonium’s birthday, too. The party invitation was a video with high production values. Can I ask Quentin to inseminate me after all THAT?

“He can always say no,” Dashiell shrugs, full of common sense. 

I text Quentin a grovel-y, apologetic request, brimming with desperation. "You can come in drag!" I gasp. "You can come in roller skates! Or, really, no pressure, you don’t have to come AT ALL! I just KNOW I was ovulating last night!'

It’s true. The motions in my womb were a dead give-away, and after months and  months of going blind staring at the pink stripes on my ovulation tests, I’ve learned that an ovulation stripe for me is never as dark as the control, but it is darker and it was dark that morning.

Incredibly -- or, insanely -- Quentin agrees to come over after his party, around midnight. That means he’ll be coming to inseminate at Dashiell’s house. It’s the first time we haven’t done it at my house, and the first time he’s ever been inside Dashiell’s, which creates not a bit of anxiety for Dashiell.

Dashiell is a Virgo, and her home is her little Hermit cave. It is also cave to her canine companion Rodney, who, due to his penchant for barking at strangers I have come to call Bob Barker. 

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The fearsome beast, Rodney

Now Rodney -- or Bob -- mostly barks at strangers in the back yard. Construction workers, neighbors, a fat orange cat named Eric. In the relatively short time I’ve been in his life, he’s been pretty good meeting strangers inside the house, but Dashiell has serious PTSD from back when Rodney was feral and insane and tried to kill everyone all the time. 

“He was good meeting me,” I remind Dashiell. “And when he met Sandwich, and Bernadine.”

The thing is, you can’t lock eyes with Rodney upon meeting him. That’s the trick. You have to pretend he’s not there, and let him wag excitedly and bounce up your legs for a moment, and then everything is cool. We instruct Quentin to not look into Rodney’s eyes. 

"Do not look into his eyes," I text Quentin, making cute, fluffy Rodney sound like three-headed Cerebus, the hound who guards the gates of Hell itself. Having Rodney taken care of, our next problem is, where will Quentin pleasure himself?

Dashiell’s apartment is not as spacious as my apartment, because no one’s is. My apartment is a total, sprawling miracle that causes people to unhinge their jaw in disbelief when they learn what I’m paying, or that I have no roommate.

In my apartment, when Quentin does his duties in the kitchen there are two closed doors and a full room between us. But Dashiell’s sweet, teensy-weensy basement apartment is a kitchenlivingroom -- you know, one room -- and then a bedroom, with a little bathroom smack in the middle. There isn’t a lot of privacy.

If I’m laying down in Dashiell’s bed I can hear her eating Jelly Bellies at the table in the other room. 

“I guess if he’s in the bathroom, he can put the water in the sink on,” I said. The bathroom seemed to be the most private, because there’s actually a door, not a strange black curtain rigged to a wire to provide some flimsy privacy when Dashiell’s sister and her girlfriend stay the night.

Oh yeah -- not only is Dashiell gay, attractive and boyish, she has a gay, attractive boyish sister. What are the odds of THAT? But back off, ladies -- she’s engaged!

 So it’s settled -- Quentin will not look into the dog’s eyes, and he will pleasure himself in the bathroom, which has a sort of Tuscan feel to it. We return to Dashiell’s and wait for our donor.

BEXT WEEK: Performance anxiety!