She’s so queer, she made herself straight

human figure sitting alone in winter landscapeI had a really surreal day last week, when I was in an all day workshop about advancing my career at my current employer. I’m not sure what possessed me to participate in this corporate enculturation session, but I figured, since they were reorganizations already happening across the company, and I’m not really super connected with people outside my group, it would be a good opportunity to do a little bit of networking and also find out what kind of expectations there are for people who want to advance in the company.

I’ve participated in events like this before, and they’ve always let me down. I’ve always left them feeling cold, minimized, brainwashed, and disposable. But I have to say, this most recent rah-rah session I attended was less odious compared to the others I’ve gone to. One of the most interesting things that came out of it was some insights into one of the presenters. Two women were leading the workshop, one of them a perky, gung-ho, blonde-and-blue-eyed 16-year veteran of the company. The other was a tall, butch brunette who I could’ve sworn was a card-carrying lesbian from way back. She walked like it, she talked like it, she had all of the mannerisms and voice inflections that have signalled lesbian to me over the last 30 years that I’ve been out. Interestingly (or, perhaps predictably) she made it clear almost from the start that she was in fact married to him A Man and had Children.

How unexpected.

But through the course of the day, I got a really good sense of why exactly she was situated socially the way that she was, and how she probably got there.

See, this woman was extremely competitive. She’d played team sports during high school and college and actually got picked for a national team and one for sports. She was the kind of person who needed to belong, the kind of person who needed to be accepted as part of the team. On top of that, her fundamental butchness propelled her through life in a competitive, highly focused manner. The kind of manner that crowds out everything else, except The Goal. Interestingly, she’d grown up around the same time that I was growing up, maybe five or 10 years earlier, and in the same part of the country. And I knew from personal experience, if she’d stayed in that part of the world (she had) and gone with the whole lesbian thing (she hadn’t), she definitely would’ve been pushed to the outside. And that wasn’t something that she could tolerate.

I spent the day watching her. Wondering. Figuring out where she was coming from and why  she — who could have been a proto-lesbian and a fine credit to our tribe — had opted out. I was uncomfortable at first (and to be honest, I still am), but over time, it really started to make sense.

You see, in some ways, her queerness, her drive, her abundance of aggression and competitiveness, all set her up to prove that she was straight, to prove that she belonged on the team… to prove that she could perform straightness just as well as the next person. I got the sense that for her it was absolutely a mission-critical performance she had to prove to herself that she could do. Even if it meant cutting off a major piece of who she was and what she was all about.

With the goal in mind — to fit in, to be part of the team, and to make lots of money in the process — she willfully disregarded every impediment and distraction that might have gotten in her way. Such as:

Queerness — check.

Feelings for women — check.

Being different — check.

Mark them off, cross them out, get ’em out of the picture.

I can’t say I blame her for her choices. I would never want to be in her position, with a husband and two kids and a social standing she now has to uphold. I got lucky. I got out. Of course, I made unpopular choices, and I was persona non grata in my family and place of origin for years and years, but that’s neither here nor there, at this point. I’ve made peace with my estrangement. My family and connections were lost to me, years ago. I’ve learned to live on the periphery, even while feigning belonging… for their sake.

And I do realize that if I’d needed to belong the way she did, I could have ended up like her. It might have been so easy, under certain circumstances. Back in the day, if you stayed in the rural area where you grew up and never ventured beyond it, you weren’t going to come across any queer people who are happy about their station in life. If anything, being non-straight made you miserable in that part of the world. So if you’re gonna be miserable, you might as well do it in the socially acceptable way and cut your losses. Heck, I tried it myself for a few years. Didn’t work out.

Too queer.

But for a whole lot of nearly-queer people living in that world, then and maybe now, it’s easier to conform and amputate a big part of your identity, than be 100% true to yourself and be 100% miserable in that place. If you don’t, you won’t have the kind of professional options you have when you’re straight. You won’t have the same social connections, that same sense of belonging that you have when you’re married to someone of the opposite sex and you’re raising a family. Just like everybody else.

So, really, that competitiveness, that aggression, that drive, that made this woman such an obvious dyke, also shunted her into about the straightest life you could ask for.

It doesn’t make me happy to think about it. In fact, I cringe. But in a way, it makes total sense.

And it reminds me, everything I’ve done to get myself here, where I am now… It’s well worth it.

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Oh, my… I just discovered Hayley Kiyoko.

And yes, I have been living under a rock. This is the first video I’ve seen of hers, courtesy of the gals over at “Drunk Queer Women Watch…

Thanks, ladies! Much appreciated.

The thing that’s just amazing about this, is how effortless it seems. Growing up in the 1960s and 70s, girls just didn’t do those kinds of things in public. Or at mixed parties. We didn’t even think about it. Not unless we were all by ourselves, locked behind closed doors with our diaries.

But it’s a new day. And that’s a good thing.

Perhaps the best thing about this video is that there’s a whole slew of other Hayley Kiyoko videos on YouTube, along with interviews.

So, now I’ve got something new to keep my occupied. And preoccupied.

Thank you, universe. What a wonderful time to be alive.

Getting back to #queer – streetwise

fuse burningI spent some time in my old queer stomping ground yesterday. I had a dentist appointment, then an errand to run, and then a meetup in the evening, and I had a couple of hours to myself in between.

I was back in my old stomping ground. The area where my book Boy is situated, the place that really queered me up in the late 1990s. It was a place where I could live freely as a man, despite my female biology, and where I could be a Butch as I liked (or chose not to), without penalty.

If anything, I was rewarded for that sort of behavior. My old neighborhood was predominantly gay, as in enthusiastic gay-man-gay, and there was remarkable sense of freedom to the place. There was physical freedom to move, since there was ample public transportation accessible just a few blocks away, or even on the next block, and I could walk anywhere I needed to meet my basic human needs. The grocery store was four blocks away, the hardware store was eight blocks away, there were parks and gardens and museums and great little restaurants all within a 5 minute walk of my home.

There was social freedom, as people minded their own business, and everyone was too caught up in their own lives to go meddling in yours. There were a lot of students around. Musicians. Artists. Theater folk. Plenty of people who knew what it was like to have people invading your space, and had the sense not to do that to everyone else.

There was cultural freedom, as well. A mix of immigrants, students, people who were all From Somewhere Else, who’d moved to that place for the purpose of actually improving themselves. Museums, clubs, galleries, and so forth. Ballparks, restaurants featuring food from all over the world… just a wide variety of choices, with no obligation to settle on only one.

It really was the perfect place to live for the person I was at that point in time.

Since then, I’ve moved out of the country, bought a house, got all respectable in my corporate job, and blurred a lot of the hard lines and jagged edges between me and the community where I live. There still are a lot of disconnects, and I’m still an outsider in many respects… but we all make our choices, and there are trade-offs for everything. So, I choose to stay here. It’s worth it to me. Most of the the time, anyway.

But back to my old neighborhood… I have to say, it felt pretty fantastic to just be able to roll down the street, stretching my legs, expanding, letting my shoulders roll the way they used to… and to just be left alone. That’s the beauty of the city, especially one with a very mobile population. There are a lot of colleges in that town, especially in the vicinity of my old neighborhood, so there’s a constant flow of people in and out, and that gives the place a sense of blithe impermanence. In the town where I live now, people are settled and very intent on cementing their place in society, but in that city, everybody’s headed somewhere else. Moving up in the world. Moving on. No strings attached, and certainly no imperative to stay put… or else.

I really needed something from that city, yesterday. It wasn’t so much a validation of my queerness or the chance to relate to people and on my butch glory. It was more just need to simply be, and be left alone to be what I was. No social policing. No intrusive engagement. No checking me. No subtle hints about how I was being inappropriate or confusing to other people. No come on‘s, and no insults. Just me, walking down the street, feeling spring in my bones, along with the spring in my step, soaking it all in, and letting the tightly wound spring that is me… unwind.

Reclaiming my queerness

group of people

It’s April. It’s also snowing. Figures.

I’ve been contemplating when I’m going to do with myself this month… Or rather, contemplating what I’m not going to do with myself this month.

It’s Autism Awareness Month, so of course there’s all that excitement, dread, despair, defensiveness, and whatever else a community can feel when it’s systematically attacked by a marketing-driven organization determined to wipe it out.

Tra la. So it goes.

Even more noticeably, I’ve been prompted by an ever-increasing inner knowledge to reconnect with my queerness. It might sound strange, coming from someone who writes the sorts of things I post on this blog, but my life has become remarkably unqueer over the past years.

It’s very much about expediency, I have to say. Being gender-non-conforming and trying to get shit done in the world can be next to impossible. It never ceases to amaze me, just how gender-bound mainstream people are. It’s like unless they know whether or not they want to have sex with you (or vice versa), they don’t know how to interact with you.

The straight world seems, by and large, very sexually immature, and they’re not great on impulse control. Plus, it seems like every single movie I watch lately has a straight man and a straight woman falling head over heels in love after being together for just a few days. How bizarre that is! I mean, if just being in someone’s general proximity for longer than 24 hours is the thing that’s going to cement you for life, why bother learning how to interact with other people? Heck, all you need to do is get stuck out in the wilderness for a few days or ride in a car between Cannes and Paris, and voilà, everlasting love!

Why bother dating, if that’s the case? Why not just lock yourself in a room with a potential sexual partner with enough food and water to keep you both alive, and see what happens after a few days?

Ridiculous.

Watching how the straight world interacts, each and every day, makes me all the more aware of just how queer I really am. The problem is, I spent so much time accommodating them, so much time surrounded by them, so much time masking my own inclinations and preferences and behaviors – no, not sexual ones, but regular everyday human being ones – that half the time, I’m not even sure where they end and I begin.

I mask my Autism out of expediency. I have a big-ass responsible job, with big-ass responsible obligations, and I have to make concessions to the mainstream in order to get my job done and collect my paycheck. For the purists in the room, I would encourage you to walk a few miles in my shoes before you pass judgment. It’s not nearly as rewarding as it sounds, although the money’s good.

Likewise, I spent so much of my time around uber straight people, prototypical, stereotypical girls-are-like-this-and-boys-are-like-that people whose lives are apparently entirely devoted to upholding and reinforcing the norms. Every time we have a social get together with work or some getting-to-know-you team building activity (all of which happens more often than I’d like), I get a full-on dose of how… Normal… These people are.

For the record, when I say “normal”, I mean it in the classical sense of norms. These folks know the norms, they believe in the norms, they uphold the norms, they reinforce the norms, and they punish anyone who doesn’t do the same. The punishment can come in subtle ways, such as turning away from you when you’re trying to have a conversation, ignoring you when you’re in the vicinity, giving you that look if you’re wearing something they don’t understand, or getting uncomfortably silent when you start talking about your life.

This wasn’t always the kind of problem it is now. Once upon a time, I worked with a bunch of people who were exclusively straight, but were definitely not narrow. This was back in the day of early web development, when the only people who really got into the web and coding were visionaries, artists, creative, or cold members. We were definitely an eclectic group, and I miss that open, accepting environment so very much. I could be around a bunch of straight guys without that intensely gendered sexism that is so rampant these days. I could actually jump in and prove myself in my work, without all the intensive overlay of expectations about what a woman – or a female-organ-equipped person – was supposed to be like. The high tech world has become intensely more gendered, these days, compared to how it was 25 years ago. And it’s taking a toll.

It’s funny how it creeps up on you. The gradual erosion of your differences… smoothing out a few rough edges, then a few more, then a few more… the dampening down of your more “extreme “characteristics, for the sake of social cohesion. I think sometimes the whole technology scene has gotten way too mainstream to even sustain itself. At least, it’s gotten way too mainstream to continue to sustain me, and I must admit I’m on the lookout for a different line of work to get into.

Because I really need to go back to being queer. I need to have that way of life, each and every day, no matter who’s around, without constantly feeling like my paycheck is in jeopardy if I don’t toe the normal line. I get tired of feeling like my future at work depends on whether or not people are comfortable around me, but that’s exactly what’s happened over the last 10 to 15 years as workspaces have opened up, and the whole emphasis on social intelligence and emotional intelligence has taken off. As technology has proliferated, so have the homogenized social rules. And here I am, stuck in the middle, when I’d much rather be on the outside.

This little rumination of mine is kind of winding around, very much like my own thought process about my unfolding public life. I’ve worked so hard to get to where I am today, I hate the idea being pushed out by cultural fascists of conformity. Hate the idea of leaving behind everything that I’ve worked so hard to achieve, my experience, my reputation, my abilities, the knowledge that has now become second nature to me… a substrate of instinct upon which I can build solidly.

I also hate the idea of having to leave yet another job and walk into yet another situation, when I’ve got so many strikes against me. I’m living in female body, I’m butch queer, I’m autistic, and I’m over 50. If that doesn’t make me unsuited for the halls of the techbros, I dunno what does.

And yet, here I am.

Of course, I can always play the diversity card. Employers love that, these days, and although I will never, ever identify as Autistic in the workplace – it’s just too fraught, there’s too much confusion about it, and it can be used against me to push me out of my rightfully earned place – I’ve got a bunch of other qualities that make me attractive to 21st-century employers I need to be fab their diversity numbers. Especially being a woman in technology. That’s a huge benefit in an industry desperate to fix its inequalities (or appear to), so I can play on that.

I guess where I’m going with this is that I need an outlet for my queerness, and I’m trying to figure out how to make that happen. This blog is where I can do it, as well as in the privacy of my own mind, the stories I write, in the books I read, in the media I take in. I can create a decidedly queer tone to my life. It can be done. I just need to do it.

I guess in some ways I’m a little like Switzerland in the 1980s. There was a really lively underground movement in Swiss cities that was in direct contrast / opposition to the overwhelmingly conservative social climate. The more conservative the main screen was, the more alternative the underground movement was, and the more vibrant the opposition was. In some ways, the underground alternative movement really depended on the conservative side, because it accentuated everything they did not want in their lives. As Swiss society became more tolerant (however slightly), it took the edge off the defiance of the opposition. There wasn’t as extreme a need for it, anymore.

I’m very much in that kind of situation — needing a defiant edge back in my life, even as I keep things running smoothly with outward conformity. With no life savings, a household to support, no additional financial or social support in my everyday life, and increasing responsibilities as I age out of the workforce, I’m in no position to play fast and loose with my fortune. I have to keep things relatively chill, relatively stable, and keep money coming in. That means I’m not in a position to take chances and push the envelope with my outward personal expression.

So, it comes down to the whole of my life. Everything not included in my workday, my volunteering, my public service…  everything outside my interactions with the mainstream… everything within my purely personal sphere needs to be queered up and brought back into alignment with who the hell I am, and how the hell I am.

My internal world, I can control. That, I can influence.

And so, I shall.

Queerly Salient

This sounds so familiar to me. Women’s History Month is probably one of the loneliest months for me, as everybody expects me to participate. And I do. Because I help produce a lot of events for women. But when it comes to me… nope, not feeling it. And while I do really support the month and all it represents, it still feels like a slap in the face. That’s just me.

Though clearly I’m not alone.

Eclectic Autistic

It was International Women’s Day that did it. All the articles, memes, Facebook posts, etc., talking about women’s strengths and achievements were valid enough, but the more of them I saw, the more I realized that they didn’t refer to me. I do not feel like a woman.

I’ve written about this before, especially in two posts about a year apart: A Long, Weird Ramble About Autism and Gender, and Non-Binary. I had included some musings about it on my About page, but I’ve removed that text for now, because my understanding of my gender has been evolving. For example, it’s not really as “fluid” as I initially thought it might be when I started really assessing it; I actually have a fairly stable sense of gender—and I don’t feel I have no gender at all—but it’s just not one of the usual ones. So I’m feeling like…

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Back to posting – nearly a year later

abandoned room trashed

After a year of being … otherwise occupied… I’ve come ’round again to this blog. I’m feeling particularly drawn to fiction.

Poetry, too.

Maybe it’s the change of the season, the sap starting to rise in me, the longer daylight hours, the residual pressure from the last year regarding Things I Did Not Get Done. Whatever the reason, here I am, about a year after my last announced intentions to start posting again,  thinking the exact same thing as I did last year:

I’m gonna collect all my writing in all those different places and post it all, by God!

We’ll see how long the urge lasts, this time.

I really do want to do better. And what makes me think this time will be any different from the last? What makes me think I’ll be able to sustain the same level of interest… keep investing the same amount of time, energy, attention… keep coming back to this blog, week after week, to publish?

I’m not sure. It’s just a feeling I have that this time, this year, is different. And in the midst of all the social media frenzy, all the soundbites, and the ever-decreasing chunklets of thought-process floating around in the interwebs, the lure of fiction — to follow a story from start to finish and immerse myself in it — is strengthening.

Plus, the queer thing.

I mean, seriously, it’s missing from my life. I’m not exactly how this happened, but I’ve ended up in a world nearly entirely populated by very straight people. Even the LGBTQ+ folks around me are “straight”, in that they want a standard version of domestic bliss — a committed, monogamous (well, mostly) partner, kids, a house, cars in the garage, volunteer activities… the works. There’s nothing wrong with that. I tick most of those boxes, myself. But Jebus… when did my life stop being, um, diverse?

However it happened, whenever it happened, it’s feeling these days like I need to shake things up with myself. Not so much on the outside, ’cause I still have the marriage and the mortgage to tend to. But inside. In the privacy of my own mind, where I could swear there are still traces of insurrection. My outer life is highly conformist, but inside? Not so much.

And this year feels like the year I start to rekindle that. Toss some wood shavings on the coals and fan up a flame.

Quick, before I forget how.

I’m not getting any younger, as they say, and I’ve got to do something to kick-start my mojo, before it completely disappears into the haze of exurbia. I know how to do normal. I do it extremely well, much to my social success but recurring internal dismay. I “do normal” for the rest of the world.

Time to do something different.

For myself.

Bait: Chapter 2 – My Brother’s Keeper – excerpt 3

cover of Bait - a novel - showing "bait" spelled with a Christian fish and a fishhook

Excerpt from Bait – a Novel

(continued)

But as we’d grown up and moved along in life, my brother and I had gone our separate ways ― he, to his managerial career path, motivating accountants to realize their full potential, and I to a bohemian sort of inconclusive drifting. My music became increasingly important to me, as did my freedom. I joined bands, I took temp jobs. I did mini-tours as a rhythm guitarist on weekends in the greater tri-state area of Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey, and I only took jobs that let me come and go as I pleased. With every ounce of energy, I resisted going down the permanent 9-to-5 path my brother had chosen. Just as he’d learned from my failures in life ― how not to ride a bicycle backwards down a steep hill, how not to shave your eyebrows ― I had learned from his successes. The things he celebrated as “adult accomplishments” ― the steady job, the promotions, the little plaque on his desk commemorating ten years of loyal service to the company ― made my skin crawl, and I used him as a cautionary example, just as he did me. Each of us did precisely the opposite of what the other pursued, and we both thrived in our own ways. Yes, we drifted far apart as adults, philosophically and geographically, but the bond we’d formed in our youth endured.

And so we’d kept in touch. Through regular phone calls every couple of days, and occasional visits ― not too frequent, but frequent enough to not lose contact. We both still valued our childhood connection, and although we often ended up falling out in a fight over semantics or life priorities, interacting as brother and sister made us both feel young again. Locked in conflict, we both felt as though we were still 15 and 14, with me sitting on my bed behind barricaded door, counting out black beauties and giving Danny the finger as he knelt outside, peering through the keyhole, yelling at me about how I put the “mad” in Metzger! and made the whole family look bad! As we neared 40, we both desperately needed that teenaged feeling to endure.

But constant conflict with Danny got old, after a while. We couldn’t fight all the time. Tonight, it was good to see that my brother, my almost-twin, was in love. Again.

It’s not that Danny didn’t have a good heart. He did. That was the problem. Ever since he started high school at Christian Country School (or CCS, as we called it), he’d always fallen ― and seriously so ― for girls he genuinely thought would be good for him and his faith. Intentionally, he’d always sought out the company of nice girls who were very much like our mother.

It wasn’t so much an Oedipal fixation, as the fact that our mother had patterned her life, her behavior, the whole of her being, after the Christian ideal ― a moral, upright, steadfast woman, acquiescent to her husband and devoted to her kids, yet as fiercely supportive of her man and children as any lioness. Like all her other church sisters, Mom was resolutely loyal to her congregation and her faith, as well as her family, and she’d jump to their defense at a moment’s notice. If Daniel pursued few romantic prospects unlike his mother, it was perceived as a good ― not perverse ― thing by his immediate circle of friends, family, and acquaintances. After all, he couldn’t have done better for himself, than finding a woman who mirrored Mom’s example. When I was much younger and newly independent and still had the nerve to share Sunday dinner with my family, looking around the table from Danny’s date, to Mom, to Regina, our stiffly upright great aunt who often spent time with my folks, it was like looking at a series of reflections in facing mirrors. I had no doubt that Danny’s daughters (if any woman ever settled down with him long enough to beget his offspring) would turn out just so, as well.

It intrigued me now, that Danny was so worked up over this woman, this Jenn-with-two-n’s. His courting style was methodical and well-thought-out, like his approach to scriptural interpretation, and it wasn’t like him to become so excited about a woman, before he’d spent several months with her. In his eagerness to better understand the Christian coupling ideal, he’d read Letters to Karen and Letters to Philip, two Christian marriage guidebooks which a loving faithful father had written to his freshly wed daughter and his new son-in-law. Over the years, my brother had read numerous works ― in print and online ― about Christian courting and Christian unions, starting with the books our parents kept on prominent display on our living room bookshelves. I’d read them, too, in my teen years, but more in the spirit of digging for sexual innuendo, or double-checking the official Christian policy on masturbation. (Word was, you wouldn’t actually go blind or grow hair on your palms, but it wasn’t the most loving thing to do, depriving your committed spouse ― present or future ― of your exclusive sexual expression.) To Danny, as to the whole of our family, marriage was a sacramental pact ― a natural conduit of man and woman’s continuing commitment to faith, through the proper relationship of husband and wife, as well as the Holy-Spirit-led, faith-based raising of children. The order in the home was a reflection of, and support mechanism for, the heavenly order, as God’s headship over the Son, and the Son’s headship over his bride, the church, was carried into the home ― God ― Jesus ― church ― husband ― wife ― children (male children before female, of course). Everyone had their proper place. Danny needed a mate who was as convinced as he, of the merits of that hierarchy.

To be continued…

Bait: Chapter 2 – My Brother’s Keeper – excerpt

cover of Bait - a novel - showing "bait" spelled with a Christian fish and a fishhook

Excerpt from Bait – a Novel

Chapter 2 – My Brother’s Keeper (excerpt).

Later, watching city lights play on the wall across the room, I retraced my day ― typing away in the word processing pool of a large law firm downtown . . . the unexpected call from Lillian at noon, telling me she was back in town a few days early from her new band’s tour and asking if she could stop by that evening . . . my quick reply ― yes, yes ― then having to put in last-minute overtime till seven o’clock . . . hurrying home to tidy my home and my person so that I was presentable to the only woman I’d ever dated, who’d lasted more than a few months with me . . . and the surprise visit from Danny..

Barely a year apart in age, the joke in our family had always been that Danny and I were twins, but he’d been thirteen months more reluctant than I, to come into the world. For brother and sister, we looked eerily alike, with the same dark and sometimes angry features, the same determined gate to our walks, the same inflections in our sentences. He was the one who had christened me “Jax” when as a toddler he was unable to pronounce a “w” sound. My full name “Jacqueline” he’d turned into “Jacselin,” which everyone had shortened to “Jax” to make it easier on him. The nickname had stuck with him, and even when he could manage “Jacqueline,” he’d stuck with “Jax.” It was his way of showing that I was his sister. It was his way of showing that I was his. Only he was allowed to call me “Jax.” And he was the only one who ever did..

We’d grown up side-by-side in our close-knit family, playmates as kids, then rivals as teenagers. Our younger brother Richie had come along six years after Danny’s birth, so for the most significant part of my sentient childhood, Danny had been my constant companion, and I his eager mentor. I learned to ride a bike, then taught him. I learned to climb trees, then showed him how. Even though I was “the girl” and he was “the boy,” I’d always forged boldly ahead, while he lingered safely behind. He learned what not to do, from watching me fall, many times over ― from bikes . . . from trees . . . from the good graces of our family. And Danny became even more prone to hesitation, watching the results of my rash actions..

Over the years, the two of us had developed a kind of mutual admiration/protection society which worked in both our favors. The areas in which I excelled, Danny lagged, and the skills in life which repulsed me, he somehow managed to master. Launching expeditions into new territory ― experiments in fashion, music and art, not to mention striking up conversations with girls who interested me ― were my forte, and what I learned over the years (bell-bottoms were cool . . . David Bowie was not a has-been . . . punk rock music would change everything . . . 10-speeds were out and 12-speeds ― no, 21-speeds ― were in) Danny put to good use in conversations and social settings. He would never have ventured out of the house in wildly striped, flared pants in elementary school, were it not for my example, and he never would have taken the time to investigate either Major Tom or Sid Vicious, years later on his own. But dropping names and tossing around the latest terms, scored him points with his school buddies. I was his canary in the cultural coal mine, who sampled the latest trends; what I gleaned, I passed on for him to weave into conversations with cute girls and cool guys he wanted to impress..

Reciprocally, Danny had watched my back and vouched for me in polite company. Growing up enthusiastically conservative ― like the rest of our family, the rest of our church, the rest of our town, the rest of our county ― he had always fit seamlessly into the staid button-down world that became more foreign and hostile to me with each passing year. The nice people, whose opinion I was supposed to care about, looked askance at my pink hair and single pierced ear, but the fact that I was Danny’s sister always guaranteed me safe passage in their world. When I was with him, I would not be harassed by eternal-hellfire-and-damnation evangelicals seeking another proverbial notch on their Bible case, or rednecks looking to kick some queer ass. Because Danny was my brother, the velour-sweater-Jordache-jean-penny-loafer crowd tolerated me, and I was invited to parties and social events I’d never have heard about, let alone been welcomed into. Being well-behaved Danny’s sister kept me beneath the corrective radar of teachers, principals and policemen, and under Danny’s disapproving but watchful protection, I was able to continue my experiments in fringe culture ― even run a small marijuana and speed distribution business out of my gym bag ― till I was safely graduated from high school and out of my parents’ house. .

As much as he loved to lecture me on the dangers of underage drinking and illicit drug use, Danny had lived vicariously through my exploits; he had relished them as much as I, though he would never admit it. And I was allowed to move through life without the threat of a religious intervention or bodily harm, because of his influence. We were a well-tuned partnership of exceptional experience. We were a team. It was a thrilling life we both had, as teenagers in the late 70’s and early 80’s. The joke about our being almost-twins wasn’t far from the mark..

To be continued…

Bait: Chapter 2 – My Brother’s Keepers – excerpt 2

cover of Bait - a novel - showing "bait" spelled with a Christian fish and a fishhook

Excerpt from Bait – a Novel

Chapter 2 – My Brother’s Keeper (continued)

But as we’d grown up and moved along in life, my brother and I had gone our separate ways ― he, to his managerial career path, motivating accountants to realize their full potential, and I to a bohemian sort of inconclusive drifting. My music became increasingly important to me, as did my freedom. I joined bands, I took temp jobs. I did mini-tours as a rhythm guitarist on weekends in the greater tri-state area of Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey, and I only took jobs that let me come and go as I pleased. With every ounce of energy, I resisted going down the permanent 9-to-5 path my brother had chosen. Just as he’d learned from my failures in life ― how not to ride a bicycle backwards down a steep hill, how not to shave your eyebrows ― I had learned from his successes. The things he celebrated as “adult accomplishments” ― the steady job, the promotions, the little plaque on his desk commemorating ten years of loyal service to the company ― made my skin crawl, and I used him as a cautionary example, just as he did me. Each of us did precisely the opposite of what the other pursued, and we both thrived in our own ways. Yes, we drifted far apart as adults, philosophically and geographically, but the bond we’d formed in our youth endured.

And so we’d kept in touch. Through regular phone calls every couple of days, and occasional visits ― not too frequent, but frequent enough to not lose contact. We both still valued our childhood connection, and although we often ended up falling out in a fight over semantics or life priorities, interacting as brother and sister made us both feel young again. Locked in conflict, we both felt as though we were still 15 and 14, with me sitting on my bed behind barricaded door, counting out black beauties and giving Danny the finger as he knelt outside, peering through the keyhole, yelling at me about how I put the “mad” in Metzger! and made the whole family look bad! As we neared 40, we both desperately needed that teenaged feeling to endure.

But constant conflict with Danny got old, after a while. We couldn’t fight all the time. Tonight, it was good to see that my brother, my almost-twin, was in love. Again.

It’s not that Danny didn’t have a good heart. He did. That was the problem. Ever since he started high school at Christian Country School (or CCS, as we called it), he’d always fallen ― and seriously so ― for girls he genuinely thought would be good for him and his faith. Intentionally, he’d always sought out the company of nice girls who were very much like our mother.

It wasn’t so much an Oedipal fixation, as the fact that our mother had patterned her life, her behavior, the whole of her being, after the Christian ideal ― a moral, upright, steadfast woman, acquiescent to her husband and devoted to her kids, yet as fiercely supportive of her man and children as any lioness. Like all her other church sisters, Mom was resolutely loyal to her congregation and her faith, as well as her family, and she’d jump to their defense at a moment’s notice. If Daniel pursued few romantic prospects unlike his mother, it was perceived as a good ― not perverse ― thing by his immediate circle of friends, family, and acquaintances. After all, he couldn’t have done better for himself, than finding a woman who mirrored Mom’s example. When I was much younger and newly independent and still had the nerve to share Sunday dinner with my family, looking around the table from Danny’s date, to Mom, to Regina, our stiffly upright great aunt who often spent time with my folks, it was like looking at a series of reflections in facing mirrors. I had no doubt that Danny’s daughters (if any woman ever settled down with him long enough to beget his offspring) would turn out just so, as well.

It intrigued me now, that Danny was so worked up over this woman, this Jenn-with-two-n’s. His courting style was methodical and well-thought-out, like his approach to scriptural interpretation, and it wasn’t like him to become so excited about a woman, before he’d spent several months with her. In his eagerness to better understand the Christian coupling ideal, he’d read Letters to Karen and Letters to Philip, two Christian marriage guidebooks which a loving faithful father had written to his freshly wed daughter and his new son-in-law. Over the years, my brother had read numerous works ― in print and online ― about Christian courting and Christian unions, starting with the books our parents kept on prominent display on our living room bookshelves. I’d read them, too, in my teen years, but more in the spirit of digging for sexual innuendo, or double-checking the official Christian policy on masturbation. (Word was, you wouldn’t actually go blind or grow hair on your palms, but it wasn’t the most loving thing to do, depriving your committed spouse ― present or future ― of your exclusive sexual expression.) To Danny, as to the whole of our family, marriage was a sacramental pact ― a natural conduit of man and woman’s continuing commitment to faith, through the proper relationship of husband and wife, as well as the Holy-Spirit-led, faith-based raising of children. The order in the home was a reflection of, and support mechanism for, the heavenly order, as God’s headship over the Son, and the Son’s headship over his bride, the church, was carried into the home ― God ― Jesus ― church ― husband ― wife ― children (male children before female, of course). Everyone had their proper place. Danny needed a mate who was as convinced as he, of the merits of that hierarchy.

To be continued…

Bait: Chapter 1 – Last Stop, Gethsemane – excerpt 4

cover of Bait - a novel - showing "bait" spelled with a Christian fish and a fishhook

Excerpt from Bait – a Novel

Chapter 1 – Last Stop, Gethsemane (continued)

I tried to imagine what sort of evangelical babe my brother had fallen for. None of the others he’d dated for the past 20 years ― all of them cool, calm, resolutely Christian, like our mother ― had incited this height of reaction from Danny. He’d never deliberately hidden any of the others from me.

“I’d like to meet her,” I tested.

“How ’bout joining us for church on Sunday?” he suggested slyly. “I’ve started attending a new fellowship in Philly, and Jenn says she might attend with me too. When she’s not studying, of course.”

“How ’bout . . . not,” I countered. “Maybe you could bring her to one of my gigs.”

“I don’t think so,” Danny stifled a laugh. The last time he’d seen my band play, our lead singer had lit a picture of the president on fire, setting off smoke alarms that summoned two engines to the club. That was more than five years ago, and we’d mellowed a great deal, but he hadn’t been back to see me perform since.

“But if you reconsider church, we’d love to have you worship with us. And Richie too. He’s looking for a new church home, and since he’s living closer to Philly now, he’s starting to attend with me.”

“Church is bad enough,” I said, “but Richie?” Our younger brother had always gotten along better with Holsteins than with me.

“It’s been years since you really spent time with him,” Dan said. “He’s matured a lot since college. His new veterinary practice is taking off. He’s doing well, and it seems like his life is finally on track.”

“I’m glad,” I said. “But I won’t be coming to church with you. Tell everyone I said “Hey” when you see them on Sunday.”

“Oh, I will.” He rubbed his hands together and checked his watch. “Gosh, look at the time ― I must say good-night.” He rose quickly, gave me a quick peck on the cheek, and headed for the door. I followed him out. If Lill was still downstairs ― and there was a chance she wasn’t ― I didn’t want to keep her waiting any longer.

One flight down, Danny stopped and turned. “Seriously, Jax, I wish you would get together with us. Maybe you could join us for dinner some Sunday at Mom and Dad’s. I miss you. All of us Metzgers do.”

“I’ll think about it,” I said in a tone that said otherwise, taking his arm and guiding him to street level.

To be continued…