Happy National Coming Out Day!

It’s that day again! I wrote a coming-out story some years ago, and it’s in a book, Can I Sit With You?.

Here’s a link to the full story online if you’d like to read it. It’s called “The Sex Change of Zyax II“.

True story from my 5th grade life in Houston, Texas in 1980.

Here is a picture of me at around that time, in my big plastic glasses frame, slightly stringy brown hair, and a tshirt with an iron-on patch that says “Friends Are Forever”.

Liz 1981

While the legal and cultural situation for GLBT people has changed somewhat for the better in the U.S. since my coming out experience 35 years ago, I think that we can’t underestimate the damage that hateful bigots still do even with those changes taking place. LGBTQ youth are still at greatly increased risk of being targeted for violence, and at more risk for suicide, than straight kids.

I was pleased recently to see this new of a dude escaping from a bad situation from his family, and that he had good legal support: https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2015/10/06/trans-man-trapped-in-india-by-parents-allowed-to-return-home/.

Anyway, keep speaking up and representing, because this battle isn’t over.

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Reading in Seattle this Friday, Apr 25


Liz Reading at Queer Open Mic
Originally uploaded by Liz.

I am road tripping up to Seattle this week! If you are there please come see me at this event ! I would love to see you all and would love the support. April 25, 8pm, Annex Theatre, 1100 East Pike Street.

You will hear me say the word “Lezzie” in a Texas accent. Also, I promise to wear leather pants. There will be bubbling, and silliness, and insane talk of poems and roadside geology and the roots of the Klamath Mountains. I will pop a wheelie for you and you may pat me on the head and tell me I am brave (JUST KIDDING about the patting).

I will not have my child with me, but you can bring yours, as long as you keep them out of the bar area and don’t mind them hearing some intense stories of playground bullies and maybe some cussing, plus you realize my story is about being queer, queer, queer. All the stories are AMAZING and are written about elementary school and early middle school experiences & with that audience in mind!

Get info & buy tickets here: Can I Sit W/You reading

Tickets are priced at $5 and $12, which means you can choose how much to donate. Money all goes to my hometown Special Ed PTA.

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April: National Poetry Month. Post 1: Nestor Perlongher in translation


a
Originally uploaded by Liz Henry

I’m going to try to post every day in April on poetry and poetics. This blog has got some poetry in it, if you dig deep underneath the feminist eyerolling and disability rights and tech stuff.

In the last month, I’ve been going through my translations and poems from the last 10 years. My work schedule has been light – I am contracting, half-time. And there’s a huge backlog of writing which I just never bothered to send anywhere, and didn’t blog, figuring I’d send it out later. So, while I send these translations out to journals and publishers, I’ll be focusing here on describing work I like, or going through some of my own work.

That sounds boring I’m sure, but let’s start with a bang and talk about something super dirty. Let’s descend into the mire!

Today I thought about my translations of Nestor Perlongher’s poems. Nestor was an Argentinian gay rights activist, sociologist, and poet who died in the mid-90s. He lived in São Paulo for much of the 80s and 90s, and wrote in a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, and Portuñol, with a little bit of gay street French thrown in. I have read a fair bit about the Argentinian Dirty War. A few years ago, I heard an mp3 of his long poem about the the disappeared, “Cadaveres”. It blew my mind. I translated that poem and looked further on the net for his work. Not much was available, but what I found blew me away even more. It was weird, radically messed up, dirty, and queer as hell. It was difficult, disturbing, and beautiful.

Someone said the word “untranslatable” in my hearing. You know what happens next!

Perlongher was a sociologist who studied gay and transsexual street hookers in São Paulo. Wow, did he ever study them.

I am somewhat aware of the activism and politics around global human rights for queer and transgendered people. For example I have read plenty about human trafficking from Brazil to Europe and the U.S. and about the questionable safety of some of the more risky surgeries you can get done in Brazil (and elsewhere in the world). And I am somewhat aware as well of the cultures and communities of trans and queer, transvestite, drag queen, cross dresser, intersex, genderqueer, transsexual, and all that sort of thing in the U.S. There are some interesting differences between how trans people are viewed here vs. how they are viewed in much of Latin America. I set out to learn a bit about that, and did some reading in libraries and on the net as a background to translating Perlongher’s poems. It seems to me in many ways that queer urban culture is more global than I knew or expected. Like house music, like the transcendence of Frankie Knuckles, Perlongher’s genderqueer hookers would be at home in San Francisco or Chicago, Paris or Bangkok, as much as in São Paulo. And you have only to be even vaguely queer, to listen to Perlongher’s voice reading “Cadaveres” in that mp3, to go pretty much instantly, “Okay, that is a gay man talking.” If you think about gaydar, going across languages, it is pretty interesting.

Meanwhile, I was reading a bit more about the neobaroque (neobarroco) and neobarroso movements in South America and Cuba.

The poems themselves. What do I mean when I marvel at their spectacular dirtiness? It is hard to describe. They are slippery and pornographic. If you are my mom or something, just stop reading now, because I am going to describe the poetics of cocksucking. There is a pervasive sense of shifting ground, of a moving frame. A phrase will link to the phrase above it and mean one thing, and mean something else on its own when your reading-frame hits it and isolates, and means something else when linked with the phrase that follows; and again in the context of the whole poem, as a flickering impression or kinematoscope, layers up to create a general atmosphere, so that without actually having said the word “cocksucking” or “cum shot”, you realize that is what you are reading about. Everything is sort of glistening and sticky. You think of glitter, flouncing, dive bars and back alleys and strip clubs. Celebratory sleaze. It’s all blowjobs in the rain with smoky eyeshadow, in some over-romanticized Frenchified movie.

Perlongher’s poetics go into the gutter and find amazing beauty – and often, beauty that ties sexuality to resistance to political oppression.

As perhaps you can imagine, the human rights of trans hookers on the streets are not a priority, say, to the police and government. If you are politically active in other areas as well, and you are gay in that context, there is not a lot of recourse for you legally and you are an easy target. But also, as a gay person in a straight world, you have particular survival skills and ways of acting collectively that come in handy during times of particular political repression. I think that is a good angle to keep in mind while reading Perlongher’s work. Perlongher was an openly gay activist in Buenos Aires and in Brazil for gay and transgender rights. He also was around in the 80s and early 90s to watch everyone die. He is writes in a way that shows me he is aware of the violence and power imbalances in pornography and in the sex trade.

You see why I have come to love him dearly in the way that translators can love their poets who they have never known.

In the mean time his poetry is also wankery in the other, academic sense of the word, as in Baudrillard wankery, of spectacle and illusion and semiotics, the elusive and illusive web of meaning that surrounds absence & signs.

So, onwards to a snippet of poetry.

My disclaimer here is that I am super aware that in places I might just be dead wrong. And, the nonlinearity of the poem means that even if you understand every word in Spanish, you will be staring at the page wondering what the hell it means. (And, I considered every word’s meaning in Portuguese as well, because he did double-triple meanings on purpose, or wanted words to evoke other words.) If you tell me I’m wrong and argue it and back it up, I will listen and be grateful for the help.

Consider this section from “Miché”,


la travesti
echada en la ballesta, en los cojines
crispa el puño aureolado de becerros: en ese
vencimiento, o esa doblegación:
de lo crispado:
muelle, acrisolando en miasmas mañaneras la vehemencia del potro:
acrisolando:
la carroña del parque, los buracos de luz, lulú,
luzbel: el crispo: la crispación del pinto:
como esa mano homónima se cierne
sobre el florero que florece, o flora: sobre lo que
florea:
el miché, candoroso, arrebolado
de azahar, de azaleas, monta, como mondando, la
prístina ondulación del agua:
crueldad del firmamento,
del fermento:
atareado en molduras microscópicas, filamentosos mambos:
tensas curvas

the trannygirl
sprawled on the springs, in her cushions
jerks the fist gilded with leather: in that
conquering, or this submission:
of that which jerks
elastic, refiningfined in earlymorning miasmas the vehemence of the colt:
refined:
meatmarket of the park, holes of light, lulu,
lucifer: the jerk: the shuddering of the pinto:
like how that hand homonym purifies itself
on the flowery florist that flowers, or blooms: over that which
flourishes:
the hustler, straightforward, blushing
with orangeblossom, with azalea, like stripping bare, the
pristine undulation of water:
cruelty of the firmament,
of ferment:
busybusy in microscopic moldings, filamentous mambos:
curves tense

Okay, so, just consider that for a bit. I would love to publish the rest but I’ll just wait on that for a while. But, if you were going to write a poem about handjobs without ever saying anything directly dirty, here is your model. If you read Spanish you may go and read the rest in the original. It is full of lube, pushing blunt heads, grease, drool, perturbing firmness, throats and petioles, oysters and curves, and shining above the grime and flesh, the sparkle and “authenticity” of gold lamé.

I’d love to talk some time about his poem about Camila O’Gorman. It seems to me to be a perfect encapsulation of a way that gay men see cinematic and tragic femininity. It is all melodrama and heroine and actress, mist and gauze, mixed with sex, death, and of course flesh and dirt. I read it and just can’t believe how evocative and weird it is. It makes me think of the scene in Bataille’s Blue of Noon where Dirty and the narrator are having sex and fall off a cliff in the muddy rain, or when they are messing with that priest’s eyeball. But actually, sort of, the poem is about a 19th century pregnant teenager facing a firing squad. Where the rats and candle wax and worms come into this, I can’t say, but they fit just fine.

I love reading Perlongher’s poetry. Translating it is like being in poetic free fall. It is outrageously free and wild. It is maddening in its elisions. I could go on and on about it for a very long time, burbling.

Happy Poetry Month!

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K’vetsh in August

I do love this literary reading and tonight is a big crowd for Heathen and Zara Thustra, so I might as well blog it. Also, my leg hurts a lot tonight but I don’t want to go home yet, so blogging is a way of concentrating on something other than my annoying body. A fine trick – I recommend it.

The hill here on Mariposa is forbiddingly steep and difficult for a wheelchair and I could not do it alone. So my car is parked up that hill! Eeep!

Meliza kicks off! Mexico City visiting the map and multiplying x times y. 66 poem or prose poem series. Sarah Dopp is reading! Awesome recitation of long poem! “I lost it slowly…” Jon Longhi now reading short piece… “When Chaos was in college he steered away from all earthly possessions… … and whenever Chaos jerked off, he used it as a come rag.” Heh! I lost track of what the thing was, but it was pinned with a thumbtack to a poster of Jesus. Then, pants on fire while on the toilet, stoned! Oh, Jon. Our MCs go on and on about “My Dumps” by Peaches which I can testify is great, but first you must watch “My Humps” video AND the My Humps cover/parody by Alanis Morisette which Peaches parodies. Emchy reads from fabulous new chapbook which I have a copy of (just got it have not read it.) Tara Jepsen and Michelle Tea go on about the TV show “The Wire”. I love Tara’s comedy…. and the couple of short films I’ve seen. She and Michelle’s energy is good… Featured reader now, Zara Thustra. Who is dressed and tattooed very charmingly… Sabina reads her autobiographical piece on gay “halfghans. alvin orloff. novel excerpt. I could just keep listening to Alvin’s story of Martine and her fans in the dive bar in the Tenderloin… Oh no, Emchy’s heart pen is missing! We ahve a pen thief. There is a band local called Lesbians. (Really?) ONe more open mic… Carrie or Keri… with a long thing in the voice of a “Minnesota woman” whose husband leaves her. It was sort of dull but that was the point I guess. Heathen Machinery reads! Ways to kill the baby! Awesome. Pulling the belly button thing off with a pop like a can of Schlitz. Poisonous dog poop safety pin injection! Rad. I am very happy as everyone in the room is squicked. The crib bars and the dildos! OMG THE AWESOME! Her aunt and chihuaha and collecting sand dollars. Also strangely disturbing. Another story of her and her cousin and their playing “house” and stuffing dwarf oranges up their nostrils. Then, the wedding and imagined “You!” declaration. Heathen is excellent! No wonder there is a crowd. And lo, it was not all hypeass smoke & mirrors.

Nico reads with a disclaimer about using this reading as motivation (failed) to write some new poems. The piece Nico is reading is more prosy sounding to me. Indians and Pilgrims at Thanksgiving dinner and having a hamburger in some deli… Our MCs do a thing about “Massholes” and Massachusettes and trashy moms fistfighting and mini golf courses on Route 1…

Charlie Anders reads a very hilarious personal ad email. Justin read about penguins, vultures, and love… Fran reads a good poetryish-in-places story about dyke bars.

We ducked out before the end – It was running very late!

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A bit of a poem by Adrienne Rich

I’ve been looking in my books for a particular poem that I remembered copying into a notebook about 20 years ago, and found it finally tonight:

The world tells me I am its creature
I am raked by eyes    brushed by hands
I want to crawl into her for refuge    lay my head
in the space    between her breast and shoulder
abnegating power for love
as women have done    or hiding
from power in her love    like a man
I refuse these givens    the splitting
between love and action    I am choosing
not to suffer uselessly and not to use her
I choose to love    this time    for once
with all my intelligence

It’s from “Splittings” by Adrienne Rich – from The Dream of a Common Language. I love the way that “choosing not to suffer uselessly” is repeated throughout – and the way the lines are split – caesura – and the two lines that are not split, “abnegating power for love” and “with all my intelligence”. It would have been cheap and easy and wrong to split the first, and it obviously makes sense for the last line to come together rhythmically, in a rush, for the sake of wholeness & synthesis.

Poetry is often useful to talk about things that it’s impossible to talk about otherwise. I love how this poem throws gender and queerness right in to the list of impossible things – things that impossiblify love.
Pushed even further in “Cartographies of Silence”, so beautifully at the end.

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Lambda Lit night

I blame the Lambda Award reading last night and “Betty’s List” for this photo of me feeling good and just a little tipsy. I will now regale you with my shallow comments on fashion! And a few responses to the actual literature!

The reading was in the Hispanic Room at the SF Public Library. “Do you think there will be real food? Or just cheese and crackers?” I asked… “Oh, they said ‘catered’ so probably something like real food. Maybe. But you might be allergic to all of it.” The food was great; these endive apple cheese things, tomatoes and mozzerella with basil leaves, sandwichy wrap things, hellish lemon squares and brownies. All good and super fresh…

The room started to fill up. I bought a copy of Bullets and Butterflies: Queer Spoken Word Poetry. Between being tired, distracted by thoughts of my giant anthology project, and stuffing myself full of the mozzerella tomato things, I wasn’t feeling too chatty. But I did talk with Horehound, and with Nikos Diaman who is an artist and novelist and was super nice. And then I went up to talk to Charlie and complimented the chick she was talking to’s nifty fluttery-sleeved black gauzy trench coat thing, and she turned to me automatically in this certain way that was graciously accepting of my starry-eyed fangirl love, which was great except I had no idea who she was even when she said her name – it was Kate Braverman. I must fit the profile of her adoring fans… perhaps I’ll join the throng of KB minions out there! She seemed rather mad and charming. “Are you a writer?” “Er, mutter mutter, um, yup.” “You are? How come I haven’t heard of you then?” I’m sure she meant it kindly. I’ll hear her read this Saturday at Writers with Drinks!

Some library guy introduced things. Gayly. Then Charles Flowers did some more introducing and talked about the Lambda Awards & how they’re important to the country… to declare our diversity and say “here is the best of what we’re making, and it’s part of the mainstream of culture too.” I applauded this heartily!

Charlie Anders read from her fantastic novel “Choir Boy” – a few pages where Berry, a teenager who has started taking hormones so his voice won’t break, gets awarde the “mack hat” by his fellow choristers and then talks to his choir director about music and “signal vs. noise”. “If music is just about itself, then what makes it … goddy?” I’ve read Choir Boy twice. I highly recommend it! Charlie’s retro-stylish black dress fit her curves perfectly and I also loved her shiny-toed velvet and vinyl pumps. The dress was also cute with sneakers and a leather jacket, later.

Joshua Gamson read from “The Fabulous Sylvester.” Great writing, I could listen to his descriptions of Sylvester’s outfits and sparkling charisma all day long… I kept thinking of the feeling I get when I listen to “Mighty Real”… this sort of angelic utopian quality, ethereal and soaring… the sort of angel who would prance around in public in a dress made entirely of aluminum pie plates and silver angelhair christmastree tinsel. One sort of hoped… that the professorial dignity of Joshua Gamson himself might be influenced by his material… but no, he was something of a prepster. Maybe he was secretly wearing spangled underwear.

Let’s listen to “Mighty Real” right now! Wooooo!

Tirza True Latimer then read from her book about women in Paris in the 1920s and lesbian visual coding. Like, how to tell if someone were queer or not from the subtle details of their outfit. Latimer’s outfit had already been knocking my socks off, kind of an understated classy pimp butch thing, with a bronze satin wide-collared button down shirt and an oceanic swirly blue tie that made me think of all the modernista poetry and the ocean nymphs wearing only a blush and sea-mist. Well, Latimer went on to define exactly what we mean or don’t mean by “Lesbian” and to complicate that word in the finest of academic-ese so that I felt I knew what she meant even though I didn’t. I wondered if she had read Margaret Reynolds’ “The Sappho Companion” and what she thought of its construction of what Sappho meant to artists and writers in the 20s and also felt like having a good long conversation about the public reception of “The Songs of Bilitis”. Then I’d make out with her modernista necktie.

Katia Noyes read a bit out of Crashing America, a part “about guns and sex”. It was awesome… I can’t wait to read the book. I can’t even talk about Katia’s outfit because it was too cute. I wanted to steal her dress right off her.

Ursula Steck read from one of her mystery novels, a scene with two women in the woods, some creepy guys with baseball bats, and a dead maggoty raccoon. Eeep! Scary! She was dressed in black and had a cute nerdy butch dyke look with spiky black hair, thick-framed glasses, and black wheelchair. She totally had a matching girlfriend. “All in black” sounds goth but the effect was NOT goth but overwhelmingly library-nerd-hot.

Horehound read his poem “bottom who doesn’t”… “A butch motherfucker with a twelve-year-old girl at my inner core/ I’m a huge sissy and one of the original punk rockers…” I love Horehound because I’m totally the opposite. I’m a twelve year old girl with a butch motherfucker at my core. And whenever I dress up like a guy I copy Horehound’s punk sissy look. I hope he doesn’t mind.

Mattilda then pranced… sashayed… runwayed… up to the front of the room to deliver a rousing diatribe against the title of her own book, Best Gay Erotica. We are against bad, boring, ho-hum erotica that follows the genre constructed with tame meekness! And we are against boring limiting constructions of ultramasculine masculinity and we are definitely not into Gay! We were all ready to start roaring and rioting. I think some gay guys hung their heads in shame, then ran out of the room to put on plaid pants and tear up the streets. But that was just the intro. The story, DogBoy and the Beta Goth, was an edgy story about two teenage boys named alec and ben. Nadyalec and Ben read us the story with irrepressible bouncy cuteness. They were ineluctably masculine, just like James Tiptree, Jr. I loved the story… and their outfits. Nadyalec was in a black nerdy-sissy outfit with a pink striped tie from hot topic. It is no wonder people sometimes mistake us for each other (only when my hair is slicked back.) Ben was gothy. And Mattilda was resplendent. I want to write poetry to his amazing outfits of stripey plaid flowery rainbowed glory! I used to get sent upstairs by my mom to change for wearing just such ensembles! They do my heart good.

Amber Flora Thomas read poems from “Eye of Water”. I particularly remember one about the urge to carve names into wood and about love. They were sweet poems… I felt that I could not judge them without seeing them for myself… Amber’s outfit was cute, mostly black, notably cute necklace with a big semi-precious stone… I did not figure out what kind of stone but maybe it had super crystal lesbian powers or emotional significance!

Then Katherine Forrest, who was nominated in three categories, read from her intro to Lesbian Pulp Fiction, all about how seeing (and, choking with fear, buying) an Ann Bannon novel in Detroit in 1957 changed her life and in fact saved her life. I bought Lesbian Pulp Fiction, which looks GREAT. We had a nice talk afterwards about SF and the wonders of Suzette Haden Elgin’s books, newsletters, blog, emails, Laadan, philosophy; in short we are fellow inhabitors of the Suzette Haden Elgin Empire or Utopian Vision. I don’t remember Forrest’s outfit at ALL which probably means it reached a pinnacle of lesbian understatement. Probably you aren’t supposed to notice it. Anyway, today I read Forrest’s own pulp SF novel “Daughters of the Emerald Dusk” and … well I kind of laughed my head off. I am totally going to send it to Nick Mamatas, I know he will LOVE it. It’s sort of like the lesbotopian drug-orgy version of “Childhood’s End” by Arthur C. Clarke. And it’s pulpy to the MAX.

We went off to Lesbian Night at this bar and restaurant, Mecca, on Market Street which if I were a REAL lesbian hipster instead of a pretend one, I would have already been to. Instantly I ran into the organizer of the event, Betty of Betty’s List, and tried to take her picture. It came out too dark. If you go to Mecca on Thursday night, do not have a lemon drop. Have a mojito. The virgin mojitos are also good. Anyway, we hung out with Elizabeth Stark, who wrote Shy Girl, and Angie and Katia and Wendy, and had a great time! It was far too crowded but still fun… and the drinks were expensive but the fries were cheap, delicious, hot, and came in a sort of bottomless basket of salty greasy-yet-still-chi-chi goodness.

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