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A word's worth


A word's worth

My name is Ivan. You can call me she
I have never cared too much about what you call me.

I’ve never been too hung up on labels, mostly because there are so few that stick properly to me, not to mention the fact that most adhesives give me a nasty rash. I can’t even tolerate a cheap band-aid.

Four decades of straddling the gender fence has taught me many things. I have learned to tolerate being called things that I really am not.

I have come to an uneasy truce with the fact that there are not really enough gender pronouns, boxes on government forms or safe bathroom stalls for people like myself.

I have the finely honed spidey senses and street smarts necessary for survival of all gender transgressors. I have cultivated my conflict resolution and drunk guy on public transit de-escalation skills to levels far beyond that of other mortals.

I have learned to recognize my brothers and sisters, even when they look nothing at all like me. I have stretched and bent my rage enough to come to a tentative peace with a world that actively works to make us disappear.

I have learned to smile friendly and answer politely, no matter what I am called.

But it has been only recently that I figured out what to call myself.

For years I have secretly yawned and answered the ubiquitous gender pronoun preference question with a noncommittal shrug, thanking the asker for asking and then answering that they could basically call it like they saw it, that I didn’t really have a preference. And for years this was mostly true. Mostly.

But lately I have been doing a lot more work in high schools, and it has changed me somehow. It is hard to describe and feels risky to talk about at all. So I will tell a story.

I arrive in a high school in a small town. I am there to tell stories, and to engage the kids in a dialogue about bullying, and to present them with a healthy, happy, successful queer artist role model. These are my aims, roughly in that order.

The well-meaning and thinly disguised radical teacher who invited me there despite the rightwing leanings of the school’s principal asks me how I would like to be introduced.

He or she then asks me if I prefer to be referred to as a he or a she.

I survey the 80 students filing into the room. It is not always easy to spot them. The kids I came for. Some of them don’t even know yet how much they will need their memories of this day later. Some of them know all too well already.

There is the one they call the tomboy, the one whose parents reassure themselves that she is just really into sports, that’s all.

There is the A student who tried last month to come out to her fundamentalist parents, and whose father stopped her halfway into her confession, only half-joking, and told her that if she was about to come out of the closet, then she should think twice because he didn’t want to have to kick her out of his house just yet.

There is the fey boy with skinny jeans and bangs hiding his eyes who has to get his brother to pick him up in the minivan every day after school because he’s afraid to take the bus anymore after what happened.

For years I told teachers to call me she, because it seemed simpler. It seemed like this would let the kids focus on the stuff I really wanted to talk to them about. I wanted to talk about how to make schools safer for everyone, not my gender identity. I convinced myself that who I was and how I identified was not all that important to the discussion.

Then just recently, I started to tell the teacher to call me she for a whole different bunch of reasons. Somewhere along the line I realized that who I am and what I call myself might matter a whole lot to them. Because I want to stand up in front of a whole bunch of bodies coursing with newly minted hormones and prove to them that female bodies can look like just about anything their owners want them to.

I want to stand up there and say, “That’s right, folks. Here I am. A big old freak with tattoos and muscles and boys’ pants and an AC/DC shirt. I look like a dude and you can call me Ivan. I am your principal’s worst nightmare come true. I am here to tell you that you can be whatever the fuck you can dream up. You can call me she, and I will call you whatever you want me to. I am a proud butch. If you want to know more about what that means, I will be happy to talk about it with you later, after we are finished sharing our song lyric–inspired poems with each other.”

Because for me, right now, in this body, on this planet, this feels like the most revolutionary thing I can do, and the most hardcore fuck-the-binary creature I can be. But that’s just me.

I have an old friend, he is kind of like my freak father figure, and he is the one I go to with son-like questions or queer advice I could never go to my biological father for.

We got to talking about this issue, and he smiled that smile and nodded with understanding, because he is also a big old butch, in his own bearded way, and he recited the following quote by TS Eliot:

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

My name is Ivan. You can call me she. For the first time in my life, this really feels like the truth. And the truth fits, and I am going to wear it.

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With thanks
Thank you for moving me, Ivan. You spoke (and sang), several years ago at a Rainbow Youth Conference in Ottawa. Since then, I have thought often of your stories, of the power of being "just a dude", and of the strength that you have to be angry without lashing out, to be supportive without being too soft or insincere. Your books are in my classroom (except the newest one), and I keep thinking that I should write to you, should let you know that you've made a difference. You probably know that already, and I can't go into specifics here, but you are a role model in the best way possible - one who makes people want to draw out their own strengths to be similar to you in character, not slavish copies of form.
I'm phrasing this poorly, so I'll stop now. Thank you thank you thank you.
Thank you
It isn't often I see Truth expressed in such a simple and elegant way. Thank you for letting us know it is OK to be who we are FOR US, and not for THEM.
And from the old white haired man...
Who's feels his only redemptive social location is being gay... lol
Ivan, A soul felt "Thank you, for being you." For understanding how deeply you are loved by a God of many names, because of who you are, and not in spite of it. For your strength to be honest with yourself and a tough world, and for loving others enough to model integrity, compassion, and faith in kinder and gentler world in the communities our youth will form tomorrow.
love love love
revolutionary indeed!

as much as i love my transsexual friends, part of me (the "fuck-the-binary creature" part) wishes that less folks whose gender conflicted with societal norms would feel like they have to opt for surgery and hormones.

as hard, dangerous, frustrating, time consuming, and lonely as it can be, the world needs brave people to occupy the middle ground. to not validate the either/or polarity. to not allow one's fleshy bits to determine what kind of person we can or should be.

and most importantly, we need to love our bodies for what they are. because goodness knows, there's so many messages out there telling us we're not good enough, sexy enough, rich enough to be loved for simply who and what we are.

Thank You
Ivan, my sister, this big ole butch cried with the truth of your piece thanking the badass femmes the ran around in my FB circle last month. today I cheered out loud reading your decision to wear your she proudly. thanks for having the ovaries to wear them outloud.

Much love, Ann
(you can call me she too)
Ivan you are always such an inspiration i certainly look to you to set the direction for butches that have chosen the difficult task of straddling that gender line.I recently became a proud parent of a beautiful baby girl, and had to figure out what would be a good name for myself, i am not a mommy and certainly not a mama, so i became Baba, but now as she grows older i also need to decide if she will call me by my god given name or my chosen name. All my friends and family know me as Jack but i wonder how i will approach her teachers, her principal, or just her friends...hopefully i can find the same strenght that you have found and come up with the right decision, all i want is to make her life easy.all you gender queer parents out there any ideas...
You are a fine refreshing breath of intelligence and sophistication that is sorely lacking in today's society and much of our beautiful queer community. You are a truly brilliant artist. Thank you.
Beautifully written indeed. And beautifully discovered (or constructed!) - whichever! I mean, beautiful journey. Thank you so much for your work. Our communities are more resilient and more interesting for it. And so am I!
Butch Beauty
Your actions are so powerful. And I believe that is the most radical thing you or any of us can do is to be who we are every day. Thank you for doing this everyday.
Happy, truthful tears, Ivan. Thank you so much.
Thank you for being who you are, and giving the rest of us that little bit of courage needed to be ourselves in the face of all the hate and ignorance surrounding us.

There was more I wanted to say, but words escape me, because your words, as always, hit so close to my heart. Thank you for speaking your truth. The world is a better place with you in it.


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