I am a Proud Progressive, Part I


Words are funny things.  In and of themselves, they are pretty neutral.   It’s only because of the meaning we imbue them with that they become charged.  Take, for example, the word faggot or fag.  In America, it’s a derogatory term for a homosexual man.  In England, it’s a cigarette.  Originally, it meant a stick.

In addition, who uses the word make a big difference as well.  Queers can use it; non-queers cannot.  Many people outside the community (any community, really.  Look at the word nigger as a very explosive example) don’t understand why it’s ok for a gay man to call another gay man a fag, but it’s not ok for the non-gay man to call him that.

I used to work for the county, and I did diversity training.  I said something about being bi and that those of us in the queer community, blah blah blah.  I got two emails informing me that someone outside the community should not use the term.  I emailed back and said that is correct, but as I am in the community, I can use it.  However, I realized that using it would bring up issues that were not relevant to the discussion, so I changed it to GLBT instead.

As I have noted many times, I love words.  I love saying them.  I love reading them.  I love learning new ones.  I love using words that may not be a part of every day conversation.  In fact, I know so many words, I sometimes don’t realize that a word I’m using isn’t in the American vernacular.  For example, the word ablution.  I love it, and I use it whenever I can.  However, I have had several people ask me what it means, so I took a poll of the smartest people I know:  my family and friends (and my therapist).  To my surprise, only one person knew what it meant.  That amazed me.  I mean, I just assumed it was a well-known word.  I was wrong.

To be fair, I most often ran into the word while reading British mysteries, but still!  Could it really be that outlandish of a word?  Apparently, yes, it could be.  That got me thinking.  What other words do I use on a regular basis that other people don’t even know?  I already censor myself so that I only use about a fourth of my vocabulary.  Would I have to cut it back even further?

Some words I like because of the way they sound.  My favorite word is deliquesce, and I don’t ever get to use it.  Esoteric, lugubrious, sonorous, and melancholia are but a few.  The way to a man’s heart may be through his stomach, but the way to this woman’s heart is through words.

Having established my vocabulary creds, I am going to take this entry in a completely different direction just because I can.

Words define.  That is what they do.  So, the words I choose to define myself are very important.  As a kid, I refused the Asian nomenclature because I was American, damn it.  I had the Farrah Fawcett feathered bangs and the powder blue cable-knit sweater to prove it!  Plus, blue eye shadow (a note to my Asian sisters, go easy on the blue eye shadow), lots and lots of blue eye shadow.  Then, when I realized that I was, indeed, Asian, I shunned the word American and hung out exclusively with Asians.  Once I integrated the two, I reclaimed Asian American (more specifically, Taiwanese American) for myself.  I think about it every few years to see if I still find it apt, and I have kept it thus far.

Next up, feminist.  When I became aware that I was a woman (in the metaphorical sense, of course), I simultaneously became aware that the word ‘feminist’, like ‘bitch’ had mostly negative connotations.  In fact, they were pretty much interchangeable–meaning an uppity woman who didn’t know her fucking place.  I heard so many women say, “I’m not a feminist, but,” or, “Well, I wouldn’t call myself a feminist,” in tones of apologia and cringing deference.  I decided early on that I did call myself a feminist, damn it.  To me, it was pretty simple.  Women should be treated equally (not the same, but equally) as men.  Women should have equal opportunities in life.  Women shouldn’t have to adhere to proscribed roles (which, ironically, allows men to break free from traditional gender roles as well).  The feminist movement meant, to me, that as a woman, I was free to choose my own path in life.  If I wanted to wear a mini-skirt because I had nice legs–I would.  If I wanted to wear sweats because they’re more comfortable–I would.  If I wanted to wear lipstick to simulate the appearance of being in heat–I would.  If I wanted to wear lip balm just to soothe my chapped lips–I would.

Sure, those are superficial attributes, but they have meaning.  I knew this dyke who was puzzled by me because I was artistic and creative, but I loved watching sports.  In addition, she said I *had* to be a femme because I had long hair.   I shrugged my shoulders and dismissed her words because to me, being any kind of ist meant being the person I truly am with all the messy details rather than try to stuff myself into a little box so others could take a heuristic measure of me.  In other words, in accepting the designation of feminist, I was expanding my persona, not constricting it.

Next, my sexuality.  I have struggled with this one because I don’t really feel one thing or the other.  I am not straight.  I am not a lesbian or a dyke.  I am bi, to a certain extent, but I see myself in a relationship with a man, not a woman.   I like the word queer because I am strange and weird as well as sexually deviant (said with tongue firmly planted in someone else’s cheek).  Pansexual just sounds odd.  Omnisexual and ambisexual doesn’t cut it, either.  I am not monogamous, but I don’t like polygamous, either.  Polyamory is better, but not quite right.  I use bi out of default, but I prefer to say I’m sexual and a hedonist.  I think those two words in combination come the closest to describing my sexual nature.  I will use bi in a pinch, but that doesn’t feel like it really fits any more.

My journey through my religious/spiritual nature has been equally nuanced.  I  was born a de facto Christian.  I never felt it–ever.  When I first realized I was going to die (age 7), I had a hard time believing in the Christian God who was full of compassion and all that shit.  When I could understand what the Old Testament really meant, well, let’s just say that I didn’t want anything to do with that God.  He reminded me of the supposedly-pagan gods of Greek and Roman mythology, what with the smiting and hating and jealousy and all.  As for the Virgin Mary, Greek and Roman gods impregnated human women, too.  Zeus/Jupiter did it with appalling regularity.  So, what’s the difference, really?

When I dumped God, I was angry, bitter, and hurt.  I took every opportunity to lash out at Him, angrily denouncing Him at every turn.  It made for some very heated discussions with my mom who was just becoming reborn around the same time.  Vengeance was MY name, motherfucker, and I wanted to make Him very aware of how much I hated Him.

As we all know, hate is just another way to be deeply enmeshed with someone.  Since I Hated Him with a capital H, I spent a lot of energy and time cursing Him out, sometimes, taking His name in vain in order to do so.  Oddly enough, I was more passionately engaged with Him in my hatred than I had ever been in my devotion to Him (which rarely got above zero).

It took many painful years for my rage to subside.  When it did, I realized that there was no Him there.  The Christian God did not exist.  Therefore, there was no reason to expend energy in His direction.  I started dabbling in other faiths such as Wicca.  I tried to say goddess rather than god, but it felt contrived to me, so I dropped it pretty quickly.  Organized anything has never been my thing, and that was never more true than in the realm of religion.  I saw all-too-clearly how easy it was for the masses to get riled up.

Just today, I took a poll on FB asking whether Under God should be removed from the Pledge of Allegiance.  80+% said no, and the reasons given were specious.  “Zomigod!  Our country was found on Judeo-Christian principles you Islofascist pigs!  We need to get back to God’s Law!”   Except, everything was in caps, which made it REALLY FUCKING IMPORTANT.  I did a simple post about seperation of church and state and how “under God” was not added to the pledge until the 1950s and that people should really know their history before spouting off such shit.  I didn’t say shit, and I didn’t list the ways this country has used Christianity to justify atrocities we committed (see, slavery, for example), but I was thinking about it.  I ended by concluding, “Otherwise, we are a theocracy which is what we decry in other nations.”  I was restrained, but disheartened at all the Christian nation crap.

Anyhoo, I have never been an atheist because I believe there is something bigger than me and thee.  I believe in evolution, but I have a hard time believing that there wasn’t some kind of laissez faire hand at work in creating the universe in the first place.  To me, believing that there is nothing bigger than us requires more faith than it does to believe in the Christian God.  So, I have settled on agnostic, though that’s not quite right, either.  I called myself an agnostic deist for a brief period of time until I realized that I just cannot commit to any kind of god figure.  Agnostic is good enough for now.

As usual, I am running way long, so I will end here and pick up the thread in the next entry.

P.S.  Picture above was created at the site, Wordle (www.wordle.net) using the words from this entry.  It is fucking cool.

11 Responses to I am a Proud Progressive, Part I

  1. It’s a constant struggle to get my teen to understand that people cannot really be defined thru the labels that they attach to themselves via facebook.

    Then there’s the whole walking the talk issue — how words mean so little when there’s no action to back it up. “I love you” being one of the most over-used and over-rated phrases around.

    Today Lottie (the 4-yr-old) handed me her little baby doll (named Luke, by her, even though it is a girl doll), she wanted me to hold him and give him cuddles. I told her a story about how from the time that she could pick up her first baby doll she would hold it tenderly and kiss it and stroke it and cuddle it — all at about a year old. She knew then how to love, knew how to cherish babies because that’s how she was (and is) cherished. She knows love, has known it even before she knew the name for it.

    I, too, am in love with words, particularly written words. Spoken, apart from music, doesn’t do that much for me. And I know what ablution means. I have been a die-hard reader since I taught myself to read (w/the help of sesame street) at the age of 3. If only Lottie were not so much about the engineering genes from the hubby and me — she wants stories read to her all of the time, but totally resists learning to read. The teen, well, she had the will to read, and now it’s all about reading what is on her facebook page and the pages of her “friends.”

    The suckiest thing about words, for me, at this point, is that there is so much bullshit flying around about what should be substantive policy issues that real discourse & meaningful dialogue are getting lost in all of the noise. Americans, their government, their politicians, all in a relationship gone bad, meaningless arguments, kitchen-sink shit.

    I hope that you’ll try to resist labeling yourself for the benefit of confused family, friends and readers. You continue to evolve, and this blog (as well as the upcoming fiction one, I hope!) are part of the process.

  2. whabs, anytime (on the listening part). Wordle is just amazing.

    SMR, you are correct that words need to be backed by actions in order for them to achieve their full potential. I rarely use the word love out loud (except for family and really close friends, of course) because I don’t want to diminish the value of the word. As you said, Lottie KNOWS love, so she doesn’t have to say it.

    As for FB, I have to disagree. I have many FB friends whom I consider really close friends. Granted, I have communicated with many of them outside of FB, but some, I have not. They are a quirky, creative, intelligent, funny, and compassionate bunch. I am confident that I would like them as much in real life as I do online. In fact, the few I have met, I do like quite a lot.

    The thing is to balance FB life with other activities. FB shouldn’t be the be-all, end-all, but it can be a helpful tool in getting to know people.

    As for political discourse–I agree. There is a phrase in the left blogosphere that resonates with me. “That (word, phrase, sentence, etc.) does not mean what you think it means.” It’s said sarcastically, of course, at all the lies and mendacities that are spread on any given day in politics.

    Oh, and I am not surprise you knew what ablution means. As for how I define myself, I am actually going to tackle that in further detail in the next entry.

  3. Excellent entry! We humans often need to organize our universe. Better to choose your own descriptive words/labels than to allow others to make those choices for you. Because they always will.

    And you drive home the importance about seriously examining the meaning of these descriptive words before adopting them. So few people do.

    For example, I have heard otherwise brilliant people embrace pansexual as a self-describer. And it’s always grated on me. In my mind it’s too broad, too simplistic. I realize it’s often associated with the willingness to accept multiple genders. But the semantics of that word mean to me that the person claiming it embraces all forms of sexual expression. And I have yet to meet a human that was turned on by EVERY iteration of sex. I think that ‘polysexual’ is more accurate, although it is also a clinical word describing a sensual reality.

    So sexual, hedonist, queer, and (may I add) sensual. I like those words.

  4. Choolie, damn right. I have been mischaracterized for most of life, and I have decided it’s time to stand up and say, “I reject your fucking labels!” to those who feel they have the right to put me in a box.

    I examine the words I use for myself every few years to see if they are still relevant to me.

    I just don’t like poly-anything. It sounds funny to me. I am going to go with your suggestions: sensual, sexual, queer, and hedonist. Sometimes, it’s best to stick to the basics.

  5. Poly wanna cracker?

    Yes! And a wang, and a cooter, and another wang…

    Sorry, Minna. =) I’m waaay overtired and am goofystupidtired.

    I agree with words. Love them. I like their power, their fluidity, their varied meanings based on inflection and intonation, all of it.

    But of course, with as giggly and punchdrunk as I am right now, I’m reminded of that skit about “fuck” being the most versatile word in the English language. And I’m snickering and giggling again.

    I need more sleep!

  6. Kel, you crack me the fuck up. Thanks for that. What skit????? I wanna watch it! And, words are fun as well, especially when used in clever wordplay.

    Although, when I get mad, I just let loose with whatever words are foremost on my mind. In other words, pure gibberish.

  7. I know a man who can use fuck at least once every four words, as a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb, a declarative, etc, etc. And that’s just when he’s explaining his pivotal role as the foreman of a landscaping crew. I had no idea he was such a friggin’ genius 😉

  8. Choolie, when you think about it, fuck is a very versatile and useful word.

    When something amazing happens: Fuuuuuuck me! Did you see that?

    When something disgusting happens: Aw, fuck no! No fucking way!

    Enthusiasm: Fuck, yeah, I’m all for it!

    Those are just three ways fuck can be used as an interjection!

  9. I also love words. (I also know what the ablution means, though I had to look it up to make sure my understanding was correct.) I love the written word. I love the spoken word. As a singer, I love the sung word. I love the way words sound and I love the layers of meanings words can have.

    Words have power, but they have the power we give them or let them have. I grew up Christian but as I grew I discovered that the words and ideas of Christianity, as they were given to me, boxed me in. To be the me I was meant to be, or could grow into being,I needed to find another way to talk about my spiritual life.

    I worked as a choir director at a Unitarian Church and loved their statement that each person believed what he or she needed to believe. But I found myself returning to my Christian roots when I left that position, because that was the native tongue of my spirituality. When I joined the Episcopal church, I found that I needed to re frame the words of the liturgical rite so that they had meaning for me and so that I could say them, a process that had been evolving for many years. What I believe and what the words mean to me will most likely not be what the person next to me believes, but we say the words together so we could have a spiritual life in connection.

    I, personally, resist the tendency to define myself with single word, though I understand the tendency of human nature to do so. It is not always easy, but I am the sum of my experiences and thoughts and feelings and it does not fit into a concise little box. I remember when I applied for the Unitarian choir director position, my resume was a poem that described me at the time in poetical terms, with my education listed at the bottom.

    This conversation reminds me of the one woman play about Emily Dickinson and the way she would hold word in her hands, metaphorically, and squeeze the last little bits of meaning and resonance out of them. Love words. Enjoy words. Use words to connect and communicate, but be careful of the power that we give them.

    Thanks for letting me express my thoughts.

  10. Crystal, thank you for commenting on my blog! Welcome. I hope you stay for awhile. If you know what ablution means, you must be a reader. I can see how as you are a singer, the sung word would be especially meaningful to you.

    You hit the nail on the head when you said that the same word can mean something different to everyone who hears it. That is one reason I try to be as precise as possible in defining myself when I need to or am moved to take such an action. When someone just doesn’t get what I am trying to say, it really frustrates me as I firmly believe I should be able to find the right words for any occasion. One of my faults is that I will explain and explain until I am blue in the face and then explain some more. Or, I will quickly dismiss someone and not bother to explain at all because it doesn’t seem worth my time.

    I wish I didn’t feel the need to constantly explain myself, but I do. It’s part of growing up as the other, I guess. I am intrigued by the idea of using a poem for a resume. I may have to steal your idea.

    Thank you for your thoughtful post. It’s always enjoyable to meet a fellow lover of words. I really appreciate your comment, and you are welcome on my blog any time.