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I think we’re done, here. How’s that for an ambivalent ending?

I hate endings. I hate saying, “Good bye”.

I am back at work, and my mind has been relentlessly elsewhere than on breast cancer. I had thought that by changing the name of the blog, from “Big Grrls DO Cry” to “Adventures in Deconstruction”, that I could shift the emphasis of the blog from cancer, to the politics of everyday life as a breast cancer survivor. And who knows, I may do that some day. But for now, I think that I need, definitively, to step away from cancer as a site of cultural production and analysis.

I want to thank you, for being here. And I want to encourage anyone who stops by, and wants more info, to please message me, by Commenting. If I know something that might be helpful, I will gladly pass it on. That function has been just one of the joys of maintaining this blog. What can I say? I am compulsively attached to some kind of idea of the Internet as a viral knowledge network that really does make a critical difference to lives where agency is imperiled. And sure as donuts at Tim Hortons, breast cancer and its attendant social/medical institutions, imperil one’s core sense of freedom, identity, value and viability.

If you feel like it, say “Hello”, or say “Goodbye”, by Commenting.

Presence. It’s all we are, and all we have.

queerchristmas.jpg I had an amazing Christmas yesterday, and you helped to make it so utterly memorable. It wasn’t about the gifts. Janice and I decided to skip that part of Christmas this year. There wasn’t any overwhelming reason. It wasn’t about anything worthy or principled. We just didn’t feel like piles of presents. What we felt like, was celebration. The very fact that enough psychic space has been cleared in my life so as to permit celebration is attributable directly to the support and overwhelmingly generous love and social connection that so many of you have shared with me. No one knows what to do in the face of cancer. I didn’t have a f*cking clue. And you somehow, against all odds, found the courage and the insight to step into the void, beside me.

So last night, on Christmas, celebrate, we did. Lots of people who I love came to our house for “A Little Christmas Queer”. And please don’t think ‘queer’ is about the sex/gender of who folks cozy up to. It’s just about affirming a principle of kinship that is other than blood ties. And of course, many people who I really wanted to celebrate with DID have family things happening that were good and wonderful, and so couldn’t be celebrating with us last night. So it was far from the whole queer family. But maybe that’s all there ever is anyway — that particular queer family, that night, in that place, and f*ck the idea that there is ever a “whole” anything. What I do know for sure is that there was a lot of love in our house last evening and also, that all my research into how to cook the perfect turkey sure did pay off. Some things should not be an ‘adventure in deconstruction’ and a turkey, perhaps, is one such entity. Although even this claim seems quite suspect.

Yesterday, the bag of breast cancer books that has been a fixture in the living room finally got moved to the back room. It’s almost out the door. I haven’t consulted one of those books for weeks, and the last of the stray volumes that were, up until recently, strewn about the house, was collected up and deposited in the bag.

joynloki2007x.jpg Loki the super-dog cozied up to everyone, and saved a very special kiss for one of her (many) one-true-loves. Somehow, she manages to find space on the couch for the great dane self, even when there isn’t any. If ever there was a postmodern mathematician with a very post-structural theory of space, it would be Loki.

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I started this blog with a story about queer love, a tattoo, and a poster on Ange’s wall that inspired me so many years ago. Last night, P, who knew Ange for many years, brought me that very poster – the very poster of the Deena Metzger photograph that I had spent so many hours staring at on Ange’s wall. After Ange died, P had been guardian of the Metzger poster. P’s generosity in passing on the poster to me is extraordinary. Ange’s poster now sits on my kitchen table, leaning against the wall. I had forgotten that there is a verse of Metzger’s poem on the poster. I was inspired by Metzger’s beauty and courage back then, as I saw it embodied by Ange in her own struggles with cancer. And now, it reanimates my own life. As you do.

Thank you so very much for walking with me, this year, in the most ghastly places that we have had to inhabit. Your courage and kindness have inspired me, and kept me company. I will leave the last word to Metzger.

I am no longer afraid of mirrors where I see the sign of the amazon, the one who shoots arrows.
There was a fine red line across my chest where a knife entered, but now a branch winds about the scar and travels from arm to heart.
Green leaves cover the branch, grapes hang there and a bird appears.
What grows in me now is vital and does not cause me harm. I think the bird is singing.
I have relinquished some of the scars.
I have designed my chest with the care given to an illuminated manuscript.
I am no longer ashamed to make love. Love is a battle I can win. I have the body of a warrior who does not kill or wound.
On the book of my body, I have permanently inscribed a tree.

hair.jpg“I should do that with my hair!” The 60-something woman emphasized SHOULD – like, “I SHOULD do that… But I wouldn’t.” I can’t tell you how many women have said those exact words to me. About hair. About my hair, and theirs. And what they mean is that they should cut their hair as short as mine. I have asked several of these commentators, “What stops you?” The answer invariably involves a reference to their husband’s displeasure.

Like fat, hair is a distinctly feminist issue. Frigga Haug,German sociologist, wrote brilliantly about this subject in Female Sexualization, where she reports on a fascinating project where participants narrate anecdotes concerning hair and gender identification.

I am on holiday, and I needed to get my hair cut yesterday. It’s a challenge. At home, Bill the barber cuts my hair. I have never seen a woman at the barber shop, but the guys cope. The barber shop I go to is downtown, where, in my imagination, people learn to accomodate difference more directly than folks in the suburbs (where I live). But on holiday, what’s a gal to do? You can’t just waltz into any old barber shop. The last time I tried that, the guy said, “Oh my g#d. I will have to pull the shades. What if my wife drives by and sees you?” I left. Any place with “Salon” in the name is out. They would balk at my directions — “Keep it short. Use the clippers.” Lady luck was smiling on me. I walked into a place where the woman who cuts hair used to live with a couple of dykes. I chose the place because the sign said, “Hair, Nails, Facials” – that’s it. Nothing fancy. “Very good.” she opined while we chatted about living arrangements – mine, and hers. “No men. Works better that way.”

I knew that eventually, I would have to confess. I enjoyed the feel of the razor sliding up my leg far too much. After a twenty-year moratorium, I shaved my legs. It felt glorious. I was stunned by the depth of guilt. I am not sure who I felt like I had betrayed, but it was tangible. I managed to hang on and ride the waves of repression until after dinner. Then I leaned over to my good friends P and J (who Janice and I met up with in Wailea) and in a whisper, spoke the ugly truth, one lapsed feminist to another. “I shaved my legs.” The aftermath was really fascinating. It turns out I was not alone. We have all been pretty committed feminists for about twenty years, and had all enthusiastically picked up and carried the “thou shalt not shave thy body hair” torch, and both P and I had shaved our legs for our Hawaii vacation. And we both felt guilty. And neither of us was sure about anything, except that something important had been set aside in this abandonment of the ban on shaving.

In the Survivor final episode post-party yesterday, the host, Jeff Probst, asked Denise, the lunch lady, her BIG question. It was about her hair. “What’s with the hair?” he inquired, as if we would all know what he meant. The audience laughed, knowingly. Can you imagine anyone ever under any circumstances asking a man that question? Denise’s answer was very telling. “I have to keep it short,” she shared with the audience, “because the children are always grabbing it. But I also want to feel like a woman.”

Frigga Haug, you were so right about hair.

aloha.jpgIt was the kind of signature event that tells you, instantly, “You are on holiday!”. I saw a flash of yellow just out of the corner of my left eye. I knew it was my snorkel. By the time I got turned around in the water off Black Rock, on Kaanapali Beach, Maui, the snorkel had flown off my face and disappeared. My first thought was, ‘Hmmm. I assumed it would float.” But it did not float. And the swift current seemed to have taken it away. I had, of course, only worn this snorkel twice. Well, that’s, twice, unless you count the times I tried it out in Vancouver, just to, well, see how it felt, out of the water. And then, with the whole misadventure having lasted only about ten seconds, I spotted the snorkel just as I also spied a man diving down to fetch it. Hidden treasure. Little did he know that I would be waiting when he swam back to the surface, hand outstretched, to reclaim my booty. Would he be disappointed? Sure enough, he reappeared, and I was there, waiting, hand at the ready. I guess he could see that it matched my mask colour. “I would have returned it at the Ocean Activities desk” he proclaimed, before I even had a chance to say, ‘Thanks!”

The sense of sudden but totally manageable danger and misadventure is what alerts you to the fact that you are on Aloha time. Even as I sort of panicked, because it was, after all, a brand new snokel, I also thought to myself, ‘Whatever. I am on holiday. I can buy another one.” The juxtaposition of minor excitement with confident allure is seductive.

kdhallelujah.gifYes. I am finally on holiday. Hallelujah. Go watch KD Lang sing Hallelujah, and think about how unbelievably grateful I am for the chance to relax. Finally. Since April, and the breast cancer diagnosis, Janice and I have not been able to take a single holiday. Well, unless a weekend in Seattle counts. And here we are. It’s sunny. There’s sand everywhere in the condo. And I am full of pineapple. You’d think I was pregnant and dealing with some weird kind of food obsession. I can’t stop eating pineapple. I love pineapple. I think it’s because eating pineapple means that I made it, here. And getting here, well, you know just how hard it’s been.

The other thing that tells you you’re on holiday, is that you overhear people saying really odd, interesting, or truly bizarre things. Like the person in the airport, who asked her companion, “What’s the difference between Arrivals and Departures?”. Now that is probably my all-time favorite question. To arrive at a sufficiently complex response, but that was elegant, would be a lovely challenge. “Why is it windy?” was the funniest thing that I heard someone say today. It’s a great question, likewise, because there is no plausible answer. It sounds like a philosophical question, to me, rather than a meteorological question. And any answer would suffice. That’s what makes it a great question. But perhaps the best thing I heard all day was the woman who said to her beach-buddy, “Well, maybe we can do that tomorrow.” YEAH. What a great attitude. Tomorrow, maybe we can do that thing, that we have been dreaming about forever. For the first time in a very long time, I feel like I could actually expect to do something tomorrow, and that it might actually happen. I knew this post would be kind of trite. No sophisticated thoughts. But who cares. I am full of pineapple, and happy enough to be thinking about tomorrow. Aloha.

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Watch the trailer of the classic lesbian movie, Desert Hearts (1985), adapted from Jane Rule’s novel

“Always historicize!” Fredric Jameson insists. And so it is important, in some ineffable way that is nonetheless of significance, that I was there, yesterday, in the South End Hall, on Galiano Island, for the Jane Rule Memorial. The event was singular. That memorial, on that day, in that place. Discourses of mobility and virtuality seem to shift our logic of location, and of being, such that the material seems to vanish into thin air — logos becoming code. And yet, I was there. Time and place coincided in only one set of coordinates.

The hall was cold and damp. It was full to the rafters. Mostly Galiano islanders had come that day to the Hall that hosts so many Island events, to commemorate the life of just one of its celebrated citizens, Jane Vance Rule. In case you don’t know Jane Rule, her writing is very important to many generations of queer folks the world over. Rule’s work opened up a symbolic imaginary for queer readers to see themselves mirrored in the pages of a novel where people lived lives, loved, worked, died and most importantly of all, existed with visibility and passion.

July 12th, islanders had packed the Hall, as they so often do, to participate and celebrate Jane Rule’s receipt of the Order of Canada, presented by the BC Lieutenant Governor, with pipers and Mountie in tow. And on that same day, I was, if you recall, at home, elsewhere, being taken care of by Sz, a friend who lives on Galiano, who had come to hold my hand while the visiting nurse removed the dreaded chest drain tubes. I couldn’t be on Galiano that warm summer day. I was, then, very much in the grip of breast cancer’s ferocious hold on my life.

And so yesterday, I had to be there, on Galiano, an island off the coast of Vancouver, that holds so many extraordinary memories of other times, other days, other lives. The people who rose to speak at the memorial talked not so much about the cultural and social and political significance of Jane Rule’s writing, but about an amazing gift of a life that touched others’ lives to the core. Jane Rule had invited them to live a better life, to reach for human relationships that seemed beyond their grasp, and to love fiercely and proudly. That is worth fighting for. That is why I travelled to Galiano yesterday; because I had to be there. Just being there, on Galiano, was worth fighting for, in much the same way that it is so very important to be there to carry on insisting, as Jane Rule did so very effectively, that a democractic life – a just public – is a public space, and a form of sociality, that values singularity. Your life, in that place, at that time; you had to be there.

abreastinaboat.jpgFetishizing community only makes us blind to the ways we might intervene in the enactment of domination and exploitation. I see the practice of critique and in particular a critical relationship to community, as an ethical practice of community, as an important mode of participation. Miranda Joseph, Against the Romance of Community

Whereas I had thought, recently, that being a drag king was a remote possibility, it looks as if PINK is going to be my new Spring colour, and sporting drag queen accessories, like a pink wig, glasses and feather boa is distinctly more likely as a possible reincarnation.

Last night, I attended the Novices meeting of Abreast in a Boat (ABIAB), which is a Dragon Boat paddling organization of, and for, women living with breast cancer. Back in June, in those horrendous pre-mastectomy days (and very long nights) that were awash with tears and chock-ablock with doctors appointments, tests and more tests, I insisted that Janice and Sz take me to the Alcan Dragon Boat Festival. This popular annual Vancouver event attracts many thousands of spectators who crowd the shoreline of False Creek to watch dragon boat paddlers compete. One of the highlights of the event is the race between boats paddled by breast cancer survivors. These paddlers create a moving panorama of courage and compassion on the water as they bring their boats into a special formation after their race, holding carnations high into the air, each one representing a woman who lost her life to breast cancer, and finally, dropping the flowers into the water.

Last June, the very same day that I got the “Mary, you have breast cancer.” call on my cellphone while standing in the Westjet line at the Edmonton airport, I was invited to a potluck where I met M – a fellow breast cancer survivor. When she talked about the dragon boat paddling “for survivors” I experienced such an intense moment of identification with her that it reminded me of when I was really young, and met honest-to-goodness queer folks for the first time. My diagnosis just hours old, I noticed that I was mesmerized by M. I sat beside her throughout the party, and finally screwed up the nerve to ask her for an email address with some really weak and unlikely explanation. I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to ask M. I just needed to make a connection. I was awkward, unsure of what to say, or how to identify myself. What was the secret handshake? My need to create a network that was larger in size than the number 1 was palpable. I knew that I absolutely had to be present for the survivors’ dragon boat race a few weeks down the road, and in particular, for the moment of the carnations.

Watching the ABIAB paddlers race at the Alcan Festival, and then bring together their boats and raise their carnations in memory of the women who lost their lives to breast cancer that year was poignant. The affect was riveting. I made a decision that day, just two weeks prior to my mastectomy, that I would be present on the water the following year. And I was resolute about the fact that next year, unlike that day in June of 2007, I would not be sobbing, and I would not be a spectator.

Abreast in a Boat has an interesting history that represents, in its essential elements, the key features of many breast cancer stories. University of British Columbia Sports Medicine physician and researcher, Dr. Don McKenzie, in 1996, founded a research program designed to challenge then prevalent knowledge and perspectives concerning the impact of upper body exercise and women living with frequently occurring impacts of breast cancer surgery and treatment, like lymphedema (painful swelling of the arms). At that time, it was widely believed that following breast cancer treatment, women should seriously restrict physical activity. Au contraire. McKenzie’s pioneering research showed that a systematic approach to the introduction and maintenance of upper body activity has a positive impact on the health and lives of women living with breast cancer. Just over a decade later, thousands of breast cancer survivors the world over are enthusiastic paddlers dispersed over more than a hundred organizations like ABIAB.

The meeting yesterday was awash in identity narratives profferred as a mode of community building and performativity. ABIAB members told stories about survival, camaraderie, emotional support and the sustenance provided by the company of women. There was, of course, a logic of inclusion and intelligibility that structured these identity organizing narratives. And where there is a grammar of inclusion, there is, of necessity, one of disidentification and estrangement. The stories were also about “being women” or “ladies”, wearing pink with pride, and telling one another stories that “can’t be told to husbands”. I felt the familiar sting of enforced feminization deep inside, and likewise, the alienation from stories about husbands, and other “men in our lives we can’t talk to”. This is, of course, the stuff of community where the logic of “in the singular, plural, and alike”, fails abysmally. How does this group that is predicated on a logic of community practice hospitality to strangers?

I’ll keep you posted.

calvin.jpgWhen we ask what the conditions of intelligibility are by which the human emerges, by which the human is recognized, by which some subject becomes the subject of human love, we are asking about conditions of intelligibility composed of norms, of practices, that have become presuppositional, without which we cannot think the human at all. Judith Butler (2001). “Doing Justice to Someone: Sex Reassignment and Allegories of Transsexuality”. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 7 (4): 621-36.

Today I wore boxers. It felt transitively gender appropriate and maybe even, essential, since I was heading off to see the plastic surgeon about chest reconstruction. Recall, that this is the only plastic surgeon in British Columbia who does chest surgery for fTm trans folks AND who does breast reconstruction. This guy, I figured, would get my particularities. But still, I needed the performative insurance boxers might provide. After all, I would need to convince the surgeon that doing chest contouring would be, in my case, an genderqueerly appropriate form of post mastectomy/breast cancer “reconstruction surgery“.

Typically, chest, or “top surgery” is regarded by the medical professionals and the health care system in British Columbia as a form of fTm Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS). The rules regarding SRS are archaic and extraordinarily discriminatory towards transgendered folks. They include proscriptive requirements, such as, for example, that a candidate for SRS “pass” successfully for a member of the “opposite sex” for a minimum period of two years PRIOR to approval for surgery and that this successful “passing” be observed and recorded by “qualified professionals”. It is also the case that candidates for SRS need to be interviewed and approved for surgery by two mental health professionals.

Step Two, if we are to think of Step One, as the deliberate selection of the Calvin Kleins, involved filling out copious forms. Dr. B wanted to know such a lot about me. There were 8 pages of questions about my sexual and gender identity in relation to temporality, as in, “Who were you when you were born?” (identification via biology), and “Who would you like to become?” (identification via surgery). I was asked to use the space inside of an empty circle to demarcate, with a single dividing line, just how much of ME was f or m at those two critical times – past and future – actual and virtual. All my circles were covered with lines going every which way, tartan-esque, and sported a lively mix of f and m. It was appropriately messy.

Complete these sentences: Gender Identity. I think of myself as a _____. Ideally, I would like to think of myself as a _____.

I experimented with playful answers, as in: How did others perceive your gender identity as a child? Answer: Simplistically. How do others perceive your gender identity now? Answer: Generously.

Step Three was the live interview with Dr. B, who was intelligent, informative and kind. Dr. B is a really stunning example of ethical medical sensibilities. He was emphatic about wanting to use respectful language in asking me about “personal aspects” of my life, and encouraged me to correct him if he went astray. Dr. B didn’t read my answers on the forms. That impressed me. He just chatted away and asked lots of questions. Medical protocol requires doctors to establish that patients seeking any form of SRS actually, seriously want surgery based on what is called, in transgender health discourse, the test of Real Life Experience (RLE). And so the performative criterion becomes, Can I establish that I have a stable and longstanding record of making successful choices in the world that are recognizable and public actions which would pass as Otherly gendered?

I knew that many of the queries were quite important to get right, no matter how casual they may have appeared, like, “Would your ideal gender identity include male genitalia?” If I sounded like I love being a woman “just the way I am,” including all my womanly parts, I would fail the necessary performance of some stable elements of gender dysphoria that would make wanting a male chest something other than totally pathological. Fortunately, “bottom surgery” (as we trannies call it) is a pretty risky biz, so I made some kind of blisteringly ironic statement about preferring a dick I could slam in a drawer to one that might whither away and drop off my body. It seemed persuasive. And I meant well. “Have you told your parents?” This was a tough question, on all kinds of levels, not the least of which is, “What’s to tell?”. Once again, humour was my friend. Most of the time, I was able to assert my stubborn attachment to a transitive relation to gender — a moving project with no fixed address. I insisted on standing in the space of gender queer, and of living a life that is about playful complexity, rather than having ever inhabited something as apparently simple as a tick box on a form.

We moved on to Step Four, because I passed Step Three. OMG. Who was born of this moment – this institutionalized accomplishment of intelligibility?

Dr. B told me enthusiastically that he would not require me to be evaluated by a psychiatrist, because it seemed like I “had a really stable and healthy identity in relation to my complex gender”. And so I learned about the various options for my chest reconstruction, which include several variations, from fixing the problems residual to the bilateral mastectomy, to a full chest contouring operation. I have lots to think about. At the end of today, I was fixated on two thoughts:

If I had been talking about using reconstruction to get a 36DD chest, I would not have been required to disclose whether I felt like I had been born, secretly, as Dolly Parton, and now needed surgery to correct a lack of fit between the inside feeling and the outward appearance.

Maybe everyone should have to read Foucault as a right of passage into adulthood, and yearly thereafter. There might even have to be a test.

I am left with enormous respect for a doctor who has learned so very much about how to care under conditions of institutionalization, uncertainty and risk. I am, also, so very proud that I found within myself the courage to insist on speaking truth to power about a kind of complexity of intelligibility for which there are so very many punishments, sanctions and harsh measures.

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