erin judge writes this

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I'm Erin Judge. I'm a comedian and a writer. I live in Los Angeles. Let's hug.

April 30, 2013

before the hump: gail

I'm not an advice columnist, but if I were an advice columnist, it might go a little SOMETHING.... like this:

Dear Erin, So here's the deal. I'm 34 years old, and I'm at sea about my gender identity and sexual orientation. I was born and raised male, and it didn't work out very well for anyone, so I started living as me, which is Gail. Here is where it gets tricky.

Four year olds run around saying "Boys have a penis. Girls have a vagina." Wouldn't it be great if it were that simple? Some of us just don't have it that easy. My name's Gail. I look like my name might be Gail, or maybe Alison..but it's Gail. But I have my original equipment "down there". If I had surgery to make myself look more like a typical "Gail" down there, well, I could get naked in a locker room without scaring anybody, and maybe attract a wider variety of prospective partners. Other than that, I ain't feelin' the need to go "under the knife".

I feel like being in this in-between state will scare a lot of people off, and make me more socially awkward than I am with my clothes on. I am 100000% bisexual, but lesbians and bisexual women who are attracted to me initially, because they see Gail on the outside, tend to cool off when I tell them what they might see if we ever got beyond flirting.

Guys are WAY worse. They're SO insecure, except for the fetishists. There are guys who say "I watch so much shemale porn, that you're my fantasy come true."...These guys are usually the shittiest, most sexist bastards who wish they could have a 1950s housewife who looks hot, is submissive, can intuitively could give great blowjobs, and who can "think like a guy" about how a man wants to be pleased. (Some of them play this little game called "I won't say you're a guy, if you don't call me gay for thinking you're hot." Pretty gross, ay?). I know that there are a FEW guys who, if they saw the "right stuff" when I was naked, would be able to deal with my past. THOSE are some real men.

It seems like I can't be a lesbian, I can't be with bisexual women, and I'm not sure if changing my body is going to change all that. I'm seeing a shrink, and my shrink sees others like me. (Can you believe there are like tens of thousands like me???). My shrink says that if I don't feel the need to have surgery, doing it to get laid is a bad idea. That sounds right. But today there are all these LABELS! Everybody puts a NAME on everything. So...what am I supposed to be if I'm in between? "Transgender"? "Shemale"? Who's gonna fuck me? If I were ten years younger, I could be a hooker, but I don't want to do that.

What do you suggest? 

Gail, I like to see myself as a free-wheeling, iconoclastic brand of advice columnist. I dance to the beat of my own advice drummer. My ideas might be unconventional - even controversial - but I'm committed to putting it out there and saying what's in my heart. So here goes:

Do not have elective surgery to remove your penis unless you are absolutely certain.

Call me crazy, but it seems like the kind of thing one shouldn't sort of guess they might kind of want to maybe do. In my humble opinion, a baseline requirement for medically altering one's junk is being at least as sure as you need to be before, say, getting a tattoo. And you don't seem even remotely tattoo-sure here. So I'm with your shrink on this one: let's keep the status quo below the belt.

That leaves us with the rest of your question. You've clearly had a variety of disappointing and confusing experiences with men, and a number of non-starters with women. And it seems like you're struggling with how to, for lack of a better word, market yourself for dating and relationship purposes. The phenomenon of the online dating profile inevitably leads all of us to hysteria-inducing confusion over what labels to choose. ("What's my body type? Curvy? A little extra? What does that even mean?") It's a universal conundrum that's brought to an existential scale for you (and, indeed, the many thousands of wonderful folks out there like you).

But it's a mistake to focus too much on self-presentation when dating. Lots of people of every gender and sexual orientation fixate on themselves and what may or may not be wrong or right with them, so much so that they never manage to progress into the other-focused mode one needs to be in to actually find love or even just a fun hook-up. In sex and dating, it helps to have faith in yourself as you are and focus instead on what you want, on what you're looking for.

The crazy thing about that, of course, is that we generally cannot accurately identify what we really want. People fill out dating service forms demanding minimum IQs and baseline heights and ideal body sizes for potential mates, but, when push comes to shove, they end up selecting romantic partners on completely different criteria. In the end, none of us finds love by advertising our labeled selves on a billboard or posting a detailed want ad. We find it by interacting with other human beings. Even people who connect online generally exchange emails or meet for coffee to see if they get along, and those conversations are not typically about sex organs, bank statements, or professional resumes. They're just simple, friendly human interactions.

So, my advice is to be Gail out there in the world. Join up with others who share your interests. You could go the route of, say, political groups that promote the rights of LGBT people and sexual minorities, but I encourage you to look beyond those groups as well. For the sake of your safety and sanity, you probably want to focus on communities, interests and activities that are generally accepting of queer people. I would advise against NRA ski trips or GOP fundraisers. 

But there are tons of great options out there. Kickball and ultimate frisbee are just two of the many sports that feature co-ed adult leagues, and there are running clubs and yoga studios and hiking groups and lots of other places to enjoy solo sports with a group. There are queer book clubs and sci-fi book clubs, there are live events for people who enjoy the same online phenomena (xkcd has had some awesome meet-ups in the past), there are writing workshops and fermentation clubs and lots of opportunities to meet people you might not otherwise get to interact with. 

Even if you don't meet a special somebody, I suspect that making new friends and just being your regular ol' human self in a group setting will give you the confidence to proceed into the more overt dating worlds of bars and websites with a greater sense of confidence and less confusion over how to label yourself. And always keep in mind that others are capable of expanding and transforming their own identities based on who they come to love. I know gay men who date trans men. I know lesbians who started to identify as bi when their girlfriends decided to transition. I know several trans women who are married to cis women and have wonderfully supportive partnerships. 

Alas, it will be probably always be tough to figure out when to tell potentials about your anatomy... Based on your experiences, it seems like avoiding homophobic straight-identified men might be a good thing to try for a while. I'm not quite sure why you rule out lesbians and bisexual women so utterly. And what about other trans people? It seems to me that other out queer individuals, especially the more open-minded and curious among them, would make excellent potential dates for an awesome person like you. And no money needs to change hands!

What's clear to me, Gail, is that you're smart, you're interesting, and you approach others with an open mind and an open heart. I'm confident that you will find more and more people who share your awesome attributes and reciprocate your openness. 

And you just have to be Gail.

Hey, you! Want some sex and relationship advice? Of course you do. Contact Erin here

April 17, 2013

the nearness of tragedy

My friend Ailin and I joke about how we're always thinking and talking in the future tense. "It's gonna be great," we declare, even as we realize it's already great right now. I often take long walks in the Brooklyn neighborhood where I was born and now (sometimes) live, and I look out at the water and think, "I really wanna travel." I immediately recognize how hilarious this is, because I travel all the time. Just a few weeks ago, I had brunch on Newbury Street blocks from the Boston Marathon finish line when I was in town for the Women in Comedy Festival. And in January, I arrived at my mom's house in Texas with the rest of the Pink Collar Comedy Tour to find a box of kolaches from the Czech Stop in West waiting for us in the fridge.

I'm so fortunate to get to travel all over the country telling jokes, but it does lend a feeling of personal connection, of immediacy, to tragedies that unfold in any of the many places I've visited. Facebook and Twitter compound that for all of us, too. Tonight I saw a whole lot of people posting about how overwhelmed they feel, about how stunned and saddened and worn out they are by the multiple tragedies this week. I lived in the Boston area for over a decade, and before that I lived in North Texas, right in between Waco and Oklahoma City. Our country is big. Bad things happen. Sometimes they happen all at once, one after another. Sometimes it feels like too much.

The victims of Monday's tragedy in Massachusetts received some of the best trauma and surgical care anywhere in the world. The extraordinary skill of the area's medical community springs to mind every time I see Boston's Christmas tree. In 1917, in the midst of World War I, a ship packed with munitions collided with another and exploded in Halifax Harbour, killing and wounding many thousands. Boston sent doctors to help the victims, and now Halifax donates a tree to Boston every year as a way of saying thanks. It's incredible to me to imagine the shock of that brutal tragedy in the middle of an already punishing war. And, the very next year, along came the Spanish Influenza.

Many middle-class Americans today live our whole lives on the promise of the future. We work hard and worry a lot, hoping that we'll get to that someday, that retirement, that next pot of gold at the end of each little journey of sacrifice. We invest tremendously in our children, as we should. We expect a lot of our safety and security, and we collectively pretty much pull it off. Have you noticed how safe air travel has gotten? That's thanks to a little bit of luck and a whole lot of human ingenuity and dedication.

Enough bits and bytes have been spent maligning the mainstream media and the perils of the 24 hour news cycle today. But I do want to point out how the urgent, dire tone of the news, combined with the barrage of personal accounts on social media, make us all feel artificially close to these tragedies. Posts we see on Facebook or Twitter often come from individuals at the very the heart of the latest disaster. Of course, they've been re-Tweeted 100,000 times or reposted by a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend, but the personal nature of the message we're receiving directly makes us all feel much closer to these tragedies than we actually are.

This can be good and bad. I'm always thrilled to see people raising money for victims or helping disseminate vital information using their networks of followers. But if even those of us far away from the latest tragic event start to feel hopelessness and despair, that's of no real help to the people on the ground suffering. As soon as social media and the news take us over that line from concerned fellow citizen into fellow sufferer, that's when it's time to disconnect, to step away, to feel our distance rather than our proximity.

The waterfront in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn I walked along today suffered minimal damage during Hurricane Sandy. Purple sandpipers still dot the rocks between my house and the pier on 69th St. I got home from my walk and, a few hours later, posted on social media about the need for blood donation in North Texas to help replenish the supply after today's tragedy in West. That's the best I can do for them from where I sit, thousands of miles away. My only other job is to avoid the pitfalls of despair and hopelessness, to stay grounded and realize that I'm safe and my loved ones are safe. Getting sucked into the worst emotions or mulling over the most dire thoughts about the state of the world helps no one. It's a lack of perspective. And it feels bad.

Feel sympathy. Feel love. Be generous. Be kind. But don't suffer for the suffering of others. What they really need is for the rest of us to keep our heads above water.

(And I promise I'll answer a relationship question in my next post. Boy, did I get some doozies...)

April 15, 2013

marathon monday

Nothing can destroy Marathon Monday for me.

As a Wellesley College alum, I remember it fondly as a day off not long after Spring Break, a merciful class-free morning of screaming for runners followed by a late afternoon of relaxation and fried dough on Severance Green. We would gather in front of Munger Hall as the first green buds and pink flowers of the late-arriving Massachusetts spring burst onto the trees. My Wellesley friends who came from the Boston area celebrated Marathon Monday with the greatest fervor. They’d grown up watching the Scream Tunnel on television their whole lives. The rest of us were new, enthusiastic initiates to our collective cheering duty.

I have a confession. Whenever something like this happens, I think: Please let it be white people. I silently hope the perpetrators are antisocial reclusive US-born men of the sort who simultaneously oppose abortion rights and child support enforcement, a bunch of AR-15-toting birthers who claim to hate the government while they live off their federal disability checks. But that’s my own brand of prejudice. In truth, any ideology can entrap the mentally unstable into committing heinous acts in its service.

But I fear the exploitation of terrible crimes for political ends, and, in my lifetime, two ill-conceived wars have been waged in the aftermath of atrocities perpetrated by Islamic terrorists. I sat in my suburban Texas living room a short drive from Oklahoma City on the afternoon Timothy McVeigh bombed the Murrah building, and no troops were subsequently mobilized to shut down that particular brand of extremism. So perhaps that’s part of the origin of my prejudice. When far-right Americas are the perpetrators, they’re treated – correctly – as rogue criminals, and thousands of civilians don't have to die to pay for the acts of the very few.

What I know for sure is this: the Boston Marathon will continue to be one of the most celebrated and well-attended sporting events in the world. And the tragic events that transpired this afternoon will never come close to the decades of joy, trans-national enthusiasm, and triumphs of the human spirit that characterize this extraordinary event.

And nothing will drown out the cheers of the Wellesley Scream Tunnel. We’ll be back next year.

April 12, 2013

underaged feminism

I went to high school in Plano, Texas, but somehow I discovered Ani DiFranco and Bikini Kill and lots of other cultural gateways to feminism before I reached my junior year. I was a transplant from Brooklyn, and I was growing up with (secretly) lesbian parents. I only confided in two friends about my mother's relationship with her partner, but I'm sure many others assumed, correctly, the truth about my family. At school, however, my primary identity was pretty much Angry, Loud Feminist. (Keep in mind that last word was always lobbed as an obvious insult.)

Here's what life is like when you're known for your feminism (when you're known at all) at your huge, conservative, sprawling, football-obsessed suburban public high school:

Kids tell you that they're gay. I was often one of the first people friends and even acquaintances came out to. My "acceptance" speech became so familiar to me that by the end of high school I could recite it almost as a matter of rote.

Girls seek you out after they've been raped. They never used the R-word, but victims of sexual assault would find me and tell me the details and wait for my interpretation. When I asserted that what they were describing was rape, they generally denied it. But I hope in those moments I was able to offer some comfort and plant the seeds for future healing.

Dudes call you a dyke. In their defense, they were half-right, at least in my case. Still, it was kind of awkward for my boyfriend.

...and, finally:

 you don't even really remember sticking up for thank you years later for being their champion. Granted, I was probably a little too combative in high school. But in the years since, a number of people have thanked me for defending them against teachers and peers, often recalling anecdotes and scenarios I'd never even registered as particularly significant.

These days I try to use humor instead of righteous indignation as my main rhetorical device, and I strive to be more humble, gentle, patient, and understanding. Still. It's nice to hear that my attitude problem in high school helped me protect others at least a fraction as much as it helped me protect myself.