My first published short story, circa 1990: Butch and Beehive

I’ve had reason to go searching through older writing. And yes, this is dated. We’re no longer so closeted (thank whatever/whoever). We’ve embraced all genders. We understand looksism and lifestyle porn, even though we still believe it. I’m just wanting to say hello to the 27 year old Lyralen who wrote this story. I kind of like her. I remember sitting in a writers group in Cambridge, MA, with the half of the group who loved this story fighting with the half who hated it. Volume started to rise. People leaned forward so much they were almost standing. The teacher finally stopped the free-for-all and asked me what I thought. I said, “If it’s causing this much controversy, it’s ready to be published.” The very first place I sent it to was Phoebe. They sent me an acceptance letter that I received on my birthday…the birthday that ended an extremely hard year. As the Grateful Dead said, “Keep on truckin’.”


Butch and Beehive

First Published in Phoebe , Volume 2, Number 1, Spring 1990

The hostess always seats them in my station, which makes me wonder if she knows. Every time she leads them through the dining room, I cross my fingers behind my back like a child, hoping for a continuation of this silence, the protection I need no matter how it constricts me.

Beehive and Butch and what the other waitresses call them. They’re sporadic regulars here. Butch is fat and her hair is greasy, her face round a soft with small eyes and mouth that turns down. She wears suit coats and walks with her feet pointed out: she looks like she could fix a car, shoot a good game of pool, laugh loudly from her belly.

Beehive is skinny and she wears polyester pant suits, dangling earrings, and pancake make-up. She must have had terrible acne as a girl: her face is pockmarked and deeply scarred. She has dyed black hair which she wears teased into a bun that reaches six inches above her head. When you look at her you can see an entire history: family, grade school, high school, secretarial jobs.

I believe that in grade school the other children shot spitballs at her and snickered when the teacher called on her for questions whose answers she didn’t know. They hung signs on her back. KICK ME, the sign would say. Some children did kick her. She would turn around with terror sprawled across her birdlike and scrawny face. The abuse was so familiar that it took hours for her to realize that the sign was there. It need not have been.

Later, in high school, when the acne came, she sat home every weekend. No one asked her why she never had dates. She lay on her bed on those nights, trying not to think about her mother’s shame. Perhaps she dreamed of foreign countries, exotic people, reading romances and waiting for an adulthood where such things might happen to her. Then she might forget the sounds of this daily life: the giggles and whispers, the boys barking and calling her a dog. She would wear silks, and layers of chiffon. She would drink champagne, sit on balconies overlooking the ocean, gamble in Monte Carlo. She didn’t know that her body would always reveal her childhood, that her posture would be permanent; the shoulders curved forward over her breasts, the hanging head.

Maybe she has told Butch these stories. When Butch smiles her face is so gentle that I know she would console her lover. I would have protected you, Butch must say. This is true. I believe Butch herself has a story of solitude, a lonely kind of caring for others. She looks tired of being strong. She might have had a father like mine, a man who drank and yelled. She took his blows while her mother and sisters watched. Then she wore a thin veneer of toughness out into a world that would always see it as strength. There she learned that it was a curse to be stronger and smarter than most boys. But she didn’t mind enough to pretend to be different, mostly because she already knew that she liked women best. The problem was getting them to like her. It was a problem that didn’t last long. The few friends she made lasted, drawn an held by the tenderness in the way she listened. Still, she too dreamed. She wished for a way to tell women what she wanted, a way to draw them from their fascination with men. It made her wince when one of her friends would say, “I wish I could talk to him like this.”

But now Butch listens to Beehive. I like to watch them, I like to imagine that the true strength in Butch is her softness. This gives Beehive ease. Sometimes it is enough, when Butch loves her, so that she feels small parts of her history falling aside.

When I first go to their table my voice is soft, and I know that I am trying to let them see that I understand. They are sitting across from each other in the booth they always wait to get, the air between them charged with excitement to be out. Their heads lean forward so they are almost touching, talking so intensely that they barely look up to order their drinks. Butch orders for both of them without taking her eyes from Beehive’s face. I try to move away quickly, but Beehive smiles at me, demurely, like a young girl. Suddenly we are involved in the simple conspiracy of feminine women. I don’t want to smile back. It’s hard that they are so ugly, so stereotyped and visible. When I do smile I am trying to cover the deep and insulting pity I really feel. I wish I wasn’t so sure that Beehive has been with men and that her feelings were like mine.

I think after high school she met a boy in church. At first she was bewildered when he called, and she endured the sudden awkwardness of his gropings, wondering how she could feel so little love, gratitude, so little of anything. Everyone was shocked when she left him, including herself. Almost immediately she had an affair with her boss, a married man who small and balding. He must have been gentle with her, like a teacher. He made few demands, an helped her to move into an apartment. Their affair lasted for many years, until she left the job. After that, he stopped calling. It surprised her that she didn’t mind this. She was already friends with Butch.

What Beehive can’t stand are assumptions. She still works as a secretary: and the people in her office believe that her life is lonely and pitiful. She has no trouble keeping her woman lover a secret. Sometimes she feels rage for this and she thinks of bringing Butch to the yearly Christmas party. She always backs down, and the anger remains…anger that people don’t every come close enough to guess that her life has held both drama and passion; that for her Butch’s small chunky hands have a touch soft enough to draw out her pain and leave her without trembling.

I carry another round of drinks to the table. Every time it’s the same. By the fourth round they will begin to argue. Beehive drinks at least four rum and cokes and she wants more, but Butch wants her to eat to counteract the liquor. Beehive is so thin that one drink must make her head swim.

“You’ve had enough,” Butch says.

“Oh, honey, just one more, then we can order.”

“You’re smashed already,” Butch spits out in disgust. “And you do this every time we go out. Last Thursday at Helen’s you were drunk by the time we’d play two hands of cards.”

“I was not. You think you know everything.”

By this time they have the attention of the tables around them. It’s so familiar, the argument that must repeat itself throughout their life together. I am remembering the argument my parents used to have whenever the family went out to eat. My father would drink manhattans and after a few he’d start putting his arm around the waitress. My mother always voiced her humiliation in code phrases: “Larry, don’t you think you’ve had enough to drink?” “Larry, I want to go home.” The same phrases, leading to the same fight in the car ride home. My mother would sit in the back with the younger children. I would sit in the front seat next to my father, watching the road. I was always ready to tell him when to slow down, when to stop. By the time I was ten I knew all the traffic rules. And now, when my lover and I go to restaurants, we often fight, using the cues we have developed. “What do you mean I’m not being reasonable.” She says to me. “You’re not being reasonable.”

So watching Beehive and Butch, I just can’t stand it and sometimes I even feel strongly enough to walk up to the table on some pretext, knowing my presence may silence them for a few minutes. That’s what I do, carrying a clean ashtray I go over and take my time covering the old one, removing it, putting the clean one back down.

“I’d like another drink,” Beehive says.

I’m caught and I look at Butch, who glares at me.

“Would you like to order your food now also?” I ask.

“Yes,” Butch practically shouts.

“Bring the drink first,” Beehive tells me.

“Maybe I’d better give you a few minutes,” I say. The I rush away so they have no time to answer.

Their fight continues—and it is escalating. Butch has raised her voice and Beehive beings to ssshhh.

“SSSSSSSSHHHHHHH!” says Beehive.

“Don’t shush me,” yells Beehive. “I’ll talk as loud as I fucking want to.”

I stand at the small waitress station near the bar, alone. I don’t want to talk to the other waitresses now. But one walks by, carrying a tray of drinks.

“Dykes,” she mouths. “You’d think they’d at least want to keep it down so no one would notice them.”

I flinch. Bigot, I want to call her, but can’t. She has passed by and I am left with silence, my choice. You’ve never fought with your boyfriend in front of other people, I want to say. But I have no right to these words. Part of me thinks she is right. Butch and Beehive are braver than I am.

Butch is getting out of the booth.

“Then find your own way home,” she yells. It is the parting shot she takes before stomping to the door. This is a technique of fighting I also recognize; the grand exit, a bid for control.

I watch Beehive, seeing the lovers I’ve walked out on, catching the missing scene in a film I’ve seen over and over again. She stares down at her drink for a long time. She cries, the tears leaving oily tracks in her make-up. She sucks the ice cubes, one by one. The next time I got to the table she orders a drink. An another. She drinks there for an hour, maybe more. At some point she looks up and am I struck again by her fine dark eyes that are unmarred by tears and are the color of unlit charcoal.

Beehives eyes are very Latin, probably Spanish. Perhaps she has gone to Spain. She would have gone alone, and it is like a dream, a memory she has never shared. I believe this. I can see her there in the heat, held by the dark-skinned gitanos, the poverty, even the dirt. She went years ago, in her late twenties, and she remembers the music and dreams that she was a flamenco dancer in some past life. Her fingers are long and graceful, like the women who dance, turning their hands. Maybe she feels that yearning in her cigarette-stained fingertips. She certainly looks at them, long and hard, while she waits for her lover to return.

The waitresses here believe that Beehive has no money of her own because when Butch comes back she always pays the tab. Then they leave.

I know that their fight will continue and I think that there are two ways that it can go. On some nights when Butch comes back Beehive looks up an expression of such relief that it becomes love. I imagine on these nights that they go home and Beehive fumbles around the kitchen making dinner, trying to pay for her rescue. Butch is grudging about making up, about forgiveness. She gives Beehive a lecture about her drinking, maybe insists that they both go on the wagon for a time. Beehive agrees, but she is thinking of Spain, bottle of vino tinto, and the wonderful loneliness of the beach in Cadiz.

But sometimes the fight goes another way. When Butch comes back to the restaurant Beehive refuses to look up from the table, and speaks in monosyllables if at all. On these nights Butch stops at McDonald’s on the way home to make sure that Beehive eats. Then she puts her to bed and they promise each other that they’ll stop doing this, hurting each other, fighting in public. They won’t go to that restaurant again for a long time, if ever. They rarely fight at home: it’s something about coming out of the house into a world that stares anyway.

Before they leave Butch always puts a one-dollar bill on the table. The check that Beehive has run up is usually thirty dollars. That pretty much means that these two women cost their waitress at least ten dollars in tips. Everyone hates when they come in. I hate it too, what they remind me of, the playground scenes that hold them prisoner, that they were not attractive enough to outgrow.

One night though, they came in and they didn’t fight. I was proud of them. During the meal Butch looked up at me and smiled. My heart leapt in my chest as if at some kind of accomplishment. They still left only two dollars…and for the first time I wondered why: whether it was ignorance or hostility. I wanted to know if Beehive would ever tell Butch about her dreams of passion, of Spain, of flamenco. I wondered if she would learn, as I had, that it was a dance made for partners who passed each other in slow turns…a dance in which you faced the man, but if your partner was a woman you were supposed to give her your back.


Erasures (for all the women breaking silence since Brock)


A short-short story

By Lyralen Kaye


Cute. That was how it started. She was adorable, sweet, perfect. Then pretty. Good enough to eat. Round cheeks, blue eyes, dark hair, upturned nose. Strangers held her in their arms. She chortled, gurgled, smiled, played “I’m so big”.

Then she was older. Ten, say.

“You’re so pretty.” Her father’s hand in her hair.

“She’ll break hearts.”

Like that.

*                        *                        *

The world a maze of men’s hands, touching. Hair, face, pinched cheeks, pinched bum, the words: baby fat, who wants to hug a picket fence? The words: come here. Or, go give the nice man a kiss. Or, I don’t know what’s the matter with her today.

*                        *                        *

At twelve, thirteen, and fourteen she has no breasts to speak of. Fried eggs on an ironing board, Band-Aids for a bra, slightly larger than mosquito bites, her chest a constant topic of conversation. She does not stuff. She wishes she were a boy.

But she raises blue eyes to her father’s face and asks: for trips, for money, for friends to sleep over, for lobster dinners out, for that pair of jeans, for another ticket to a concert. He gives the girl whatever she asks for.

*                        *                        *

Pounds lost and gained. Dates unrepeated with boys she does not like. And then suddenly, at eighteen, she is beautiful. Older men follow her with their eyes. Her body is curved, and she wears cotton dresses, sheaths over the slender planes of her body, and, thinking of liberation, no bra. When she walks down the street, there are whistles, catcalls. Sometimes she smiles, sometimes she clenches her fists.

*                        *                        *

At work she is fired twice for refusing to stay after hours. Male teachers give her A’s, then casually mention their private retreats in the mountains, in the desert, by the sea. Her body is cold under their hands. When she climbs on top, she can feel something, hot and heavy as a blow.

*                        *                        *

At twenty-five she sues the boss that puts his hands on her body, settles out of court for enough to call it a win. She wears loose clothes, carries mace, goes to marches, pays her own way, sleeps only with women. But sometimes, when her lover calls her pretty, she turns, her eyes a field of accusation and pain. She drifts beyond all reach; she comes back crying. In the world, she watches how she walks, watches how she smiles, trying to erase cute, erase pretty, change the definition of beautiful.


My Mother and the Nun

My Mother and the Nun

Written in 1997

By Lyralen Kaye


My mother was 37 when she fell in love with a woman, the same age I am now. It was 1974, I was 14, and the woman my mother fell in love with was the principal of her children’s new grade school, a nun in the rather modern order of Saint Francis, who also happened to be her boss.

As if this wasn’t complicated enough, I had become infatuated with a girl at the same school, an Italian madonna with dark sloe eyes, olive skin, and wide hips–a girl whose body felt soft against the hardened muscles of my swimmer’s arms whenever I found an excuse to hug her. I had had crushes on other girls all through grade school, but at 14 sex was exploding in my body, and for the first time, I felt a crush as warmth, desire to touch.

Of course, I told no one.

I wonder now if my mother was discovering the same feelings, but that June, as I graduated from grade school and my mother applied for the job as secretary to the principal, all I thought about was being accepted by this new group of friends.

Then, though she hadn’t worked for 15 years, my mother got the job.

*                        *                        *

That summer, she and I fought all the time. I wanted to hang out with my friends on summer days, to sit beside my Italian friend at night and light my cigarettes from hers. My mother wanted to keep me home, wanted me to go to the pool with her and the other children, wanted me to become a life guard, something she herself had never been able to do.

“I’m not you!” I screamed at her over and over again.

I had always been unpopular. This summer things had changed. I had changed schools, and I knew I had a chance with the girls, even though the boys still didn’t like me. My mother was my adversary, the one who stood in my way.

*                        *                        *

Just before school started for the following year—high school for me, yet another new school—Sister Joyce, my mom’s new boss, and a group of other nuns came to our house. I watched, incredulous, as my mother sat among them, a child’s eagerness spreading across her tense features. What was she discovering? I knew she would tell me nothing, so I watched, memorizing everything about her.

There was tension, that day. Joyce’s past familiar—I would say lover, but I doubt in convents they can afford to be so open—spoke sharply to my mother, biting out each word. But Joyce smiled with love, and my mother, always shy, sat in the warmth of that smile like a loved child who knows she will be cherished, who knows she has been found.

“Weird”, I thought. “Really weird.”

Still, I understood what was happening. The night before I had hugged my Italian friend in the tent in our backyard, and now I looked for reasons to cry so she would hold me.

“Oh my God, I’m gay,” I’d thought when her hand touched my shoulder.

I tried not to think that my mother was, too.

But not thinking didn’t help me.

*                        *                        *

I started high school only a week later, at an all-girl Catholic school twenty minutes from where we lived. I was glad to be away from boys and what they thought of my mind (too sharp), my face and body (they called me a dog), my neediness, my inability to protect myself from their anger and cruelty. I had no true interest in any of them outside of a friendly competition, but I wanted a boyfriend the way I wanted to smoke cigarettes, proof against mockery, against being different, against something completely visible that only I couldn’t see.

*                        *                        *

My memories of that year are a slide show: my mother’s deepening interest in Sister Joyce, their kisses, their bodies changing in relationship to each other, to all of us children, and to the space of the occupied world. Contrasted with this was high school, a respite, a brief fragment of peace: no barking, no name-calling, no notes hung on my back, no circle around me on the playground, tightening like a noose.

I return, playing the same scenes over and over—my growing friendships with other girls, the polyester uniform and green and gold saddle shoes we wore, the demerits I was just beginning to acquire. But with all these memories, there is one that stands out in stark relief; and it is a memory of my mother.

The night is a Friday. My mother works for Sister Joyce five days a week, and, with typical efficiency, she makes Joyce’s life easier in every way she knows how. But work is not enough; they have begun to see each other after school lets out, and on weekends. That year, their first, Sister Joyce begins to come to our house.

On this particular Friday the family has eaten dinner, Sister Joyce is over, and I want to attend a basketball game at my school. So the three of us—Joyce, my mother, and I—get into the station wagon. I sit in the back seat and stare out the window, spacing out like a good adolescent, answering only the questions they address directly to me, which are not many. They are absorbed in each other. My mother’s hair has been cut short, and though her face is a perfect oval, feminine and pretty, her predilection for long shirtwaists and tailored clothes, combined with the new hair, conspire to make her look like a nun. Later, I will learn that lesbian couples have this tendency, to blur styles and to resemble each other, but at 14, as we turn toward the convent to drop Joyce off and I look at my mother’s short, frosted hair, I don’t think of this at all. I think, Get it over with, will you. I don’t want to be late.

We pull into the driveway of the convent, and Sister Joyce says a short good-bye to me, a long one to my mother. The car is dark, only the lights of the dash shining dimly upward toward their faces. When Joyce bends toward my mother, her short veil falls forward, but not enough to obscure my view. Unselfconsciously, without shame, she kisses my mother on the lips. I see their four lips as simple physical objects. I watch as they press together, smooth out; I see my mother look into Sister Joyce’s eyes. And in that one moment the world changes. The skin on my body begins to tingle; I can feel each separate pore. And I am frozen; when Joyce gets out of the car I can’t move, not even to get in the front seat with my mother. She has to yell my name three or four times before I get out of the car, slam the door, and place myself on the vinyl as far away from her as possible.

I sit there, my thoughts moving so fast I can’t catch them. My body is still tingling, but I am aware of my legs as unattached; I must order them to cross and uncross. My mother is a lesbian and I have had exactly three months free of mockery, free of boys, and maybe that is all I will ever have. Because I am a lesbian too, and I don’t want to be, I don’t want to be like her, I don’t want to be made fun of, or to be different, and I am, I am different, not just smarter, or too needy, or too scared to punch one of those stupid boys.

I may be mocked for the rest of my life.

I may be just like the mother who has never defended me against my father, who tells me I’m pretty, but when she thinks I don’t notice looks at me as if she’s trying to understand what’s wrong; who is cold, and feminine, and tense, and beginning to soften.

I say good-bye to my mother when I get out of the car, and then I slam the door as hard as I can.

The lights inside the boys’ gym are bright, a shock after the dim underwater glow of the car. Cheers, and screams, and noise, lots of it. A group of girls calls to me, and I climb through the stands to welcome, but I am floating through the lights and the noise, up somewhere in the vaulted ceiling, and I have to watch the other girls to know when to stand or cheer. Mostly, I’m quiet, and my mind is occupied by lips, meeting. I have never seen my parents kiss, and when my father reaches out to hug my mother, or pinch her, or tease her, she frowns and moves out of reach. Just as I do.

In the middle of this, one of my friends grabs my shoulders from behind, and, in the excitement of the game, hugs me. I have never been so tense. I think the girl is a lesbian, like my mother, like Joyce, and she had better leave me alone or I will deck her.

The next week, at school, I avoid this girl. I can barely say hello, and we were starting to be close. I can’t call her, can’t talk, won’t make plans, and though I know, even at 14, that this is cruel, even wrong, I can’t stop myself. I want to. I am not an unkind child. But I think if that girl touches me again I will die.

It takes me three years to apologize to her, and when I do, I can’t explain.

*                        *                        *

In all the years of my adolescence, the closest my mother and I ever came to talking about her relationship with Joyce was during a fight. Even when I walked in on them kissing in the king size bed in my parents’ bedroom, even after Sister Joyce had taken up residence in that bed most weekends, and my father, in his slow push toward the front door, had started sleeping in the den, we didn’t talk. But during this one fight—I was 17 by then, and dating boys to prove I was not who I was—I yelled at my mother, “At least I’m not a fucking lezzie!”

I remember the shocked vulnerability on my mother’s face. I remember it because our fights were endless by then, and she never gave in. Neither did I. But when I said that she stopped fighting, told me we needed to talk, that she loved Joyce but … and suddenly she could say nothing. What could she say and not lie?

I wanted to know if they got genital. I told myself that was all I needed to know.

*                        *                        *

Once my mother told me that she didn’t like to talk the way I did, to analyze and have deep conversations. I hated her for saying it, and more for it being true, but I was also grateful. It was an honest thing to say, and it let me know that I was alone in my searching, that she could not help me.

*                        *                        *

Ten years after my mother first fell in love with Joyce, I came home from Europe with hairy legs. I was twenty-four and had already had my first serious relationship with a woman; my mother had left my father, but Joyce had been transferred to another convent because of rumors about their relationship. She and my mother no longer spent weekends, talked on the phone, or took vacations. Their relationship had ended.

Of course, I had told my father and the older kids I was bisexual—as I then called myself—four or five years earlier, but I hadn’t told my mother. She found out by reading letters I sent to my sister.

One night, when we were alone in her townhouse, sitting on the couch, she reached over and tugged at the hairs on my legs.

“You bisexual,” she said. Then she gave me one of her shy smiles.

I was the one who didn’t know what to say. “Maybe I am,” I finally answered.

“I know.”

There was this strange silence.

“Well, what about you and Sister Joyce?” I asked.

“We were soul mates,” my mother said. “I’ve never had a friend like that before.”

It was the most she had ever said, the most she ever would say.

*                  *                  *

Now she is married to a man, and last June I married a woman. I am the same age she was when she fell in love with Joyce. She did not attend my wedding, but I was thinking of her, and the ways that I have always completed her life. I thought of the answers I wanted and she couldn’t give me, the answers needed by an unpopular 14 year old girl, and I wondered whether marriage, or writing, or even activism has helped me to become a woman who is less her daughter. Sometimes, in this vast intolerant world of ours, I think I am still sitting in the back seat of that station wagon watching a kiss, knowing what it will mean for the rest of my life; and I am afraid. Then I remember the softening of my mother’s face, and I know that my marriage is the furthest thing from silence. Last June I bent into a kiss of my own, and it was my choice, and it is my answer.



I found this yesterday, and decided to enter it into a contest. Still my true story, after all these years.

Originally published in Girlfriends Magazine and an anthology of stories by children of LGT parents.

Feel free to share.


Run from Fire, Reviewed

I am very grateful to the anonymous reviewer on the Black List who made me feel my whole writing life was worthwhile, following a downer of a week. And to Nitza, Kyle, Elizabeth and Terry of the Writers Lab, who plucked me out of the universe and gave me the opportunity to become a screenwriter. And to Tina, who spent half her life working to end violence against women…and then helped me figure out the knots in this story. Okay, so there’s a long list of people to whom I am grateful. And they help with this: Every artist has to believe in herself whether or not anyone else does. Some days, there’s manna from heaven.

For today, just this day, here’s mine:

RUN FROM FIRE by Lyralen Kaye


Present Day


Essex County, MA




Crime Drama, Family Drama, Crime Thriller


An advocate for rape victims is put to the ultimate test- when she breaks a local fireman’s reign of terror, his violence turns to her, and changes her from advocate to client.



This script is phenomenal. Colleen is a brilliant central character– ultimately utterly believable, with a troubled heart who will always put her clients before her own well being. And this script then puts that kind of a character to the ultimate test. It is extremely hard to read, but in the best possible way. The pacing is fast and slow in just the right places– the emotions are visceral and raw. Jeremy is the perfect counterpart to her almost Don Quixote complex and when their relationship nearly breaks it feels completely real. The quiet-turned-loud racism of Essex County is pitch perfectly considered in this script and skewered precisely. There is an anger in this script that is palpable but it drives the reader through it. The stage directions are well considered– when something as specific as the rape of the protagonist occurs, it must be described carefully so any actors involved know the level of emotional and physical commitment required for such a scene and there is just enough here to inform but not dwell. This is heart pounding realistic drama at its best. The flashbacks are just right– raising the right amount of dramatic questions about the past at the appropriate times and paying them off at just the right times. The title is evocative & thought provoking, considering the content.


There is very little to fix in this script. It could possibly go with a bit of a dialogue trim– the writer could have a read through just to make sure individual bits of dialogue don’t feel awkward in the mouth, but that’s a fine tuning thing. There’s only one line that really clanged in the entire script– the “Black Lives Matter” line just rang a little false, but the overall intention in the scene is good. Really, these bits are all related to specific taste. By the time this script would be shot, they would be solved. Wonderful job.


RUN FROM FIRE should be made. No question. In the sea of ultra-macho Massachusetts police corruption stories, this one, with an utterly watchable and complicated female protagonist who any actress in the mood to win an Oscar would jump to play, deserves to stand above them all. Now.




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Regret Is My Teacher


Friggin’ Brene Brown.

My partner and I have been taking her online course LIVING BRAVE. Apparently, it’s the first year it’s out.

We have an exercise in which we write about a time in our life in which we fell down. An occasion of regret.

What is a fall? For me, a terrible mistake. A time I didn’t show up, or couldn’t live up to my values the way I aspire to do.

I mean, seriously.

The result of all this is that I’m buying steampunk military clothes just so anyone who looks at me knows that I am badass. Never mind that the people who usually wear these clothes are late teen boys, and I’m a middle aged woman. I need friggin’ protection!

I should say, that I did NOT follow her instructions and pick some light, easy, whatever moment in life, a small fall. I picked the life-changing splat that I call They Named Us Mary II. Which was a production of a play that I wrote in which pretty much everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. (I knew it was a fall when I was in it. There was one big disaster and my partner said, “Now we’re in performance. Nothing else is going to happen.” and I said, “You wanna bet? This is just the beginning.” And I was right.)

I’ve been very grateful for the wake up call that was They Named Us Mary II, but absolutely haunted by my own mistakes and behavior, full not only of regret, but shame.

Regret is my teacher.

It should haunt me. Because in doing the Brene Brown exercise, and in picking this cage rattling, down to the core, shredding moment, I learned the core of my most painful mistake in this production is, well, still a big tendency. I learned something I so need to know as I move forward in my life.

I don’t ask for help. I forget that asking for emotional support is even a thing. I assume I’m friggin’ Hercules.

I act as though my life hasn’t happened to me. As if I’ve never been hurt. As if I’m up to every challenge.

To my male friends, I feel you. I am just friggin’ like you.

And it’s not true that I’m up to every challenge.

I wasn’t up to that one. And in my gut, I knew it. I knew I should have turned away the offered opportunity. I went silent when I needed to speak. I fell apart when I needed to lead and make hard decisions and have hard conversations. I fell into my own darkness.

Thank you to Brene Brown for teaching me that I can be so…well, wounded.

And to whatever/whoever for this understanding–that when I fall, I’m in pain, I need help, I must connect.

Human like everyone else.

This is what the start of self-forgiveness looks like.

Run from Fire: My Latest Screenplay

Here is the logline of my latest screenplay: The head of a battered women’s shelter struggles to take down the hero fireman who stalks and rapes her after she helps his wife.

The word that people say to me when they hear this sentence is: intense.

Oh, shit.

Can I tell you how much I hate that word? I’ve been called intense since before I was in the womb (or at least it feels that way), and what it always seemed to mean was, “too much.” Or, “tone it down.” Or, “too dark.” Or, “too emotional.”Or, very simply, “SHUT THE F UP!”

I mean, I really hate that word.

I will say that Run from Fire dives into a small town experience of violence and injustice in which a battering rapist is able to run wild because his brothers, cousin and uncle are all cops and firemen.

It’s about rape. And fear. And trying to overpower someone you can’t overpower.

My partner said to me, last night as I was freaking out about having sent it to contests, that I need to remember that I am an artist who sees the world from an outsider point-of-view, and everything I write is controversial. People get mad at me because of what I write. And that is a good thing, because I’m trying to wake them up.

I’m writing about rape. In the thriller genre. Because I have something to say about violence, about the need for power and control (in everyone, not just the batterer/rapist), and I believe what I have to say is important. Drilling down into the dark isn’t easy, but unless we can look the hard truths of the human experience in the face, they will run us right off this planet.

I’m saying I believe what I write is important.

And when I’ve written about this subject before, the critics tore me to shreds. The male critics, gay and straight, I should add. The women were more balanced.

I would like to say that this scares me. That it felt terrible. That part of me believed we should all keep silent about such things, even as, clearly, I stood up and shouted I would never shut up.

Oh, how hard it is to separate yourself from your own work!

Because I am a survivor of violence.

Not just an activist for women’s rights. Not just the woman who testified before judiciary committees and marched on Washington. But the one who knows the private moments of humiliation and powerlessness no one should ever know.

This does not mean I don’t know what I’m talking about. It means that I do.

But it also means that criticism, and being told to shut up, overtly or not, really friggin’ hurts.

I believe art can be about any subject. There’s not a single autobiographical fact in my screenplay, but somehow it feels about me, because there’s a stigma around the subject matter.

Let the screenplay stand on its own merits. Let me tell the stories I tell from the strength and power of both terrible truths and heartbreaking kindness.

Let me say that I am afraid. That I remember the vitriol of critics, the intense discomfort of people afraid to ask if I knew something about this subject, the shame we all have in talking about it.

So, preemptively–yes, I know something about the subject. Since my explosion into performance came from winning the Amazon Super Slam Finals with two poems about violence against women, that really shouldn’t be a secret.

I would like to say that when I write about an Episcopal priest possessed by grace and integrity, I also know what I’m talking about, and not just from the priests I’ve interviewed. I know her from the inside out.

I don’t have to be afraid when I tell her story. I don’t care what the critics think. I’m not vulnerable to shame.

More fear, when you break the taboo. More courage, to break it.

Harder, to write the story truthfully, to make sure it’s artistic, but not to make it less difficult out of the fear of what people might think.

I hope the people who read my screenplay find it well-crafted, meaningful, fast-paced, stunning and disturbing.

It’s a story.

And I’ve never been able to care for long what people think. Mostly, when they hurt me, I want to get even, as soon as I can.

That’s in the story, too.

I Am Not A Straight Girl, # Infinity + 1, OR, the GAZE (not necessarily male)

So, I really love writing my “I Am Not a Straight Girl” series. LOVE. It’s so much fun.

This one’s a quickie.

And all about the gaze. As in, THE GAZE.

Straight feminists talk about the male gaze. And if you’re sexually attracted to men, then the male gaze matters, right? You care what they find attractive and you form yourself toward that ideal, even if it twists you out of shape in a million ways. Not too powerful, not too smart, not stronger than…definitely feminine, definitely sexy. In the cliche, mind you.

But what about the female gaze? Or the gay male gaze?

What is my own gaze, for that matter?

What gaze do I lean toward, when I’m trying to attract a mate? (Okay, I already have a mate, and she pretty much finds the myriad of my gender fluidity and experiments amusing and even across-the-board attractive, so I’m good. Or I would be, if I didn’t like mass attention.)

Anyhow, in order:

The female gaze. As in straight female. When men lean toward that gaze, what do they become? And oh, why don’t we ask this question much more often?

Because men feel they have to be strong, dominant, smarter…they can’t fail, be weak, uncertain. The female gaze lives in the binary of traditional roles, and it demands that men never fully express their humanity. As a very honest friend of mine said recently, “I married jerks and dated nice guys who I judged.”

Or the gay male gaze. Which loves the perfect male form, which admires butchness, which allows vulnerability in limited ways, which wants sexy, which rejects geek, quirk, sloppy.

Gay men and straight women top the charts in anorexia/bulimia because of the emphasis on appearance in their respective and potential partners.

Which brings me to the lesbian gaze. Or the queer woman gaze. Or me.


Of course, I’ve been all over the map, but let’s land it where I don’t want to admit it lands–in the country of nurture. Support. Warmth. Not so focused on appearance, but definitely focused on comfort for the heart. And this might not be so bad, except that sexy and comfort don’t have a lot to do with each other.

Comfort has always been my Waterloo. Looking for the gaze that doesn’t ask me for a ridiculous amount of strength.

You see, there’s a reason I empathize so much with straight men.

However, in my particular queer gaze, I’m looking for duality, for both/and, for butch, for play, for outlaw. I’m most attracted to gender queer and trans people, because long before I had language to explain it, I knew that male and female both didn’t quite work for me. Neither were terrible, so I called myself bi, but honestly, too much yin or yang…not my thing.

I want the in-between, the other, the re-imagined, the inventing as you go gender. I want the discovery, I want the little edge of male that is a sexual gasp in the surrounding almost female.

We all look. We all have a gaze.

And that, in the end, is what this blog is about. Not the easily politicized…and don’t get me wrong, I get that straight women suffer in living with the male gaze, and that the male gaze is sexist and limiting and soul-crushing, or can be. I mean, I don’t really get why they don’t just turn to another woman, but that’s another subject.

But if we’re all looking, then let us look for what is human, what frees us to recognize each other.

Sexuality can’t be easily explained or defined. What attracts us, in the gender of another. But I can say that my partner’s gender is woven together with who she is…with her experience, with her morality, with her empathy, compassion and kindness. I love what her experience of otherness has done for growing her big heart bigger, even as I mourn for the loneliness she’s felt as an outsider.

We all look.

Look deeper.

Know that your gaze can carve a space for someone to live more deeply in this world.

Or can shut out huge chunks of who they are.

Love more. See more. Make room.

We’re all looking. It would be great if we all could really see.