Sunday, June 28, 2015

Stained Glass Brain 2: Straight Stitch Isn't Enough

 "Do you have a straight-stitch sewing machine, or a zigzag sewing machine?"

Fellow stitchers, what would you think if someone asked you that question? I would think: Here's somebody who once knew precisely the right question to ask about sewing machines.

But they haven't kept up. What about all the decorative stitches? Or the infinite stitch capabilities of computerized embroidery machines?  Or the high-power straight-stitch-only longarms?  "Straight or zigzag" doesn't even begin to cover it, and hasn't for the past thirty years or so.

Similarly, modern people can land anywhere along a wide and colorful gender and sexuality spectrum. Or rather, spectrums. "Straight or gay?"  is no longer nearly enough - and neither is LBGT. 

That's what I learned while working on this Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner-inspired many-gendered brain quilt. Here's where we left off last week, with freezer paper stencils surrounding a stained glass raw edge  appliqué brain. (There's a tutorial in that post.)
To backtrack a few years, I always thought that I was up on LBGT (Lesbian, Bi Gay Trans) issues, simply from reading and talking to friends.Then I spotted LBGTQ and had to look it up, Queer? Are you sure? Yes, indeed. The former insult had become a term of pride, to mean - 'gender non-conforming.'  

Years later, I stumbled across LBGTQQ -  I was sure that second Q was a typo, but just in case, checked with my teenager who had a terrific sex-ed class. Good thing I did! Q turned out to be Questioning! 

So then I was sure I knew it all, until a few months ago, I read that Facebook offers 56 different gender options! (They limit you to 10, however!?)

Not only that, but LBGTQQ had grown into LGBPTTQQIIAA+.  Did a cat step on a keyboard? No, it means (after the usual LGB) Pansexual, Transgender, Transexual, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Intergender, Asexual, Ally. (I'm not sure what the + is for - does it mean "etcetera?")

While plotting out this quilt, it was clarified to me that when people talk about gender issues, they're talking about two different things: 

1. Gender identity. Which gender, if any, you identify with, 
2. Sexual preference, Which gender, if any, you feel desire for. 

And, like stitch length, width and shape, #1 and #2 can go together in an infinity of ways. 

So I decided to surround my quilted brain with gender identities and sexual orientations, plus a few words for allies.

I used words from friends and several different gender and sexuality vocabulary lists on the Internet. (One is here; teen-oriented list here.)  Here's the master list I compiled: 
Cis Female
 Cis Male
 Cis Man
Cis Woman
Cisgender Female
Cisgender Male
Cisgender Man
Cisgender Woman
Coming Out
Cross dressing
Dyke (like 'queer,' a former insult turned into a positive)
 Female-to-Male, FTM
Male-to-Female, MTF
Gender Fluid
Gender Nonconforming
Gender Questioning
Gender Variant
Homosexual (now considered outdated and stigmatizing)
Neutrois (Genderless)
Trans Gender
Trans Female
Trans Male
Trans Man
Trans Person
Trans Woman
Transgender Female
Transgender Male
Transgender Man
 Transgender Person
Transgender Woman
 Transsexual Female
Transsexual Male
 Transsexual Man
Transsexual Person
Transsexual Woman
Versandro/Versatile androgyne

That's about 75 terms. And believe it or not, there are many more; some I felt uncomfortable using, and some are still rolling in (see comments below).

I do not envy anyone in the unconventional category. No one would willingly go through what they endure, especially growing up, if they had a choice. So if they're a little picky about which of  75+ terms they want to be called - that's fine with me! More quilt coverage!

On the other hand, I also read that not all gender-nonconforming people like these labels. To tell you the truth, as I was stitching them out, some were a little intimidating. (I am a 'cis-person,' which sounds uncomfortable. I did once have a cyst on my ovary...never mind...)

That's why I decided to circle the borders with relationship words. Whatever the label, conforming and non-conforming people are ours. Our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, friends, neighbors, ancestors, descendants, our beloveds.

I filled in the corner spaces with stylized neurons. (They look like starfish or sand dollars. Needs work.)

Initially, I had painted in the relationship words with "Decoulerant," a discharge product that is supposed to bleach out the words. But it didn't work consistently (I may not have used enough). When I removed the stencils, the relationship words around the borders were hard to read....

So I  painted inside the letters, using rainbow colors. I was literally painting on Friday while listening to the news announcement that the Supreme Court had upheld same-sex marriage. It felt so right.
Here's the more-or-less finished quilt. 
Incidentally, the concept of  a gender spectrum is not new. I just read an article which argues that classical Judaism has a half-dozen genders. One of the loveliest terms on new gender lists is the Native American  "Two Spirit." (Update: My friend Ellie sent me another Native American term: Berdach. Please look in the comments for more terms that Ellie sent me!)

If you don't have someone who's gender nonconforming in your life, watch this bat mitzvah kid. She is so poised and articulate, she made me cry. 

Part I of this series is here.

Congratulations to all the new potential brides and grooms (and the old ones, too)! 


  1. My brain hurts now! I'm just happy that no matter how you identify yourself, you can marry anyone that you want. Hooray!


  2. Art, depth, surprise, heart, and humor. Cathy, you never fail to deliver!

    1. Thank you, Sherry, I'm so glad you enjoyed it!!!

  3. This is so fantastic. What will you do with it? It needs to be in a museum.

    1. Thank you, Margaret. It's hard to imagine what kind of a museum, though.

  4. My dear friend Ellie read this blog post and sent me some more terms

    Butch - a lesbian who is not comfortable presenting herself/ expressing herself in a normative feminine way. A more masculine woman. She is NOT trans. She is comfortable with her identity as a woman. She rejects mainstream female limitations and behavioral norms.

    Femme - a lesbian who is comfortable presenting or expressing herself in a more mainstream feminine way.

    KiKi - an old 50s and 60s dyke bar term for women who can date either butches or femmes.

    Soft butch - A softer butch woman, might be known as tomboy or boi. Sometimes mistaken for a gay man.

    Boi - A boyish lesbian often mistaken for a young boy or a gay man.

    Stone butch- a very butch lesbian.

    Dyke- a strong lesbian who rejects heteronormative gender roles. Usually (but not always) feminist, politically progressive and a bit rebellious ...Variant: bar-dyke, political dyke, lipstick dyke…...

    Low femme- a lesbian who expresses a more down to earth femininity, not so invested in glamor.

    HIgh femme- A lesbian femme who loves to glam it up, high heels, makeup, the works.

    Amazon- A strong woman who loves woman. Not defined by male standards or patriarchy. Also, a strong fighter.

    Beard- When you marry somone of the opposite sex to hide who you are. They are your ‘beard’.

    DragKing- a butch lesbian who dresses like a man for performance.

    A Few Euphemisms for Lesbians:
    In The Life
    Spinster Aunt
    Daughters of Bilitis
    She Wears Comfortable Shoes
    Three Dollar Bill
    Lemonist Fesbian

    Thank you, Ellie! I am learning a lot!


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