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  • Mr. Sexsmith's Other Girlfriend: New York City Loves Me Back

    April 20, 2011
    Mr. Sexsmith's Other Girlfriend: New York City Loves Me Back © Sinclair Sexsmith
    I’m not leaving New York City. At least, not yet. When I started this column a year ago, I’m not sure I would have expected to be renewed in my ability to withstand the extremity of this urban jungle, but I feel better equipped to deal with the daily trials and tribulations than I have in the past.
    Despite my increased travel and more and more frequent visits to the West (best) coast, despite making less money this past year than I have in the five years prior, despite my apartment rent increasing again this year, despite the current (beautiful) spring meaning that the (unbearable) summer is just around the corner, despite the ever-present dangers of the economy ... I almost like it here. I am learning to like it here. I just might like it here.

    I can’t imagine a better place to come in my late twenties, to throw myself into my self-made graduate studies, to casually toss myself into the fires of my Saturn Return, to break my own heart, to get reconnected to my callings, to begin to forge my own path through the ever-evolving box of tools I am gathering as I learn not just to #stayalive, but to thrive.

    There are always moments when I don’t know if I can stand it anymore, when I worry that the vice grip of this demanding tense cement roller-coaster of a place will crush me. Those moments happen weekly, if not sometimes daily. Lately, I’ve spent a good amount of time in one of New York City’s finest hospitals, and wonder if better care would happen in cities that aren’t so rushed, stressed, focused on outcomes, and short on space. What if she had her own room? What if her doctors weren’t seeing twenty, fifty, a hundred other patients today, in addition to her? Perhaps it wouldn’t make a difference.

    But perhaps it would.

    And that’s what still gets me, daily, when navigating this city: that I have compromised my quality of life.

    I remember a friend of mine in Seattle who is from New York City who attempted to move back here for a year or so, but returned to Seattle, saying that he jut wasn’t willing to live that way, with that much hustle, with that much compromise, in that crappy of an apartment. Sure, he said. I’ve got contacts. I could get a job. I could do something out there. But it doesn’t compare with what I could have here.

    I think of that often, and I also think often that perhaps I have made something of myself here that I could not have there. Perhaps I didn’t have a great view of a body of water or my own parking garage or enough disposable income to invest in the hobbies that I love, but I found myself — no, I created myself. I carved myself out of and against the granite foundation of Manhattan, the dozens of neighborhoods of Brooklyn, the beaches of Queens, the expressways in the Bronx, the water surrounding Staten Island.

    I got knocked around as New York City asked, “Who do you want to be?” I had to know for myself, had to be strong enough to withstand the taunting and the trials as I forged ahead. New York City asked who I was, and blew me over easily when I didn’t answer.

    And so, I investigated.

    I investigated myself. I looked into my own shell and asked what it was I would like to fill it with. I foraged; I fought for the bounty I sought. I created and re-created myself until I found someone I could begin to start living with for the rest of my life.

    And I have New York City to thank for that.

    It is basically impossible to say what I would have found if I hadn’t come here. Would I have found myself? Would I have stepped into my kink identity; to stand this firmly inside a dapper, chivalrous butch identity; to discover my inner top, my inner Daddy, to play with my desire for control and domination; to celebrate femmes as the loves of my life, as the way my particular orientation runs; to examine gender with such a critical eye, to begin to unravel the sexism that permeates so many layers of genderqueer struggles? I’d like to think I would have found these things on my own, regardless of my geographic location. My roots in all of those go way back, and I believe I would have come to them all eventually.

    But New York City doesn’t do anything half-assed, and does everything in the biggest, boldest, extreme neon colors it can find, so I learned quickly here—I had to. New York comes at the weak link and picks at it, pokes at the open wounds, forces you to suture them shut. To survive in a place this raw and intense, one must adapt.

    This relationship is far from over. I won’t stop writing about my struggles in this city, probably for as long as I live here, possibly even with some post-relationship processing after we break up and while I settle down somewhere new. I have plenty more to say about what it’s like to live here, what it’s like to be butch here, what it’s like to watch men’s fashion in this city where it is acceptable to wear a tuxedo walking down the street if you wish. I don’t know how this will end, though inevitably I feel it will. I’m a west coast kind of guy, a western American—I miss the wide open spaces and the trees and the way the sun sets over the water instead of the New Jersey skyline. I feel the call of the Pacific; those are my people, my tribe. But I have learned in my (almost) six years here in the east that my people are not confined to location: the transplants from the west and south are some of my favorite folks, and the Northeasterners are wild and spunky in their own lovely, fascinating ways.

    There is always some way to find common ground and elevate the discussion. There is always a place to go swing dancing, or go camping, or visit a winery or a distillery. There are always people around doing radical, queer, beautiful things, performances and activism and art, in loving relationships with friends and partners and communities, doing as much of their part as they can to change the world for all of us, for the better. And those are my people, wherever I go.

    I love the world in which I am immersed here, and I’m not ready to leave. Not yet, anyway. The west beckons, but New York City and I are still wrapped in a lover’s embrace, gazing into each other, supporting each other. I guess now I can really say that I think she loves me back.

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  • Mr. Sexsmith's Other Girlfriend: The Impact of Traveling While Butch

    April 13, 2011
    Mr. Sexsmith's Other Girlfriend: The Impact of Traveling While Butch
    Last weekend, I turned 32 on April 3rd, and my other girlfriend Kristen took me on a romantic three-day getaway to Salem and Cape Ann, Massachusetts.

    I often forget what it’s like to travel while butch. While there are various neighborhoods in New York City where I get a few odd side glances and where I feel out of place, the majority of the places I navigate through, in this eight million, people city completely ignore me. This is, in part, because while my gender presentation may be queer and unexpected, my presentation in general fits in: Levis jeans, H&M corduroy jacket, loafers, white iPhone headphones, Kenneth Cole black day bag. I don’t mean to credit designer consumer products with fitting in, but in this city it certainly helps. My freshly cut hair and fairly deep knowledge of the unspoken social rules in this region means that I fit in just fine.

    But I don’t, in many other regions. Regardless that I am wearing the same outfit as 90 percent of the men in this bar, I don’t blend in—in fact, that’s what makes me stand out. I am rarely reminded of that in New York City. But when we get out of town, I am reminded of that everywhere.

    Usually it starts at a gas station, or a rest stop. Somewhere Kristen and I stop to refuel on our way to the destination, wherever it may be. The stares start. Usually it is, at first, men. Sometimes they first stare a little too long at my gorgeous fierce femme girlfriend, though I always notice that first, the way that I constantly scan, scan, scan for predators like a watch dog. Usually, I catch their eye. Usually, they give me a look that is a cross between an apology and admiration with a dash of camaraderie, like I should join them in objectifying my girlfriend and consuming her beauty and overt femme sexuality with our eyes.

    But sometimes, what starts with a weird predatory stare at my other girlfriend extends to a fearful, aggressive stare at me. One that is clearly conveyed as displeasure, mistrust, fear, and anger. If it were a film, it’d be the close-up shot of his squinty eyes, followed by a shot of me ... what? Scared? With a similar aggressive angry look?

    Sometimes the looks extend from men’s angry, jealous stares to women — usually in the women’s restroom, where it is obvious to them that I don’t belong. Bathroom gender police are kind of a different topic, but usually that is the place where I get stares from other women.

    This past weekend, after two days of these looks, I was a little worn down.

    So when we walked into the fancy restaurant we’d carefully chosen for my birthday dinner on Saturday night at 9 p.m., and they told us all the tables were reserved and we’d have to eat at the bar, I was pissed. I had a strong emotional reaction that I didn’t quite understand at first. “How long is the wait for a table,” I asked. “We’ll just have a drink at the bar while we wait.” But even that felt lousy. I took some deep breaths. I tried to identify what was going on for me. Then, I tried to explain it to my girlfriend, who couldn’t quite tell why something so small was affecting me so deeply.

    “I think it’s cumulative,” I explained. “After two days of feeling like I don’t fit in, like I’m standing out, like I am just wrong for walking down the street or into the bookstore or into the cafe or ordering a sandwich, when I do something that further proves that I don’t know the convention of a place, like not making reservations, I feel like I’m perpetuating that feeling of displacement and not belonging.”

    She nodded. “Of course, that makes sense.”

    It’s not something I’ve ever connected before—that my slightly obsessive trip preparation and planning is actually helping to alleviate some gender anxiety, the feelings that develop after having too much attention, after standing out too much, after being stared at the minute I step outside my urban bubble. Of course, intellectually, I know that I am in a small urban bubble, one that is more tolerant of gender difference than other places. But I forget, because I have the luxury to do so. I have the privilege to forget that in other places, people react differently to my clothes, my swagger, my hair cut. It is one of the reasons I travel frequently outside of this urban bubble, to be reminded that there is a big world out there that doesn’t operate the way my huge and limited city does. But it also makes it a relief to get back to a city that doesn’t look twice at me, because I am simply not that noteworthy.

    The lack of reservations at the restaurant was just one of the two things that we uncovered through our weekend, the other being that though we had a great time at the sweet local bed and breakfast that Kristen found, we should probably look up and book the gay bed and breakfasts if we do that again. The intimacy of sharing walls and the breakfast table daily with random straight folks is just too much, on top of the constant staring and being on display of traveling through small towns.

    This was the first weekend getaway trip that we’ve taken that wasn’t either camping or visiting another larger city, and the first time we’ve stayed at a B&B, so all of this was new territory. It was surprising to me to realize that some of my travel over-preparation was actually anxiety disguised as protection—though it completely makes sense, now that that realization has hit me.

    And now that Kristen and I both know that, we can take better care at planning our trips in the future, from picking where we are staying to making reservations at the restaurant where we want to eat to calling ahead and making sure that the museum we want to visit is open the day we’re going to be there. And because we’ve figured out why it’s important to me to have those things in place, we can both be clear with each other about the planning, about the preparation, and about what we want to do while we’re visiting somewhere else, so that we can have the best experience possible, and be a team that is going through this othering process together, instead of letting the anxiety and fear of being othered affect our connection to each other.

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  • Mr. Sexsmith's Other Girlfriend: New York’s Crash Course in Cock Confidence

    April 06, 2011
    Mr. Sexsmith's Other Girlfriend: New York’s Crash Course in Cock Confidence
    I came to New York City to find my cock, though I didn’t know that at the time. I thought I was coming here for writing—to do an MFA, to perform my poetry around the city, to get a job in the publishing industry—and yes, some of that has happened, but I never expected to have discovered that I needed a crash course in cock confidence.
    Everything about this city is penetrative. From the dicks that run Wall Street to the majority of the global corporations which headquarter on the tiny island of Manhattan to the people darting through the midtown crowds to the artists and activists clawing their way to recognition to the skyscrapers themselves standing tall and erect, thrusting up into the sky, everywhere you turn in this city is invasive, inserted, hard, forceful, opening, hollowing out, ecstatic.

    At first, it frightened me. It felt non-consensual, intrusive, making me an object, a hole, something to be taken or filled up. But that was coming from me, and my position of being unable to keep boundaries and properly dominate simultaneously, a skill I have tirelessly worked to perfect (or at least be capable of) ever since.

    I had to work for my cock confidence. It did not come “naturally.” It did not come easily. But it aligned deep within me as right, and as mine. Something about it clicked. Something about the extension of myself, my desire externalized, aligned and corresponded with some inner frisson of lust, of drive, of need. It is what I crave, being inside, coaxing: come, come, come for me. Taking that energy into my hand and squeezing it, working it, bringing it up to the brink and back down again, or taking it into my hips, into my pelvis, into the very grounded core of me in order to transform it, move it, feel it, walk it up the ladder of my spine to pour out the top of my head: the process of moving from earth to divine.

    And it is divine. It is spiritual, it is a prayer, every time we speak lips to lips, every time we insert, enter, open, explore, explode. I continue to be in awe of that power, of that exchange, of that sacred conversation that happens in the sparks between our bodies when we fuck.

    And much of that, New York City has taught me: the power, the control, the ache of absence and the overwhelm of connection, the whole spectrum of merging and communing with another.

    Before I came here, I lived in the Pacific Northwest rainforest and was very used to the way the earth upturned her leaf and flower faces to catch every drop of rain and dew. Before I came here, I took long walks in the woods and walked out my front door to go for a jog. Before I trekked across the country to the Big Apple, leaving behind the Emerald City, I rode my bicycle to work and took the bus and didn’t own a car. I opened my legs and opened my heart and eagerly, readily fell in love.

    But New York changed that. I delved deeper into my own desires. There was no room for mistakes, no room for stating a sentence I did not stand behind, and lovers who demanded explanation, labels, conversation, description. How do you work, they demanded to know. And if I didn’t know, they couldn’t either. They left, moved on, flirted their way through the next cocktail party or called their back-up date.

    New York City demanded I know how I work, and I set out to figure that out. I tried things on as if I was testing out a new outfit, a new coat, a new hairstyle. I was one way on one date and another way on another date. I asked those whom I wanted to attract what they liked. I experimented and took copious notes and listened deep to my inner compasses that told me which directions to continue to travel, and which to give up. I became well acquainted with the city’s thrift stores, both for shopping and for dropping off boxes of unwanted clothes, hobbies, lives I choose not to live. Paths I traversed and decided were not right for me. It is a constant reinvention process, these big cities which demand so much of us, and if one cannot reinvent, one will get crushed by the hugeness of the vast choices in identity.

    And me, I needed my cock. I didn’t even know that weight between my legs was missing, but suddenly, when I started packing, when I started fucking ninety-nine percent of the time using a strapped on phallus, I craved it, I missed it when it wasn’t there. Not so much that I crave transition, at least not of the medical or hormonal kind—but a different kind of transition, from female to in-between, from woman-loving woman to cock-centric butch. It is a subtle difference, but one that has shifted my energy down to my molecules.

    I knew how to be entered, how to be taken, how to be filled up. The rainforests, the Pacific ocean, the fiddlehead ferns taught me that. New York City taught me how to take without draining. How to enter with permission—hell, how to ask permission, and how to hollow out a place for me to fit. How to know when to push, and when too much is too much. How to tell her to shut up and take it and when to ease back and hold, cradle, coddle. How to fuck. How to stay hard. How to find holes to fill.

    I didn’t even know that was something missing from my energetic meridians until I started experimenting, until I started occupying that space. Then, it was like being hit from within, lit from within, discovering an inner core I had never used but that was always there. I started noticing it’s absence, and recognizing the interactions where it would be useful. I began to be able to fill it up myself, to call on it, to use it as a tool. To have my own confidence.

    Maybe I would have discovered that in another city, maybe I would have stumbled upon that absence in another place, but there has been nothing like New York City to teach me how to wield a cock.

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  • Mr. Sexsmith’s Other Girlfriend: The Light is Coming Back

    March 30, 2011
    Mr. Sexsmith’s Other Girlfriend: The Light is Coming Back
    What is with this second winter? Wasn’t it sixty degrees a week ago? Yes, granted, in my home state of Alaska there would still be snow on the ground far into April, far past the official start of spring on March 21st’s equinox. So perhaps I should be used to it. Perhaps I should not expect any differently here in this concrete jungle.
    But it’s all anybody is talking about these days. “How is it so cold?” a friend asked, rhetorically, as I presume she doesn’t expect me really to answer that, at a reading this past weekend. “Killer weather we’re having,” the guy at the grocery store says. I hesitate to agree because, well, there has been some literal killer weather on this planet recently, and this is no tsunami, but I get his point. And, most importantly, “Where did our sixty degree weather go?” my next-door neighbor asked as we tried not to awkwardly bump into each other while passing in the hall this morning.

    Yes, that—Where did our sixty degree weather go? Didn’t the entire city just collectively breathe a big sigh of relief when we thought, for the love of all things sparkly and unicorn, that Punxsutawney Phil and Staten Island Chuck both did not see their shadows this year, and come on, didn’t I see espadrilles? Bare legs? Short, swingy skirts? I trust those signs of spring far more than I trust those little groundhogs.

    Plus, equinox has come and gone—that holiday which is the root of the origin for Easter when the day and night are once again equal in length, and the light is returning. The sun looks different, it is higher in the sky, leaving shorter patches of light along my kitchen floor and dining room table, deceiving my eyes into thinking it must be warm out there.

    I already put away my winter coat, but it might have to come back out again.

    And I shouldn’t argue with that reality, I suppose. It might snow on Friday. I say might because, well, what the hell do they know. I’m sure they try their best, but nobody can for sure exactly tell what Mother Nature is going to do on Friday. She might change her mind between now and then.

    It’s said that the Easter and Spring equinox traditions are superstitious about something new—that you should get a new dress, wear new clothes, buy something new for yourself around this time, as it will bring you good luck. Now that the light is coming back, it seems like the time to make ourselves just a little shinier, a little brighter, a little more ready to be seen. And I suppose this is why we have “spring cleaning,” too, a tradition that makes more sense when we can open all the windows and let our homes air out, of course, but also a practice that corresponds with light, warmth, and celebration of all things baby-green and sprouting, sexual and wild.

    Yeah, that’s right, I said sexual. Most of these holidays were about fertility rights once upon a time. Surely you know that sex makes the world go ‘round, it isn’t as though that is a new thing. All the descriptions of the pagan equinox rites include mentions of budding sexuality, blossoming desire. Why do you think the bunny and the egg are such symbols at this time of year? The egg is a sign of fertility; the bunnies, well, you know how they are, inspiring us all to do it “like bunnies.”

    The light’s coming back, the desire is coming back, the warmer days are coming back, the clearing out of old and stale energy is coming back, the cold and dark days of winter are behind us. Well, almost. They would be, if we’d take better care of this planet and not have our seasons all messed up. And while we are not that far off from today’s average weather, according to anyway, we are also quite close to the record low. I just hope this is as low as it gets, and that rumored snow on Friday will find some other place to party.

    The equinox and the Wheel of the Year are always times when I take stock of my life, and this one seems to be one of the hardest-hitting for me, since it is also the week before my birthday. This year I’m turning 32. I feel good about that, I think. It’s a little odd to be in my thirties but I was so ready, after too much finding-myself-20s-bullshit and after a tumultuous Saturn return, to be where I’m at and to celebrate the things I know about myself. But it’s hard not to look around and reflect on one’s life around one’s own birthday. My mom always says, “People get weird around their birthdays,” and I think that’s true. I know it consistently is for me, anyway. I get nervous, irritated; I feel like my footing is unsure, uncertain, different somehow than it used to be.

    It’s good to reflect on where I am, though, and good to continue thinking about all of those baby-green shoots coming up from rich, dark soil that I want to cultivate and continue to grow. Which of them need coaxing? Which will grow on their own? Which are weeds, which are growing too fast and will take over? Which are hostile? Which are not worth the resources they take to nudge, coax, and urge out of the ground, and which will I do that to anyway, all because I love them and I want to?

    I have many projects, many places where I dip my fingers and toes in, plenty others in which I am fully immersed. I want to do so many things. I want to travel this summer, want to camp out in the woods and roast marshmallows and experiment with a camp stove, want to lay on my back and stare up through the trees, want to write on rocky beaches and read books at picnic tables. I want to road trip with my best girl and make old fashioned CD mixes of as many of our songs as I can find. I want to keep on keepin’ on, to go to conferences and events and parties, to do workshops, to leave my mark on this small world of sexuality and gender and care.

    And like always, I want to pare down, to simplify, to cut out those that are no longer working, to make room for the new things that will continue to encourage my heart and intentions to soar. I’m not sure what I’ll have to prune this spring to make way for the growth of the summer and the harvest of the fall, but I hope to do it carefully, cautiously, with awareness and choice. There are so many more things for me to do and say about this huge, swirling city, about my tiny little insignificant and beautiful life, about gender, about the ways we express ourselves, about art and love and the inner workings of our minds. I don’t know what I’ll be pruning away, but I do know I am called to be a writer, and I will keep writing, as long as there’s ink in my pen, as long as there’s a place to put it, as long as there’s someone out there to read what I’ve got to say.

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