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Way Station

I like being a way station. Although the central cast remains relatively unchanged over long periods, people move in and out of my homes pretty regularly. Couchsurfers for a day or a week, friends of friends stopping in to relax and move on, new long-term housemates I have sometimes met the day I moved them in, friends stuck in the land of in-between, certain people to whom I have committed to always be their home when needed. I love the combination of stability and fluidity. Many of my friends are wanderers by nature, and I am their home base, the solid spot that gives them greater freedom. It's important to me not to require commitment in return, with a few very specific and long-term and negotiated exceptions. If I choose this life for that kind of quid pro quo reason, I am weighing them down with nonconsensual implicit obligations. That gets icky and codependent really quickly.

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A thought on footwear and stride

I mentioned in my last post that I can't abide feeling hobbled.

I like heels, because I like the height, but they have to be solid and strong, good for tromping about, roomy at the toes. Stilettos, not happening. Ballet shoes (the kink variety) give me the shivers. And my feet can't take even stompy heels for as long as I'd like anymore. I'm not ok with trading stride for height (although my relationship to height, in a family of men ranging from 6' 2" to 6' 5", is a whole other post. There's my true body dysphoria, not at my crotch. I am MUCH bigger inside my head).

Feeling my body move and work is a deep part of my sensual enjoyment of the world and my sexuality. My stride is at the core of that. It communicates and expresses me and my moods. I like to move quickly and confidently, I like the feel in my legs and hips and shoulders. I like the swing of my hips as much as I like the length of my steps.

That also breaks a lot, though. Sometimes for long periods; bouts of plantar fasciitis (I'm convinced Hans Christian Andersen experienced this; it explains so much about The Little Mermaid's "walking on knives"), or more common and variable joint pain throughout my legs. I am literally hobbled, my stride shorter, slower, more hesitant. My balance is off, I fall more easily. I can't send the same signals in the same ways, and sometimes it really shuts me down. Sometimes I'm in a weird middle state where I can still choose to move how I want, but it's gonna hurt. It gets... complicated.

One of the best things about having a intermittent illness, though, is the feeling when it goes away. When I come out of a flare and I can move the way I want to, it is one of the most glorious feelings on the planet. Walking down the hall at work is a celebration. I dance on the sidewalk (quite literally). I don't know that I could appreciately as deeply what my stride means to me if I hadn't lost it so frequently.

I do find it amusing to be a woman in comfortable shoes, though. ;P

Class and kinks and why I love leather

My politics are so deeply interwoven with my kinks they're inseparable. I think it's already pretty obvious from other writings how feminism and queer activism and such have tied in pretty directly.

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Non-newtonian fluid?

Sitting on the porch, smoking and writing while Chad is out with a friend. Just had an amusing mental image, while thinking about the ways in which I'm cooperative until pushed.

Obviously, I'm a non-newtonian fluid. Cornstarch and water, that fabulous old science class demo. Fluid, except under pressure. That fits. ;P

I'll do almost anything but what you try to make me. I'll give almost anything except what you try to take from me.

It's about locus of control. It's why I'm becoming more and more certain that "dominant" is an important part of the ever-growing list of tags and annotated labels that help describe me.

Dichotomies and spectrums

I was asked a really good question about how gender plays out in my life in dating situations. This is my answer from that conversation, with some expansions and clarifications. It's also one of my more successful attempts to explain how deeply I perceive things in spectrums or venn diagrams, rather than dichotomies. That colors my thinking in a multitude of ways.

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Why it's good not to be "the best"

[this started out in one direction, and veered off in a completely different one. The title doesn't really fit, but I can't figure out what to change it to. Right now I'm not entirely sure what it says. *shrug* Have some stream of consciousness, y'all.]

I have grown the most, and found the most freedom, at the points in life where I was challenged by discovering that some core part of my identity was "threatened" by external factor. Not because it made me more competitive; that's generally a bad track for me, full of anxiety, insecurity and defensiveness. It's when I'm able to let go of that competitiveness that I'm most able to be myself, and enjoy what I am, not where I rank. In fact, it was this thought that crossed my mind in relation to another post and prompted my current writing:

"I think it's worth noting that I'm naturally a pretty competitive Type-A personality, and have intentionally made myself more Type-B because I like better who I am that way. I'm so cooperative because I don't like what comes out when I'm competitive."

Of my community affiliations, my neo-hippie roots are those I've probably talked about the least, but which influence my life on the deepest level, in concert with my experiences growing up shaped by the philosophies of liberal christianity, which certainly has pretty "love, peace, and understanding" elements, despite some of my other discomforts with it. When I say I'm a damned hippie, it's generally half tongue-in-cheek, half serious statement about how I prioritize cooperation over competition, a certain type of idealism, a specific set of values about how I choose to interact with the people in my spheres and the world around me. It's everything to do with the path and shape of my life. I decided long, long ago that prioritizing family over career was the right choice for me. It just doesn't look much like that does for many people who make that same choice. My most fundamental decisions about where I live, how I live, where I work, are absolutely about that. I move or stay, for family and friends. I maintain a certain kind of household space, for family, friends, and wandering strangers. I work a job that's low enough on the totem pole to be pretty invisible, to give me greater personal freedom and time/energy for social interactions. I like the life that's given me. I like it a lot. I've hit some hellaciously rough times, times when I was uncertain of even that in my life, and no doubt could be more destabilizing for me, but the force of that network in my life has always ultimately saved me. I'm pretty spatial in a lot of my thinking, so concepts in my head often become abstract shapes in relation to each other. My internal self-perception of myself is never as a truly discrete unit, but deeply embedded in a web of connections, each strand a different length and resiliency. It's highly organic and constantly shifting, but the end result is incredible support.

Ending rambling here, for no particular reason except that it's late and I want a hot shower.

Grandma was a sociopath.

My Grandmother was a sociopath. At least, that's the language I grew up with, not sure what the DSM would label her now. It'd probably be complicated. She was brilliant, she was a master manipulator, she was abusive. When she was young she was very beautiful, and she used her brains and her sexual power to get what she wanted. She almost got us kids taken away from my folks when she was living with us (seven years or so, I think, total), threats of claiming elder abuse if my parents tried to get her out of the house for being abusive toward us (my Mom, her daughter, had grown up largely in foster care, so this was a nightmare fear for her). My first realization of my mother's true humanity was her sobbing at the kitchen table when I was five or six because Grandma had disowned her (again). A large part of why I am so vocal about my appreciation of my mother's parenting is because I know her deep insecurities; no role model of good mothering of her own to follow. Grandma once bit me hard enough to leave individual teeth prints in my arm through a jean jacket and a sweater. I was terrified of her, growing up. We all were. She couldn't climb the stairs, so I'd get home from school and dash up as fast as I could. Once we finally did get her out of the house, it took a number of years for me to rebuild a relationship with her, learn how to have one with the boundaries I needed to stay safe from her, but that allowed for me to help care for her at the end of her life. From her, I learned how to keep myself safe with fundamentally dangerous people, and still have the most fulfilling relationships possible given the limitations.

She is also the family member I am most like, hands down.

It's a lot of why, by the end of her life, I was the one who could deal with her best, take the load off my Mom, who had been too deeply scarred to be that close to her without pain. I'm proud I could do that for my family, could find a way to build a relationship that challenging and keep myself healthy and safe within it. And she was a fascinating, amazing woman in many ways. I loved her, for all her flaws, and did find ways to get a great deal out of our relationship in the later years. It was our commonalities that allowed us to work around her psych issues. When I came out to her, her first response was to go find me the article about Candace Gingrich (Newt Gingrich's lesbian sister, for the young'uns). Letters from then on came sealed with rainbow stickers, or with "Love makes a family" pins, or clippings about what the quakers were doing on LGBT issues (she was a quaker). She supported every bit of my activism (she was the one with the FBI record from her history of activism), and I keep a tiny bit of her ashes in a necklace just for wearing to protest marches. She supported me being scandalous, and independent, and a general freak. We bonded over Janis Joplin and the blues. It was a complicated relationship, to say the very least.

When I say that I fear my potential to bully or manipulate people, folks usually laugh it off. They don't see it in me. I'm a progressive activist with all the "right" views about how the world could be, after all. How could that be a serious risk? How could I be _that_ afraid? She was too, though. And she was good at hiding her dysfunction; it's exactly why she was so incredible at manipulating people. I haven't really thought about it in a long time, but so much of who I am is a reaction to my experience with her. It took me years to tell my supportive and accepting parents about my cousins molesting me because Grandma had shredded our family into pieces in the previous generation (vanishing out of state, abandoning her kids until the neighbors noticed them home alone, famously chased my aunt around the table with a knife, disowned my uncle, the stories go on and on), and I was afraid of being the cause of another rift in this generation.

So I don't trust that good politics necessarily means good people. That's for the best, I think, because it isn't true. She was a peace activist, but our home was anything but peaceful with her in it. She did a lot of good in the world, and monumental damage within my family.

I inherited her body shape, the opposite of Mom's. I inherited at least some of her psych disorders (she was in and out of psych hospitals before I was born; we don't know her diagnosis, but it appears that bipolar with some schizophreniform and paranoid features is a likely call). I shared her politics and beliefs. I inherited her brains, and I say that not to brag, but because there is nothing scarier than someone who is dangerous _and smart_. I grew up knowing intelligence could be a powerful, powerful weapon. She was certainly an independent, headstrong, dominant, and scandalous woman, and I identified with that.

How could I not fear finding more of her in me?

When I say I am terrified of my potential to bully and manipulate, that I do everything in my power to defang the power differentials between me and those around me, that it took me 'til age 40 to begin to explore dominance sexually because it is so hard for me to feel safe enough, it's not because I'm a sheltered Pollyanna "nice girl". This is where it comes from. I'm generally light-hearted about it in conversation, "oh, yeah, how did it take so long..." but I know exactly why it did. I know I like being in control; I'm not blind. I know it thrills me, gives me a charge. It pretty obviously did for her too (not sexually; I have no idea about that; my family's famous openness about sexual discussion started with Mom, not Grandma).

When talking about psych stuff with people, especially other people who live in their heads like I do, I often point out that being smart is at least as much of a liability as an advantage in coping. I can make pretty damned convincing arguments to support just about any fucked up headspace my neurochemistry throws at me. I can intellectually intimidate my providers, I can baffle with bullshit. I can weaponize my power with words in subtle, sneaky ways. I can justify almost anything to myself and others with enough work. It's true I use a form of hyper-rationality to navigate my mood swings, but I have to be very careful and intentional about that, or my brain can lead me astray instead of pulling me to safety. A sharp mind can cut in many ways, and I've seen that too closely to ever completely trust my own.

It's gotten better over the years. I know the difference between crazy and dysfunctional, most of the time, and I try to live with the former and avoid the latter. My mother's radical openness about her own bipolar (much more severe than mine), itself a reaction to Grandma in many ways, is at the core of my deep, deep belief in the power of being out and honest even when it disconcerts people, even when it's scary as hell to do, vulnerable and exposing. That changed everything about my family, made this generation so different from the last, halted so many horrible patterns. My focus on navigating social dynamics in large part by making the subtextual power dynamics textual and addressable comes from a similar place, and I think has had similar positive effects.

So yes, 40 years in I've finally gotten to a point where I may be able to play with that fire, explore the fun and stimulating elements of intentional power exchange. I don't know that it can ever be anything but complicated for me, with my history and my fears, but I do think I'm at a point where "rewarding" finally outweighs "terrifying". I'm glad of that.
So. Yesterday I talked at great length about the place of masculinity in my head. Today, I think I'll talk about its place in my bed. ;)

Femme performativity can be hugely hot for me, no denying. In fact, I tend to be sexually compatible with a much broader spectrum of women than men. But it's often somewhat foreign to me, too. Beautiful and hot more for its difference from me than its commonality. Worth noting that although I talked a lot about cultural structures of power around gender yesterday, especially the internal misogyny of my youth, sorting that out in my head has allowed me a lot clearer view and recognition of powerful take-no-shit femmes, appreciation for the subversiveness of intentional and unapologetic femininity (and I do love me some subversion). I love it, I react to it, but it's not my personal path most days (when it is, I tend to go "earth mother femme". High femme, even very dominant high femme, is drag for me. Sometimes fun, but I'm just being a tourist). I have a lot to thank the lesbian community for, in the ways I learned there to appreciate femininity as a conscious and radical choice, not just an awkward societal default I kept getting unwillingly shoved into. Sexually, feminine women can be hugely affirming for me. Many recognize and react to my masculine side, and our tendency to compare-and-contrast pushes me into comfortable space where I am the more masculine one.

Folks who wander the middle ground, under a variety of labels or none, are my people. Huge sense of connection there, which may or may not be sexual, depending. I struggle least inside my own head within those connections. Rather than contrast, commonality is the core of our dynamic.

Masculine-of-center -- that's the meat of what I really want to talk about today. Tomboys and butches, trans and cis men. If you want to see my neck snap around fast enough to risk whiplash while I simultaneously trip over my own feet, throw some hot queered masculinity in front of me, especially in a female body. Goddamn.

I am hesitant to pursue, though, in a way that's different from my usual nervousness about impinging on boundaries. This is old defensiveness and uncertainty. Fears that being less masculine than them in contrast will push me back into the girl box, get me read and reacted to in ways that are rarely comfortable to me. Stupid old assumptions that if they're the boy I'll have to be the girl.

In actuality, my energy with masculine people is often more masculine, not less (more on that in a minute) When it connects the other way, my feminine side is a gift of profound trust. To enjoy it with someone, especially sexually, I have to get over the fear that them seeing that side, seeing that it is _also_ true for me, will erase my hard-fought-for masculine side. It feels very similar to struggles around having my queerness erased when I'm seen dating guys. I am only truly comfortable being feminine with those people I most trust to see and honor my masculinity.

Because of all that crap in my head, interacting with masculinity sexually can be very tricky for me. It draws me but threatens me. It can bring out some of my worst old defensive traits if I'm not careful.

As a note: It's rare for me to connect sexually with men or women who are entirely straight. I'm to much of a girl for straight women, to much of a guy for straight men. The men are actually generally fine with pursuing me, but we can't connect in the ways I need, and I end up feeling invisible or deceptive. And defensive internalized homophobia and machismo is a huge turn-off, both in general and because it pushes the sense that I am deceiving and violating them, that if they truly understood me they would not be ok with it. Also, those are the men most likely to insist on treating me "like a girl". No thanks.

Queered masculinity, though, especially masculine-masculine connections... There's a reason a huge percentage of my porn is gay leatherdaddies or lesbian butch-butch dynamics. *Melt* I love that energy. Carol Queen's Leatherdaddy and the Femme, Patrick Califia's Boy in the Middle... That's the home of my most potent fantasies (and their writing has reassured me many times over the years when I felt alone and incomprehensible).

The world has gotten a lot easier for me in recent years. Boundaries breaking down, increased inclusivity and space for wanderers like me. Just the recognition of our existence is a huge step, honestly. But for better or worse, my formative years happened in a much more rigid time, and old insecurities die hard. "Am I welcome here" is always a critical question for me, and one I often have to ask multiple times to truly assuage those fears. And my body still prevents me from fitting seamlessly into many of the dynamics I crave. I've said for decades that if I got a male body for a day I'd spend every minute of that day in gay leather bars and bathhouses. As is, I'm sensitive about issues of appropriation and invasion. I'm not always even comfortable talking about my attractions to gay cis men and to trans men of all orientations. I've been fetishized for my traits enough I don't want to do that to others or be perceived as someone who would.

It's not fetishization, though, I don't think. It's a desire to participate in some way (even as a voyeur) in a type of masculine energy interplay that I generally can't directly without my body throwing off the dynamic. I sure as hell have no interest in "turning" gay men. When I have played that way we ignore my girlbits almost entirely, and I'm good with that. I don't want to create heterosexuality with them, I want to revel in their masculine queerness. I want to find ways to play in that world without breaking what is special and magnificent about it. And with trans guys, it's nothing to do with their equipment and everything to do with their experience. I am not trans, as far as I can tell, but I generally feel safer with trans men than anyone else, because I trust their empathy with my reality. I trust them to believe me.

Cis guys who are most attracted to women are the trickiest territory for me. There's so much potential, but I'm easily overwhelmed by conflicting impulses. I want to be "one of the guys", except sometimes when I don't. My ten-year-old posturing competitive tomboy comes out, and she can be a pain in the ass. Queer/gay men tend to elicit my more masculine energy sexually. Guys on the straighter end of the spectrum tend to elicit my feminine side sexually, which can be very much at odds with my preferred social dynamics outside the bedroom, and can bring up a lot of old crap in my head.

Kink dynamics can make everything even trickier. At present I'd describe myself as mostly dominant, and also mostly a bottom. That confuses enough people all on its own, let alone the complicated ways gender plays into things. The most common and pervasive images of kink, both femdom and feminine submission, are poor fits for me, and fem sub to masculine dominant is perhaps the trickiest of all. Scares the shit out of me (which unsurprisingly also makes me deeply curious to poke at it; I don't exactly run at my fears, but it is my tendency to hesitantly sidle toward them and prod at them). If I were to submit, I'm pretty certain it would be easiest for me to do from queer masculine headspace, or to a queer woman, or both. It pulls far enough from the common cultural detritus of gender dynamics to alleviate some of the psychological stressors for me. As is, I generally bottom from a pretty dominant headspace, although it may be feminine.

Honestly, I always expected that if I got over my fears enough, I'd be more likely to explore submission than dominance sexually. I got surprised on that one, in ways that seem glaringly obvious in retrospect. So far, in the one relationship where it's been a serious element, I found a profound resonance that I'm still both processing and grieving. I don't know if I can do dominance casually. The experience shifted my life (I found a whole new way of falling in love), but right now my feelings about it are too deeply tied to an aching hole in my heart to go anywhere near those dynamics with someone else, even casually, if that's even possible for me (I'm a slut, so I expect someday it will be).

The experience, though, in opening me up to D/s dynamics (I was all S/M previously), created another avenue of possible exploration. I don't like being limited by my fears. I don't think that deep down I'm primarily submissive (the opposite, actually), but I don't want to fear whatever tendencies I have in that regard, and I have gotten progressively more curious recently, largely as a result of trying to wrap my brain around my sub partner's headspace. I don't think I'll end up living there, but I want to know and understand the territory to the extent I'm able. I suspect that's pretty directly related to how I'm reacting to some of the people around, especially in the community, in ways that are rather surprising and atypical for me. No idea when/if I'll actually be ready to explore that, but I'm certainly finding the inside of my head an odd place these days. We'll see.

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The man I'd be...

I have become more and more certain and comfortable in my genderqueerness over the years. I don't think I've gotten commensurately easier to read as such, though. If anything, the opposite. I tell people, and expect them to respect it, but without that it'd be under the radar or incorrectly identified by many, much of the time. Many more than would've read me semi-accurately at times in my past.

I mostly credit feminism for fixing the rift between my masculine and feminine sides, in as much as it's fixed. That's where I learned the skills to analyze the stuff I was reacting to anyway, found the context and space and people for conversation, gained the tools to start consciously fixing some of the more thoroughly fuckered parts of my brain. I was saying earlier today that my Mom says I've been intensely sensitive to power dynamics and imbalances since I was a toddler.

I never could be told what to do, says Mom, it was just faster to reason with me and enlist my voluntary cooperation. It's still true, and shows a lot in my work life, where I'm vehemently loyal to bosses who treat me and my coworkers with respect, but itching for a fight with those I perceive as unjust or abusive. I chewed out one boss in my first meeting with him for making my coworker cry. It's amazing I've never been fired, given how easily I hit raging righteous indignation (especially when manic; saved a union that way)

I'm highly cooperative, deeply loyal, and not even a little bit obedient by nature. Threaten my sense of autonomy and I react. Outside kink play, I'm hardcore egalitarian, near-anarchist philosophically. Defanging involuntary, unjust, nonconsensual, and abusive power dynamics is what I do. The consensual, negotiated, analyzed power dynamics of the kink community are a blessed haven from the vanilla world even if I personally rarely play with the D/s side of things because it's so potently charged for me.

Nothing will bring out the enraged bear in me like bullying, on any social scale, personal or institutional. It is my nature to physically defend (and that feels somehow related to my territoriality about space, and my need to be able to care for my people). I often gravitate toward activism and action that involves physically using my body to protect, support, or comfort others.)

And I know I've wandered far afield, but I always ramble, especially when high (another reason to be a stoner, not a drinker - trying to type drunk is monumentally frustrating), and I think I am somehow getting back to the gender question.

So, I'm sensitive to nonconsensual power dynamics. And in our world gender is at the core of such monumentally fucked and nonconsensual dynamics that it's pervasive almost the the point of invisibility on every scale. I was raised in a very feminist, egalitarian way at home (Dad deserves so much credit here, for always supporting and encouraging my freedom. I was never his little princess with fetishized innocence). As I've mentioned, My Parents=Awesome. And every time I left the home I ran smack into the mundane sexism of 80's rural Michigan, telling me how I was lesser, or should be limited by my sex. It was the contrast and conflict that made me who I am. That made me certain I didn't deserve that crap, and equally certain it existed in spades all around me.

Since I was a tomboy, I also had reason to be more sensitive to gendered expectations than a girl who fit more of the standard expectations. I was getting in my first feminist arguments with teachers in first grade (and I won, thank you). And it's the old story with tomboys; having to be tougher than the boys to keep my place, constantly on guard against any betraying indication of despised femininity that could be used to shove me back in the "girl" box. Having to double down on the hating of all things girly or risk being seen as one of the enemy. Kneejerk defensive misogyny. I am bone-deep certain of the problem of sexism because I've felt it from both sides, how it twisted both the masculine and feminine in me. It has taken many years and a lot of work to rebalance things inside me.

I did try out performative femininity some as a teen. Partly out of curiosity, and because it is a part of me, after all, but mostly because I didn't know how else to conceptualize romantic relationships with boys. Outside my groping and rough-housing with my guy friends, didn't I have to be a girl to attract guys? I hadn't seen much evidence otherwise.

In college, in really analyzing gender stuff, I decided I was done living in that kind of reaction to the world; it controlled me just as much. And feminism called me on a lot of my toxic crap, made me see how I was recreating many of the same toxic, defensive forms of masculinity I couldn't stand from cis-guys.

I've gotten about equal benefit, personally, from feminist critiques of masculinity and of femininity. I more often saw myself in the bad behavior more commonly attributed to men than to women, and I was ashamed. I have a lot of cultural privilege in my life in general, and in social situations I often behaved, especially toward women, with the equivalent of male privilege.

I started thinking about what I would actually want to be like, if I were a guy. About the men I respected, about my Dad and my friends and my lovers. What kind of guy would I be if I weren't constantly engaged in trying to yell my identity over the cues my body sends? What's actually true to me, and not just a reaction?

What kind of men do I love and respect? Men who respect women, men who don't denigrate femininity. Men who don't fear their own feminine side. Long-haired gentle hippie men, creative, thoughtful men. Men with the confidence not to be defensive. Those were the kind of men I wanted to be like. I wasn't.

I'm more that way these days, and since I've mostly stopped using toxic but clearly gendered signs to yell my identity at the world, I'm less clearly read as masculine-of-center unless I intentionally communicate that through costume. But many of the guys I love and respect have no fear of wearing dresses, and I've used their example to find my own comfort. I'm still touchy about gender stuff, still too easily feel threatened and defensive. Still working on that, still exploring how far into femininity is natural to me, too.

And I want to fix that. Partly for my internal wholeness, but also for my smutty, smutty fun. Although I desire many feminine and androgynous people, masculinity has special power for me sexually. And that's a whole other giant post. Maybe tomorrow.

Scandalous Women

With all the talk about identity recently, somehow I missed one of the very central categories for me, although plenty of the characters I discussed fall into it in some way or another.

Scandalous Women. Oh, hell yes.

This is my sense of familial history, why I don't feel like a black sheep.

Great-Grandma was the first woman in DC with a driver's license, and an active suffragist.
One of my great-great-whatever-aunts was one of the first botanists to collect wildflowers in Yellowstone, and her collection used to be in the Smithsonian, from what I understand. She was apparently known for riding (in pants and astride) up into the Park at first thaw, and not coming back 'til autumn (she had an assistant who brought her flower presses down and got supplies, from how the family stories tell it).
Grandma hung with Georgia O'Keefe, ran from the FBI, and taught me how to deal with tear gas.
Mom has been cheerfully scandalizing small-town america as a minister's wife for 40 years.

And since scandalous queers and scandalous women gotta stick together, I'm counting Uncle Walt, too. Walt Whitman is a great-great-something-uncle, and although I can't currently find the old post about how my middle name being "Whitman" changed my life, it most certainly did.

I definitely, and proudly, define myself as a scandalous woman. Not a "use my feminine wiles to get my way" sort of scandalous (not my thing), but in all the ways autonomous women who don't play by the rules still to the day get tagged with that label. I'll take it.