jennifer hanigan

a pinch of this and a dollop of that

Leave a comment

Bi-onic Vision

I don’t date much. Never have. In the seven months since I came out as bisexual, I haven’t dated anyone of any gender. But I’ve discovered some interesting things about myself and society when it comes to dating. Things that went without thinking when I only pictured myself dating men are turned upside down when I consider dating women.

This became apparent during a recent discussion about my married name. I don’t like my last name, but when my marriage ended I kept it because of the kids. I thought, erroneously, that it would be important to the kids for us to have the same surname, and that it would help avoid rude speculation about their parentage. (If you’ve never been a single mother, just know that people suck, and they think they’re owed the details of your sex life. Oh hey, kind of like when you’re queer.) I also thought I would remarry. Why go to the trouble of changing it, only to change it again when I found my man?

That was twenty-one years ago. I never remarried. One of my children has changed his last name. I’m still stuck with mine. As I pondered this I realized that, if I ever do remarry, it will probably be to a woman. And if I married a woman, why would I take her last name?

No, really. Why? Why do we do this?

diceI could Google, but I suspect I’d find that the answer is ‘patriarchy.’ I suspect I’d find that the bride taking the groom’s surname is equivalent to a “Property of” label. And when the gender difference is removed from the relationship, so is the implicit ownership of one person by the other. Similarly, concerns about which of you is taller, which of you is older, which earns more money, etc.–these things no longer matter. They’re are all signifiers of power, and when the relationship is between two men or two women, there is no automatic expectation that the one is more powerful than the other.

I’m beginning to understand the discomfort straight white men feel about same-sex relationships. Heaven forbid people should see all those loving, equal partnerships and get the wrong idea.

But it’s not all rainbows and roses. The thought of dating women has revealed deep insecurities in myself that I did not know I had, or thought I had overcome. I’ve been surprised to find that the comfort and confidence I’ve worked so hard to develop in my own body is shattered in the face of my attraction to women with societally acceptable bodies.

I’ve had enough experience with men to know that the majority of them find me attractive. They may do so in secret, because they’re victims of this society as well, but I know that the average man would sleep with me if I offered. My theory is probably flawed, but I’ve always chalked this up to boobs. I have them. Men want them. But women…women have their own. They don’t need mine. And I know that it’s equally illogical, since I find a variety of women attractive, to think that other queer women are only interested in a narrow selection of body types, but that is still how I feel. Perhaps because I’ve been a woman for several decades, privy to women’s magazines and the constant striving of nearly every woman in existence for the perfect body? I don’t know. But whatever the cause, my insecurities abound, and I have yet to find a cure. *sigh*

♥Hey, did you know that today is International Transgender Day of Visibility? If you’re a cisgender person, I encourage you to pause and reflect on the simultaneous need for visibility and fear of being visible that trans* people experience. Spend some time reading and listening to their stories. Think about how you might create compassion within yourself and safety for the trans* people in your life. Thank you.


Leave a comment

Out of the Box

This is another guest post written the lovely friend who wrote this one.

I used to assume unquestioningly that there were two very big (yet very well-defined) boxes that almost all humans fit into: obviously and unquestioningly male/masculine and obviously and unquestioningly female/feminine. There were always a few people I couldn’t really fit comfortably into the boxes. But I could mentally shave them down—un-notice or de-emphasize the importance of their hair length, or the way they laugh, or their jawline, or their amount of breast tissue, or their sexual orientation—and they would fit, more or less.


Now that I have been privileged to have the veil lifted ever so patiently from my eyes by the brave and beautiful trans people in my life, I look around and realize that very, very few people have physical bodies and personal gender expressions that fit perfectly into those culturally determined, narrowly defined binary boxes. That petite southern belle making pimento cheese sandwiches? Her voice is as low as most men’s voices. That bearded, broad-chested balding guy? He crosses his legs at the knee “like a girl”. Why not celebrate her voice and his leg crossing, as beautifully human instead of mocking, ignoring, or explaining away these things so that we can stuff complex humans into the binary boxes?

I look around and think that we’re all just standing around outside these tiny boxes—boxes that can’t even hold a human foot, let alone a fearfully and wonderfully made human body. We are, most of us, trying to climb into, or stuff each other into, these boxes. But the boxes can’t contain us, the wild diversity that is humanity. I just can’t successfully stuff people into them in anymore, not when I am no longer willing to shave off all their stunning uniqueness-es in order to make them fit. It’s disorienting at first to have everything unboxed, messy, chaotic. Disorienting like the learning of a new dance, when everyone is laughing and stepping on each other’s feet, and trying to get their hips to move on the off-beat. But there is so much more joy to be had dancing with each other—seeing and being seen, weaving in and out, grasping and releasing, whirling and bowing—than there ever has been sitting around in cramped boxes.


Leave a comment

Riddle Me This

Twenty-plus years ago I won one of those radio call-in contests. I had to solve this riddle:

What do Mr. Peanut, Adam and Eve, and Charlie Chaplin all have in common?

Figure it out? Okay, here’s a harder one:

What do Trump’s ban on trans* people in the military, Tennessee’s new law requiring public schools to display “In God We Trust,” and me getting kicked out of church have in common?

If you answered “rampant intolerance,” you are certainly not wrong, but I think there’s a larger underlying issue. I’m having trouble finding the words to express it, so I hope you’ll bear with me.

I’ve noticed a pattern in Evangelical culture, though it is certainly not confined there, of appearances trumping reality. Sermon after sermon is preached about how we’re to be set apart, visibly different, Not! Conformed! to the Ways! of the World! (But, I was taught by the very pastor who instructed us carefully to interpret Scripture through the lens of the time, place, and culture in which it was written–unless it was about homosexuality and then a plain reading was fine–don’t look *too* different, not like the Hutterites, the German Baptists, the Amish, I mean, that’s just strange, and no one likes strange people!).

This Not Conforming to the Ways of the World is then used to…force us into conformance.

Putting God’s name on the wall of a school building does not make the school, the teachers, or the students any more Christian or godly than they were–it’s just aesthetics. Refusing to let trans* people serve in the military does not make the military stronger–it’s just aesthetics. Refusing to let openly queer or queer-affirming people in your church doesn’t make your church more unified–it’s just aesthetics.

Under the pretty picture you’ve created, you have the same mess, made uglier because you’re trampling on people you’re supposed to be building up. And those who do this seem to believe that if they make things look good, then they are good. They can feel good about themselves, I guess, as they gaze at the pretty picture they’ve created? Never mind that it was painted with others’ blood and tears.

This is, of course, not at all what Scriptures teach us. Instead, we are to appreciate variety, recognize that there is strength in our differences, build one another up, and love, love, love, and love some more.

Mr. Peanut, Adam and Eve, and Charlie Chaplin all had a cane (or a Cain). The military trans* ban, mandated ‘In God We Trust’ signs, and forcing me out of church all have this: a coating of “Christian” culture on top of a rotting pile of garbage.

Remember Jesus’ words about whitewashed tombs? Oh, our irony runneth over.


Leave a comment

True Confessions of This Bisexual

I had no idea I was bisexual for many, many years. How is that possible? I’ll tell you, of course.

My very first “celebrity crush” was on Sharon Gless.  If you’re a Burn Notice devotee this might confuse you, but at the time I was, like, 10 years old. It was still Cagney & Lacey days. I dare you to do a Google image search and not be entranced by her smile and sparkly eyes. Double dare, even.

I actually remember the confusion this caused. I thought about it for years. What were these strange feelings? Why did I feel some connection to her? Was it because the character she played shared some significant traits with my mother? Was she just an epically effective actress? What was going on?! (Yes, 10-year-olds are capable of this level of introspection)

Yeah, so the thing is…I had no idea homosexuality was a thing. And not only did I have no idea women could be attracted to other women, but I also had no idea people could be attracted to multiple genders. This was just not part of the little world that little me lived in.

Even when I became somewhat aware of queerness in high school, bisexuality was still not on my radar.  And I knew I liked boys.  Ergo, I was straight. And the sorrowful longing for the pretty girl in my class with the fluffy blonde* curls? I just wanted to be friends, right?  They should have captioned my yearbook photo “clueless.”

Then came marriage and the baby carriage and then divorce, single parenthood, exhaustion, and the Evangelical culture of if-I-just-love-Jesus-enough-some-good-Christian-man-will-want-me.  Apparently I never did love Jesus enough.

Five or ten years ago I began acknowledging to myself an occasional attraction to women. I was still confused by this. Oh, by this time I knew about bisexuality in the abstract, although it confused me. But I didn’t find it personally applicable. I was straight. Just sometimes I liked women.

“I know!” I thought, “Our culture is rife with the sexualization of women. I must have just been brainwashed into seeing them as sex objects.”

And some of that is certainly true. As a society, we don’t see women as autonomous humans, but as pleasure-givers. But…it seems most women don’t suffer the same side-effect. Eventually I found myself saying things like, “I’m mostly straight.” I gave it a number: 95%.  I arrived at this number via a fairly mathematical method of counting up women I knew I found attractive, and men I knew I found attractive, and estimating the ratio. I was 95% straight. And I was okay with that 5%, you know, in a theoretical sense. It was who I was, but it wasn’t a big deal-after all, it wasn’t like I was going to actually date a woman.

So that’s where I was at when I was moved by compassion and, I sometimes think, the Holy Spirit, to really dig into the theology of homosexuality. Not only did I expect to come out the other side of that excavation with the same mindset I went in with, but I didn’t really see it as impacting my own life. I mean…I was 95% straight. That’s like, almost 100%!

After coming to the conviction that God’s cool with same-sex relationships, a surprising and incredible thing happened: I found out that I really, really, really like women. I’m almost proud of the level of talent I seem to have for self-suppression, because I have spent months now walking around thinking, have people seen women? There are so many beautiful women. So many. Why doesn’t everyone love women? Of course, it seems they’re all straight. But still, at times I wondered if I was just gay. Did I ever truly like men, or did I just convince myself to like them because I was supposed to?** Fortunately this confusion has been cleared up by the appearance of one or two attractive men (thank you, Jeffrey Dean Morgan).

All that to say: If I’d had some freaking representation when I was 10, or 25, or 35, all this confusion could have been avoided!

Wonder Woman is bisexual. Wish I’d seen *that* in the TV series of my childhood!

 I don’t even want to think about how different things could have been, or whether the pretty girl with the fluffy blonde curls might have liked me too. But seriously, representation does matter. ‘That person is like me’ is important, as is ‘Hey, maybe I’m like that person.’  And this thing where bisexual people are rendered imaginary or represented as using their sexuality to manipulate people is just not cool. And really, aren’t you glad we’re here, thinking all y’all are cute?
*If you are sensing a pattern here, you are not alone.
**Okay, so self-doubt might be an even more recognizable pattern as my affinity for blonde women.