what is the gender of your pen?

I recently spent a Saturday in a writing workshop trying to write like a woman. In the past, I have taken various classes that focus on gender or race or period of time or genre of writing. Anytime I approached a text or began a response to it, I never thought of myself as a woman reading this or a woman writing this.

I’ve called myself a queer writer. I’ve labeled myself as a gay writerI’ve called myself a poet. A performance artist. I’ve admitted to things that I used to be or formally was. But in all these years writing words down, I never took on that classification. I’d like to think that my genitals have nothing to do with what comes out of me. Though, I do not believe it is my/our genitals that classify our gender.

When we talked about where we write from and how our femaleness comes through, I said this: I do not write like a woman, nor a man. Actually, I don’t quite know what that means. If masculine writing is defined by grotesque language and overt sexuality, then how to explain the gloriousness of Kathy Acker, Lidia Yuknavitch, or Dodie Bellamy (just to name a few)?

I said: I think of a see-saw, with a man on one end and a woman on the other and I am balancing on both sides, sometimes in the middle. But I never get comfortable enough to sit down. I said that I write from inside my body, but it is a hybrid of genitalia and vocabularies (which I am still learning/gathering). I said that I honor the ones who came before me and the ones still around today, but it is the humans who took risks on the page that encouraged me to write. Humans: men, women, transgender, gender non-conforming.

We were encouraged to make a list. Of all the influences of women writers. As we went around the room, some of our names echoed and some learned of ones we’d never heard of. My rebellion wanted to name men as well, but I was trying to behave. But the thing is, I have been deeply influenced and inspired by so many male writers as well: Rumi, Pablo Neruda, Alan Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Charles Bukowski (that name might have caused a riot), Kazim Ali, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, James Baldwin…

But what I read out loud included some of these names:

Anne Sexton
Audre Lorde
Dorothy Parker
Diane di Prima
Rita Mae Brown
Dorothy Allison
Akilah Oliver
Eileen Myles
Michelle Tea
AM Homes
Kate Bornstein
Susie Bright
Gertrude Stein
Sandra Cisneros
Puma Perl
Cookie Mueller
Karen Finley
Marina Abramović
Ariel Gore
Eleanor Roosevelt
Julia Serano
Susan Sontag
Ivan Coyote
Anais Nin

The list continues and never ends kind of like an ocean. To me, it just goes on and on until you reach something else.

Yesterday I said: I think about gender everytime I breathe. This is because for so many years I didn’t. I walked around in this body, ignoring what didn’t feel right. Trying to write my way out of the clog. To write is to read. And I am continually looking for writers that teach me, introduce new words and discourses into my brain, make me uncomfortable, stretch the boundaries and implications of writing. 

Beyond gender. Because it is no longer just male or female writers. We are far too interesting and complex to remain inside those boxes forever.