Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender by Rae Theodore

Leaving Normal Cover

We have our winners! Congratulations emmarosemillar and Maia!

Happy Sunday! We have a fabulous guest blogger for y’all today! Rae Theodore recently released her debut novel Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender.

She’s here to tell us all about her inspiration for the book. And, because she’s super fabulous, she’s giving away a couple of paperback copies. Drop a comment in the space below and I’ll draw the winners next Friday, 7/17.

Good Luck!

Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender
by Rae Theodore

As I sit here wondering what to write for my guest post, I’m hyper-focused on the word “Women” from the Women and Words logo that sprawls in dark red script across the top of the website as if standing guard.

For a moment, I feel like an interloper, but I remind myself that I’m a different kind of woman.

Rae Theodore - photo

I’m a butch. A masculine-presenting woman. A cherry red Tootsie Pop with a center comprised of flannel shirts, sturdy shoes, power tools and ESPN every day of the week.

These are snapshots from my butch life:

“It was like she wanted to be a man,” the clerk at the post office says when a Janice Joplin song comes on the radio. “Gross.” He is so disgusted by the singer’s masculinity that small beads of spit fly from his mouth when he speaks. I try to make myself invisible as I wait in line in my cargo shorts and Polo shirt and fresh haircut, a number four on the sides.

The old man and his wife pause as I hold the door for them. “Let’s not hold this — ” She pauses as she tries to decide whether I am a man or a woman. In the end, she can’t tell. “Let’s not hold this person up,” she says.

The guy at the fast-food drive thru gets it wrong every time. You can tell he wants to take it back — that “sir” that he was so confident doling out a few seconds ago. He looks like he wants to disappear as he stands there in the drive-thru waiting for someone to rescue him by handing him my paper bag of food.

The little girl in the women’s bathroom alerts everyone about the presence of an intruder. “Mama, there’s a man in here,” she says. I hide behind the metal door of my stall wishing for the superhero power of invisibility.

Every time I am at a Back to School night, I can see the painted nails and lips of the other moms reflected in my shiny black boots.

I remind myself that I belong here on this website and at my kids’ school functions. And in every public restroom emblazoned with a graphic of a person wearing a dress.

It’s certainly not for the weak or the timid. Being butch, that is. Thumbing your nose at stereotypical notions of beauty and fashion and crafting your own out of buzz cuts and striped neckties and Oxford shirts that come from the left side of the department store.

My memoir, Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender, starts with a quote from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

“It is not down in any map; true places never are.”

Rae Theodore - in ChucksAnd that’s the essence of my book, of my life. A search for that true place — my authentic self — that started when I was a pre-teen tomboy and a little more interested in Charlie’s Angels and Olivia Newton-John (black leather pants and red high heels Olivia Newton-John from Grease) than my female friends.

It all circles back to a place of acceptance and self-love. As I write in the book:

Here’s what I know: You can’t rewrite what has been written. It has been carved into your bone like scrimshaw. But you can admire the delicate lines and the intricate design and pay homage to an ancient mariner with a steady hand who etched mermaids — backs arched, tails curved, hair flowing behind like soft green ribbon — on a single side of a whale’s tooth.


Rae Theodore lives in Royersford, Pa., with her wife, children and, in stereotypical fashion, her cats. By day, she works as a staff writer for one of the world’s largest communications firms. By night, she writes about living in that middle place where boy and girl collide. Her favorite day of the week is Tuesday because that’s when her writers’ group meets. You can read about her adventures in gender nonconformity at middleagebutch.wordpress.com. She has been recognized by the blogging site for a story she wrote about a soggy fish sandwich and another about a mystical message from a plumber.

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42 thoughts on “Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender by Rae Theodore

  1. Way awesome. I was just having a big discussion with a former grad school colleague of mine who needed some help navigating/negotiating the idea of “gender fluid” as an identity. I suggested she also read this blog, since I was also trying to explain gender non-conforming. 😀

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    1. It can be a difficult concept to grasp. I think most people align with the M/F labels they are assigned at birth. And then there’s the rest of us who fall in what I like to call “the middle place.”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You could so be a role model for a group of my students…while some students try to not be identified as a gay by their fashion, this younger group of young ladies put it right out there in your face. 😛 I love their bravery and their comfort to dress like little dudes and cut their hair short and add spikes! Times are a changing…Great blog!

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    1. Thanks, Sandi. Butches and bois live in glass closets, that’s for sure (not my observation but from a piece by Ivan Coyote). It does take some courage to rock menswear 24/7. I will be going into some local high schools this fall to talk to young people about my book. The catch phrase I’m using is: “Be Your Own Superhero. Live Your Normal.” Times certainly are a changing!

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      1. Hmmm … I’m really not sure. The book has been approved for use by our high school for their gay-straight club. It’s not racy, so that wouldn’t be a problem. There are chapters in which I write about being an elementary school student and middle school student and not really understanding why I wanted to be in love so bad but didn’t have crushes on boys like my friends did. I would suggest checking the book out for yourself. If you felt certain chapters were appropriate but not others, I could get some PDFs to you of individual chapters.

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      2. Thx so much for your input and offer!!! I will read it this summer (since I’m off June – August ) LOL, and hope it will work out for them 😊. Thx and continued success in your writing career!

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  3. Good for you. Always be who you are! Sometimes my wife gets called Sir which I find extremely amusing considering it is hard to miss her breasts because they are far bigger than mine. I will check out your book.

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    1. Thanks, Annette. The “sir” phenomenon is an interesting one. I find that old people usually see me as a man. Not so much with younger people. And then I confuse everybody else. I try to keep a sense of humor. And, like you said, just be me.

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  4. I am married to a beautiful butch who has had similar experiences, including being “Sir’d” (as we call it) throughout her life. She tries her best to ignore it or to get creative with her responses, but it cuts me like a knife every time it happens to her. I suppose her double Ds are invisible and some people are just too lazy to think and process the fact that not all women look like the woman in the dress on the restroom door. I would love to read your book and hope I win a copy.

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    1. Ah, I like that. Sir’d. Might have to borrow, if you don’t mind. Restrooms are tricky territory, especially when I am wearing a tie for date night or a formal occasion like a wedding. I usually keep my head down and make a beeline for the safety of a stall. Sometimes I bring my wife with me, because I know she will always have my back. Plus, people might see us together and say, oh, lesbians, and that light bulb will glow over their heads.

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  5. I have been called Son or Young man majority of my life. I used to wear makeup and fix my hair so that wouldn’t happenanymore but the older I got the more comfortable I got with just being me. My girl loves me for me..jeans..boots..camo and ball caps..Wish I had the courage to be truer to myself in my younger years..but making up for lost time now though!!

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    1. Yeah, I have been mistaken for my wife’s son. Something about the boy/girl mix that jams people’s age sensors, too. I am a late bloomer, having come out when I was in my 30s. So, I have a lot of lost time to make up for. Sometimes I mourn the loss of being young and being a lesbian. I guess that’s why it’s so important for me to live my life in an open fashion.

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  6. Reblogged this on The Flannel Files and commented:
    Guys, check out my guest post on the fabulously awesome Women and Words. Oh, and if you leave a comment, you’ll be in the running for a free copy of my book, Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender. Because who doesn’t like free stuff?

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  7. What a beautiful post. As a cisgendered individual, I’m oblivious–often–to the issues facing others and cannot begin to thank you for being willing to share your story and words with others. I really have no other comment, I suppose, other than the deepest and most heartfelt thank you for helping me understand a bit more.

    I would LOVE to win your book . . . but have bookmarked this page just in case I don’t. . . .

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    1. Thanks, Sandra. Some of the nicest comments have come from cisgendered folks who have thanked me for sharing my story and allowing them to walk in my sturdy shoes for a day. I think it’s important that we all tell our stories and open our minds when we select books to read. After all, we are all sharing one experience — the human experience.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Indeed we are. A person very close to me just announced they are gender fluid, it is a catch-up game trying to learn new terminology. If they had to choose a family, they chose the right one though 🙂 Every single one supports them (pronoun use it a tough one for me!).

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      2. I’m glad to hear this person is being supported and loved. I commend you for wanting to better understand. There are some great books out there. Gender Failure by Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon is one that comes to mind.

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  8. Rae, I’m still finding my way but so excited you are in my corner. Fab blog post. Come September we’ll be out there visiting kids and lives will become smoother for many. It’s rough feeling we’ve lost part of ourselves to coming out later but at age 58 I figure: “I’m not dead yet!”

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    1. Yep, it’s never too late to be who you were meant to be. What’s that George Eliot quote? Anyway, come fall we’ll don our red capes and swoop into schools to talk about gender. Nervous and excited for that.

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  9. As always, impressed by your wit and wisdom. I haven’t read your book yet, but I’m looking forward to it–all the more tempted by the beautiful quote above.

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    1. Thanks, Maia. I was thrilled to have stumbled upon that quote. It fits so perfectly with what ended up as the first chapter. As you know, my word-loving friend, there’s nothing like finding the perfect quote.

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