Guest Blogger: Animal Prufrock – “I will begin with my name…”

I will begin with my name, Animal Prufrock. When I was fifteen years old, my high school English teacher introduced our class to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot. I was a very conscious teen with cosmic interests and an esoteric melancholia of my own―feeling very alone in my deep, while the superficial high school buzz filled the hallways and halftimes with cotton candy and cute shoes. I did have my own pair of cute shoes―the last vestige of butch I could express in the forced catholic pleated uniform that made me be a girl in the skirted way girls must be―even in 1990.

I had an Italian Catholic name back then―long letters and lots of a’s & e’s and lli’s. If only I could have erased the last feminizing vowels, I would have been a boy.

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?

This verse spoke to me so passionately―I knew the eyes that formulated me as well―and I felt like I was pinned and wriggling. Today I am still wriggling, on the pin of a binary gender system that even contemporary queer culture seems to embrace. Somewhere between 1992 and 2002, the distinction between transsexual and transgender has been blurred―and now there is an assumption that if one is transgender (which I would argue most people live on this continuum―like sexuality) that one is switching from one pronoun to the other. There has also been a trend towards extinction of the butch-lesbian with the flourishing of the trans-man identity.

I am BOTH/AND. That is my gender identity. This is currently the most queer identity I am aware of (although if you study Queer history, Indigenous history, or Indian culture you will easily find there was once a holy place for the both/ands). In this white supremacist capitalist patriarchy―WSCP, as bell hooks so aptly refers to it―this culture only loves “MAN,” I cannot and will not succumb to this pressure to pass, to go stealth, and become a white man with all of the power both overt and subtle that comes along with that choice until woman is truly free. The place I exist, both/and & the body we occupy transgresses the binary and represents true gender warrior nature―the looks I get, the people and children wondering who and what I am.

This place of both/and allows my creative expression to flourish. It allows for the consciousness of bleeding as well as all the strength of being a boy. Being both/and says―I am all of the above―I am human. My gender and my sexual orientation are all flavors of me―I am butch, I am lesbian, I am transgender, I am queer, I am gay, I am faerie, I am wizard, etc…It is not one or the other―unless you want to keep living in the frame of patriarchy.

My woman-ness is situated in a sexist patriarchal world while I occupy the challenging liminal transgender space of both/and. It was difficult to have my female fully actualized because I am hated for that part, both by the world and my own internalized sexism. The outward transphobic world hates my both/and as does my own internalized oppression that has trouble negotiating it.

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

As a feminist, I understand how every aspect of society is situated in this patriarchal frame, including how most people understand feminism itself. In choosing my name, I realized that I wanted to claim the revelations of Prufrock, at the same time injecting a feminist libratory consciousness. I was already using Animal as my name because it busted the frame of “woman” open from the societal rules of “woman-ness”―to a wild and free archetype. I love how it is one of the few genderless nouns―animal―it can be both/and simultaneously; the earliest animals are, in fact― both/and! It also alludes to the crab of Prufrock―but with the openness and ability of shape shifting. To me, it is Feminist Prufrock.

My name sets me up to the world for interaction―sometimes joyful, sometimes feared―it reveals who I am dealing with in how they interact with the name. In a way, it is magic tool. The name Animal Prufrock is a product and catalyst of alchemy. It is a way for me to live both the struggle & the consciousness I would like to see awakened in more of us.

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Community Forum

  1. jody sokolower says:

    I want to thank you, Animal, for your lovely blog and even more for your insightful remarks at the Intergenerational Forum recently at La Peña in Berkeley. As an unreconstructed flannel-shirt anti-imperialist lesbian from the 70s, I was struck by the inclusive and respectful tone of younger participants, and the lack of that tone by some in the audience from my own grey-haired generation.

    When my daughter, who is now about to graduate from college, was five, she asked me if she had to stay the same gender her whole life or if she could change. As I explained that yes, she could change, my first reaction was grieved shock: I had worked my whole life to expand gender definitions so “woman” would be large enough to encompass anything we wanted to be. Was it all for nothing?

    My second reaction was different: Ericka wasn’t a political line; she was my child and I had two choices: support her in growing to be who she wanted to be, or act the way my parents did when I came out. There was really no choice. I started educating myself to be supportive, to deal with my prejudices and my subjectivity.

    There is no doubt that every generation of the struggle against patriarchy has paid in blood; and each generation stands on the shoulders of those who went before. But, as elders, we have a job and a responsibility: to support the next generation and the ones after that in challenging and expanding our definitions of liberation. To open our hearts and our minds to see how their flowering comes from our roots.

  2. AJ Rosina says:

    Animal,

    All I can say is yes to food, family, and to the many sides of Catholicism; I know and love a lot of devout Catholics; many of them are definitely nuns.

    I have yet to finish this article, but I thought I would pass it along in case you haven’t seen it.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/02/us/02nuns.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

    Best,
    AJ

  3. animal prufrock says:

    hi linda –

    thanks for the response –

    i just wrote a response that got erased
    because of the recurring CAPTCHA problem….

    basically i said – that yes i think we are all talking about a similar process -
    but with different words –

    and its beautiful to see it as a weaving – but when it feels like a ripping or tearing
    instead of a weaving – concern emerges –

    i look forward to this thursday – and maybe some unpacking
    of these different ways of expressing commonalties
    that are experienced as difference….

  4. animal prufrock says:

    ey aj –

    thanks for the comment –

    i think my catholic background most definitely informed my sexuality –
    there was so much bdsm imagery in catholic church – power and submission –
    to “holy-ness” i think i rebelled against and embraced at the same time the
    perversions of being catholic and the high ritual and sense of righteousness as well –

    but my righteousness in many ways in is direct conflict with the teachings of the church -

    but then there is the convent and nun culture – which is so beautifully lesbian –
    even if the sex is minimal …

    and i have many wonderful relationships with nuns – not the stereotypical things
    i have heard – my experience with nuns has been that they really “get it”
    that is the spirit of unconditional love and service –
    and tolerance of all kinds of people….

    so – i think it informs me in a lot of different ways –

    as far as my italian-ness – the biggest influence for me
    is my sense of family – but it is my chosen family that this really applies to –
    (blood and water have my equal loyalties – and in some cases water has been thicker..)

    and food as love.

    i make food to show my love.

    and i can see why there aren’t a lot of comments – because it is impossible to read the CAPTHCHA -
    it is like fort knox trying to post on this thing….what are we protecting???

  5. Linda Garber says:

    Before I even read your post, I loved the sound of “Animal Prufrock.” Your blog post got me thinking of my own self labeling 25 years ago as a dyke – still one of my favorite words. A lot of people have made a lot of noise about schisms between dykes and transfolks in recent years, so I am really happy to hear from you that your sense of yourself as both/and is a lot like my own, if under different names and arising from different contexts. And I love that this conversation is happening in connection with Judy Grahn’s memoir project, because she’s one of the people whose words helped me to my sense of self when I was younger. I’ll never forget the reading at Ollie’s bar in Oakland when Judy walked up to the mic, grinned slyly and said, “I want to be remembered as someone who helped put the word ‘dyke’ on the map.” Our dyke/queer/trans maps have lots of good, strong words on them, which makes me look forward to the conversation this Thursday at La Peña sponsored by Aunt Lute.

  6. AJ Rosina says:

    Hello Animal,

    Thank you for your amazing comments on your name; they inspired me to talk a bit about “my name,” meaning my identity.
    As I am also Italian-American and was raised Catholic, could you comment a bit on how you see your gender and sexual identities in relation to your family background? I am still in my early twenties, and as I move into adulthood, I am trying to find how all these pieces of me (family, culture, religion) fit or don’t fit together. I would love to hear from someone else about their experience.
    My family is very close and protective of each other. While the current generation definitely has a significant member of out, queer folk (and an ally in pretty much everybody else), our family has a long, hidden queer history, which we are all (I think) just beginning to understand and talk about. My parents and grandparents have some pretty terrible memories of what happened to their queer family. With those memories, I think they have a lot of anxiety for me and my cousins, though they rarely openly articulate that. That fear is expressed in less direct ways.
    Also, for my parents’ generation, though they moved far away from the conservatism and dogma which is often associated with Catholic Italian families, I think it is still really hard for them to accept that my generation may not have families in the same way or be married as they have known that word. As the only woman in my generation, I feel that weight keenly as I question whether I want commitment or parenthood; motherhood has had such an awesome role for our family and culture.

    I hope from my lengthy response that you can gather I am actually really happy to talk to another queer Italian. I am interested in hearing your thoughts and those of anyone else who would like to talk about family and legacies of past generations. Italian or not, of course.

    From a paesana,
    AJ

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