Category Archives: Character Development

Virago Beauty

Says Atalanta–this is about me not you.

It has been a revelation to identify with my butchness after years of low-grade shame, of feeling endangered by trans or ugly to “lipstick” and rock-climbing, mountain-biking, millennial lesbians or too womanly to women who go for trans-men. As if all of us cannot co-exist…

But mostly shame.

To claim butchness.

Campy, feminist, intellectual, fashionable, desiring, desirable, visible, tender, brave, kind, empathic, spiritual, quiet, steady, still, true-blue, audacious, uppity, 50, athletic, gentle, tough, grizzled, scarred, soft-skinned, sometimes screaming like a girl, a catch, assertive, ally to social justice movements that need never center us.

Amazons. Tribades. Shameless double-sexed hermaphrodites. Viragos. Gorgeous, lithe and thunder-thighed, the whole spectrum of us.

And I heart femmes, who have their own struggles with misrecognition–as straight, as bisexuals, as objects, as fantasies.

But butch to femme is not a binary. She is too strong, too independent, too powerful—and, also, just as sweet, kind, loving, and visibly, gorgeously, defiantly off-limits. Femmes are sexy to me, not my mirrors or my others: neither weak to my strong nor nurturing to my…stone.

Stone is not me. It has been a method of surviving, a defendedness I now trade in: armor exchanged for this, my golden, downy, soft skin–lit at finger brushes nearness searing looks along my entire nervous system. Vagus nerve blooms as a great pink rose. So in love my ribs expand and pull apart. And knifed, sensitive, wounded, healing.

Now, I avow myself butch, vulnerable, comfortable in my skin—not blurred by fitting in, but recognizable, first to myself, then to my beloved communities.

Studying masculinity this semester means I must quit identifying with masculinity as my performance. (This is about me, not you.)

Masculinity, however we sliced it, was too relational, too precarious, too dependent. Like whiteness it needs subordinates, submissives, dependents.

Meanwhile, all masculinity’s others easily stand alone, not needing the masculine to know themselves. In fact, we have been unable to know ourselves in relation to the masculine: because the masculine has constructed phantoms of us to know itself. Mirrors? Others. Weak ones, childish ones, dumb ones, silent ones, less human ones, bad ones, dangerous ones, perverts.

We perverts and queers slip away from behind the glass, from behind the silver of masculine reflections.

Leave the mirror, I take myself.

I perform butchness.

Butchness, not to be confused with dominance, violence, conquest, hierarchy, and dissociation, i.e., hegemonic masculinity. The performative aspects (the unconscious, repetitive) build from iconized performances of manly embodiment, historical butchness, Amazons’, young dad’s, camp counselor’s, coach’s virago beauty. Handsome. A fashion. Gestures, sensibilities, woody smelling, signals from me to you who would stand with me. To you who would lay with me.

And YES-male bodies can perform butchness. But let us not confuse it with masculinity.

Butchness: supportive, vulnerable, tender, empathetic, brave, womanly, Amazonian, queer, campy, silly, serious (so, so serious!), intense, sensitive, deep, compassionate, moved, human, humane.

All butch.

Toxic Masculinity

My name is Brit and I am a Survivor.

I am a sex and love addict too. I came into SIA through SLAA, when my inventories were neither freeing me from survivalism, nor addressing my core shame: that I am the product of rape.

My mother died in childbirth. The nurses she told her story to gave me her name: Britomartis, also the name of Crete’s goddess of the mountains, of fishing, and of the hunt.[1]

I was raised in the foster system. I learned to charm and hustle and shift, to become the child each parent wanted in house after house after house. And I am as queer as a three-dollar bill. A gold star lesbian. Though not without some sexual trauma of my own.

I started saving money and getting tattoos when I was fifteen. I got this minotaur tattoo on the inside of my right forearm, for the fantasy of murdering my mother’s trafficker. And, as you can see, the iconography of feminine power and of revenge have been inked into my skin, the labrys and the butterfly too, connecting all the freckles that came into my DNA that terrible night in my mother’s short life.

Women really thought these tattoos were hot back in the 80s and 90s when I was running and gunning and hustling. Yeah, it was a lot of fun for a while. It felt good to be wanted, to watch a woman risk everything to have me? I remember one time this gorgeous woman–I pushed her up against her car and kissed her and she gasped with lust.

I was a drug for them. And I chased that high for years.

But I never gave myself a chance to be loved. I objectified myself. And I hid.

I was never really there, never for long enough to be seen through the blue on my skin.

I got to SLAA in the late 90s. (I don’t know how I would have survived this age of swipe-sex.) I had to confront the fantasy that drove me from one relationship to the next.

And then, I had to face my sweetest fantasy. The fantasy of revenge in all its gory details. This had grown so big, it encompassed most men, who I saw as predators and as rabid beasts that needed to be put down.

At the same time, I had to confront my own masculinity.

I too was taught to see women as objects and as conquests. This was hard to admit. Had I always waited for consent? Did I honor the women I dated and pursued and even spent years with? Did I truly consider their hearts, their boundaries, their bodies, their visions for us?

I had to inventory my participation in this and in all the intersecting isms that I had internalized.

I could drive down a beautiful road and get turned on at my power to see, to speed along its curves, to make it part of my story, and to recognize it as a place where I could project my identity.

Even the land was my other.

In my survivalism, I justified harm. I was unconscious of my affect on people, on my planet. Fucking A, this was survival! This was a homophobic, misogynistic society and I was a big proud queer. A vampire. Above the rest of you.

I couldn’t feel Earth or what we were doing to it. I couldn’t feel anything.

And that was the point.

It took a while to see how I had harmed myself. For example, I had certain ideas about how performing masculinity was about making women feel desired–by abandoning my own limits and boundaries too.

I had no integrity.

I lost myself shifting to fit what I imagined were their fantasies.

I remember this time, I had taken this beautiful, brilliant, imaginative woman to dinner. We were standing on a corner at a red light. I was waiting for her to succumb to my charms, not looking at her, not touching her. She put her hand on my shoulder. She slid her hand down my arm and took my hand.

I froze.

I didn’t take her up on it. I didn’t squeeze back. I had no game.

And she dropped my hand.

Then she broke up with me.

It was like she had sensed my emptiness.

So, of course I put years into trying to make her love me. I ran all over her boundaries. Of course she lashed out at me—that’s what I thought I deserved. I lost myself doing it.

I shrank.

That’s what finally got me in the rooms.

I am the product of the multiple rapes of my fifteen-year-old mother by a group of American tourists to Crete who bought her virginity from a sex trafficker there who called himself King Minos. One of these men took pity on her and helped her to escape, to stow away on a ship that took her around Africa, across the Pacific, and then to the Port of Los Angeles.

I like to think that I get my freckles and my green eyes and my curly hair from that one among my mother’s rapists: the one who also helped her to get free.

Now, I understand that my purpose is to help other people suffering the pains of growing up. I get to help other people who come from generational trauma, collective and historical trauma. I get to be present with you and your stories. I get to feel my heart reach out to you. I get to feel my body, my pain, my rage, my grief, my loneliness.

I know that shame is a lie. When I stand with you, I learn to stand with myself.

I find compassion for myself too.

Gradually, I learned to give myself the love I used to hustle for–and never receive. I look at my own shit and I ask for help to change.

It’s a simple, good life. I get to be a part of this community. I get to help re-envision the world.

I begin by changing myself.


This story came from a tarot reading–I am developing each character in 2020 through such readings on my channel, Metal Dog Tarot. Here is the link to Brit’s reading.


Daddy Issues

The tarot reader had it right on the first guess.

I can’t help but see that the missing cup in this 8 of cups is offered here, by the Knight. And yet someone walked away from that love offer. There was self-harm too or winning, but at what price? The 5 of swords.

The readers words grated on Camilla.

But the reader had been confused too. Because she saw Camilla refusing the advice of the reading.

You’ll end up all alone, cutting everyone away, telling yourself you are complete. But this old resentment, this clinging to this 3 of swords. A heart is stabbed 3 times: betrayal, abandonment, neglect. This feeling you have been wronged. 7 of Swords.

Jesus, Camilla had tried to let it go. There had been therapists, anger management trainings, martial arts, now a tarot reader for fuck’s sake.

Camilla took a hot, shuddering breath before the cupboard of ointments and thread and gauze and tools.

Then, placing the needle loaded with local anesthesia on the tray, she turned to her patient, a girlish woman, platinum haired, lithe. Miserable. The woman needed stitches from a self inflicted cut to her thigh.

“Now Gallia,” said Camilla. “What do we have here?”

Gallia said nothing. Camilla could see the fine scars up and down Gallia’s thigh. The new angry ones, the black healing ones, the fine white web of a history of self-harm.

No, self punishment was not Camilla’s story. Hers was winning horribly. Hers was cutting people out. Hers was carrying the truth with ferocity.

The fucking reader had been right.

“No shame.” Camilla was matter of fact. “I have seen worse. What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a vet. Veterinarian.”

Camilla knew the kind of sensitive animal lovers who had the intelligence and grit to become vets had not planned on the level of isolation, loss, and pain in that profession. Veterinarians had a surprisingly high suicide rate.

She met Gallia’s icicle eyes and felt a strange drop inside. Then looked quickly down to the knotting of the stitch.

“You are lucky to have such beautiful hair,” Camilla was good at small talk. “Is that your natural color?

Gallia put her hands to her pale cropped hair. “I love your color.”

“Bottled gold. It’s dark underneath.” In fact, she guessed, Gallia could certainly see the roots, the new grey coming in in streaks. For now, it was tied up into a rushed knot, off kilter from her helmet, and then wind blown from the parking lot.

“It’s not that I had to put a cat to sleep.” Gallia volunteered.

“Oh,” Camilla said openly.

“It’s. I don’t know exactly. But some days. I cannot see the point. I can’t feel. There’s no color.”

“Hmmm.” Camilla deftly bandaged the stitched wound, the tape holding Gallia there, holding her firmly together. Or Camilla hoped as much.

“I am so alone,” Gallia said.

Camilla patted her on the knee.

“I know that feeling,” Camilla said. “I am glad you told me. You know, you don’t have to do it alone.”

Camilla stopped, questioned herself. She meant it.

Gallia put her hand on Camilla’s forearm. “I feel like I know you already. You know? From before–”

Camilla had had the same thought when she had met Gallia’s icicle eyes.

She had thought of stars.

“I do this thing. SIA. I am sure you would be welcome.”

Gallia, airy and steady and intense, said, “Okay.”


This story came from a tarot reading–I am developing each character in 2020 through such readings on my channel, Metal Dog Tarot. Here are the links to Camilla’s reading and the extended.

Manel – Astronomer, Leo

Manny walked into Lyudmila’s office the day she learned that Tamara had died.

It was 2001.

“Manny Zaki.”

Lyudmila looked up at the tall, lithe person offering their hand across the desk. She had just placed the receiver into the cradle and in a practiced motion, reached down, opened her bottom drawer, and pulled one of the cheap highball glasses she kept there. She put the glass on the desk and half stood to shake Manny’s hand. It was warm, smooth, golden.

“Hello Manny,” she said. “Will you have a drink with me? I have just had some sad news.”

Many,” the name came out, translation across two accents.

“Egypt,” Manny said, anticipating the usual question.

“Pardon me?” Lyudmila had again bent to her bottom right drawer, for the second glass and then the fifth of vodka. She looked over her shoulder at Manny with her dark blue eyes and smiled her half smile.

This half smile, the attempt at humor in the deep, cool, eyes, all struck Manny with sorrow.

Manny sat down. Lyudmila poured.

“No thank you, but please, go ahead,” said Manny.

Many Zaki,” Lyudmila repeated, pushing two fingers in the glass across the desk. “You are one of my new grads. I remember. Your name, Zaki. It means “pious.” Odd name for a scientist.”

“No better way to know god than in looking at the stars.”

“You know Many? You are so right.” Lyudmila huffed out her nose, amused. “Tell me about yourself.”

Manny leaned back in their chair and began to tell Lyudmila about their dreams for their graduate study in astronomy. They reached up to their hair in a practiced fidget and let the knot loose, then smoothed and twisted and knotted as they talked. Lyudmila was supremely easy to talk to.

Then Manny stopped talking. They looked into Lyudmila’s dark stare. That half smile again. Damn.

“You have amazing hair,” said Lyudmila. She had sat in her heartache as Manny talked, having swallowed her drink quickly. Her vagus nerve she knew was responding to the organs of her body, to the sounds to her ears, the sad news that had come over the line, the low, clear sound of Manny’s voice, to the sight before her, the clear liquid, the person at her desk. Her eyes burned. Her vagus nerve did something to her throat. A lump. To her heart. It made her feel knifed.

The vodka burned down her. She poured another to sip. Though she wanted oblivion. She waited. Made herself suffer. She was good at that.

Her vagus nerve put butterflies in her stomach too. This gorgeous young person reminded her of youth, of her own earliest visions. And of something ancient too, something that went across the unknown, that zapped and lit up the electric connections.

When Manny again shook her hand and said goodbye. Lyudmila took that long, fast drink she had wanted. She also emptied the glass Manny had left untouched.

Oblivion did not come. It had not come for many years.

That was the beginning.

Lyudmila had defected in 1979. She and Niki were invited to Hawaii for a meeting of astronomers engaged with sending probes and flybys towards Venus. The Americans’ 1978 Pioneer Venus had collected data the Soviets wanted. She was to use her considerable charms to win access to it from one of the American scientists there.

She got the information. She and Niki conferred beneath the starry sky as they swam in the warm ocean.

“I don’t think they saw it,” she said. “I don’t believe they know what they have Niki. But it is a sign of life.”

Nikolai had returned home to their children. Lyudmila would not see them again for more than two decades, after the eastern block finally opened.

But there had always been in her that need to suffer. The world as it was designed caused this.

She stowed away on a ship. Her American scientist had arranged everything with his connections. And now, here she was, ultimately, a disappointment to the Americans, at a small public university in Northern Arizona. But free. Free to suffer. Free to look at the heavens. Free to feel Tamara there. Niki. The children. All out of reach. All tied securely by silk to the network, her nervous system.

In the morning she woke shocked at her heartcrimes. It felt like the fist of muscle in her chest was tied up. Several times a day, a silk cord yanked by some object, a perfume, a thought, a doubt.

Isolated in her convictions, she suffered.

And yet, she was not one to wear armor. Or to dread pain. Now Manny, dipping in her door. Lyudmila’s stomach lifting suddenly at the sight of a figure in the beige halls, far ahead, turning a corner. A familiar gait.

Ridiculous, Lyudmila chided herself. But it made her smile too.

They worked well together. Manny was quick and quietly brilliant, making leaps and connections across gaps Lyudmila had become resigned to never bridging, had not known she needed to.

For Lyudmila, these were years full of joy. Tortured by desire, but happy. Sometimes she felt the red bird blooming in her chest, a whole new world to greet each dawn for. She was too old now for acting on such thoughts she told herself.

She rushed to work, balancing her creamy, spiked coffee on the dashboard of her Subi, taking sips between lights in the navy pre-pink morning, eager for her calculations, after hours the night before behind the telescopes.

Everyday she knew that soon she would look up from her desk and see Manny leaning against her door jamb, a sheaf of papers, a pencil in their knotted hair to pull out and jot notes. The clean smell of the tumble of that dark, straight, shining hair. Manny’s gesture to push it back behind their ear. How it would fall again, lit with auburn from Lyudmila’s desk lamp.

One night at the observatory, Lyudmila told Manny about Venus. All of it. Tamara and Bernice and the red bird. And the phosphine gas from the 1978 Pioneer Venus probe, the alien life it suggested.

“I want to show you something,” she said. She entered some coordinates into the telescope consol and, as they waited for it to move there, she told Manny the whole story.

It was 2008.

Listening, laying in the chair beneath the lens, Manny realized they were holding their breath as Lyudmila talked. Lyudmila was not looking at Manny, just watching the roof as the great scope whined and whirred its slow way towards a spot just beyond Venus, to the gate Lyudmila’s calculations said would open there.

Manny was looking at Lyudmila out of the corner of their eye, indulging longer and longer moments to rest their cheekbone to the chairback in order to stare directly at their teacher as she spoke. This was the side of Lyudmila that smiled, the half-smile that began gloriously at the eyes, deep laugh lines that were so beautiful—

Lyudmila was talking and shaking her head side to side over her feeling for Tamara and at how brazen they had all been 38 years ago…38 years ago, the year Manny was born. As she shook her head, Lyudmila caught a glimpse of Manny from the corner of her eye. Manny was staring at her, brazenly now.

Lyudmila stopped talking.

With a small laugh of recognition and happiness, Lyudmila stared back. It was quiet for a long time.

“I have been meaning to ask you,” Lyudmila said. “How is it that you don’t drink?”


This story came from a tarot reading–I am developing each character in 2020 through such readings on my channel, Metal Dog Tarot. Here is Manel’s reading: