How I Met Wendy Chapkis and Why I Love Her So

So okay, is the woman in this picture amazing, or what? 

This is Wendy Chapkis, a mentor of mine and long-time crush. When I was a baby tranny in San Francisco—a two-year old girl in 1988—I ran across a copy of Wendy's book, Beauty Secrets: Women and the Politics of Appearance.  

I was trying my best to be a woman. I was trying my best to be political. I was standing alone, scared, in the feminist aisle of a women's bookstore. I was keeping secrets, and I was obsessed with my appearance. Here was this woman writing proudly about sporting her moustache… what effect that had on her day to day life, and how she dealt with all the bullshit that comes with being a freak of beauty, a beautiful freak.  

Wow! Shivering, I thumbed through her book and I saw it's brilliant theme: women do a lot of things in secret in order to make themselves look beautiful. Things they don't want you to know about, like their moustaches. Like my year-old newly constructed vagina. Wendy Chapkis wrote about how it's time to not keep secrets any more. In 1988, this was an astonishing idea. I left the bookstore with her book in my pocketbook. I felt the beginnings of personal liberation. And I was totally crushed out on this hot, strong babe with a moustache.

I worked selling subscriptions at the San Francisco Symphony. My arts writer pay from the gay paper, The Bay Area Reporter, didn't come close to covering expenses. The SF Symphony phone room was old school—we didn't use computers back then. We called names and phone numbers written on 5×7 cardboard cards. Well, two weeks after I found Wendy's book, there I was sitting in the phone room of the SF Symphony. I was holding a 5×7 card with Wendy Chapkis' name, phone number, address, and musical preferences. Oh. My. Goddess. Score!

I dialed. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. Answering machine. Damn! Phone room policy mandated we return any unanswered calls to the common pile, not keep them for calling again later. It was a good policy. It kept folks from hoarding what they thought might be easy sales. But I kept Wendy Chapkis' card with me. I brought that card back to the phone room every day for a week, and was too afraid to call. Finally, I got my courage…  It took two weeks of calling until I finally reached a live Wendy. 

Hello, Ms. Chapkis? This is Kate Bornstein calling from the San Francisco Symphony about your… say-y-y-y-y-y, wait a minute… is this Wendy Chapkis who wrote the book, Beauty Secrets?

Our friendship has grown over the past 20 years. Wendy teaches at the University of Maine. Her partner way back then and to this very day is Gabe. Gabe makes great jewelry and gives great arts and political grassroots organizing. Wendy and Gabe were and still are the outest dyke couple I've ever known. I love 'em to pieces. 

So… why'm I writing about this now? Wendy's got a new book! It's called Dying to Get High: Marijuana as Medicine. I haven't read it yet, but… hello? What an amazing topic. Wendy's coming to New York City to read at Bluestockings Books on Monday, December 1st at 7pm. I'm going. I'll buy my signed copy—I still have that crush—and I'll set that book down on the night table next to my bed for a nightly read. If you're a New York area teen, freak or outlaw, please join me at the reading. And look for me. I'll be the tall redhead looking longingly at the author.

kiss kiss