This is gonna get complicated, and I’m not gonna get to the bottom of this right now, but I’ve been thinking about writing about this for a while, and recent events have made it more relevant so I shall have a go even if it is a bit of a false start.
Before we do start though, check this out. I persuaded Rebecca Clements of Kinokofry to combine two of my greatest loves (Marnie Stern and Francis Bacon, obv) into one convenient postcard size. Win.
So anyway, that’s irrelevant, although if you aren’t listening to Marnie Stern already, you should be. In fact, I’m not, so I’d better heed my own advice.
So were past the tangential pre-amble, hopefully. Lets work out what we’re talking about today.
Gender. Or more specifically, the way I present myself, and what it means.
Those who’ve been around for a while know that I am, in essence, a gender abolitionist. I don’t think that the social constructs of masculinity and femininity should be tied to biological genders known as male and female. I think a lot of bad shit happens in this world because people are forced into certain roles and behaviours, that create painful power dynamics. The most intuitively obvious example of this is the prevalence of men raping women in our culture. The ‘presentation’ of men as dominant and women as property (to simplify it down to two words) leads to men thinking they can get away with it. And in fact tells them that they should do that. It is what they are entitled to. Images in the media re-inforce this. Telling us that femininity is something that can be bought and sold, commodifying sexuality and turning it’s ‘consumption’ into a male privilege.
That’s probably one of the more extreme examples of something like that, and it’s kind of taking a lot of conjecture and subjective assessment as solid, but it’s what I believe. There’s a lot more to it than that. In fact, there’s a lovely summary in the form of a poster over here.
So that’s some ground work.
What I actually want to talk about though, is more personal, and is bound up with that, but not made entirely of that.
I like to identify as GenderQueer. Though I don’t specify that very often. Within that is the idea of GenderFuck, which I’d often cite as my reason for dressing the way I do, though again, often not in that particular portmanteau. Basically, when someone asks me why I’m wearing a dress, or a skirt, or whatever, I’ll give them a potted history of Gender Abolition, and explain that I think by wearing these clothes I’m challenging the gender binay and opening up the world to new possibilities of identity. Hopefully with the idea of changing the world for the better.
Which is all well and good, and is definitely part of it.
But there’s definitely more than this.
The fact is that I do it because I feel more comfortable and more myself with at least some sort of ‘femininity’ wrapped around me. I have no desire to change my body in ayway, though I have considered shaving my legs, just because it’ll make certain things jar a little less. In the end, I don’t do it, partly because it’s that jarring that gives some of the political power I’m attempting to ascribe to myself above.
But put me in a mini dress and a pair of long socks, and I feel more myself than when I’m in my bog standard trouser/t-shirt combo. This is why, even when I’m going to work, I’ll often wear feminine cardigans and other bits and pieces that I feel mark myself out a little bit.
Now, I’m not ready yet to look into the evolution of these tendencies on this forum, but there’s a problem, or a debate, or something, that’s been coming up lately.
This is partly about the broader LGBT community, and not feeling like a part of it, and partly about standing out, having to explain myself, and often not succeeding.
Friend’s aren’t a problem. Even people I’ve been worried about ‘coming out’ too, have always just commented that I’m wearing a nice skirt and left it at that. This was most pronounced with my friends from back home, who I expected to be slightly more backward (I didn’t exactly live in the most diverse area of the universe) in attitude and take the piss to try and compensate for not particularly understanding.
Perhaps I expect it to be a bigger deal than it actually is.
But I can’t not, because for me, this is a big deal. This is more than just the politicisation of my body, I feel like this is partly a realisation of my self.
My last partner, with whom i had a whirlwind (destructive as well as fast) relationship with late last year, effectively broke up with me because she wasn’t comfortable with my gender identity. This led me to realise how big a deal this was. This was me, not something i could turn off.
It’s scary to discover something so huge through an example of the way it’s going to affect your life for the difficult.
I’m pretty sure there’s gonna be a lot of people for whom a guy in a dress is not their cup of tea. I’ve lengthened the odds of any given person being the right one for me by a large amount, because I need someone who can deal with who I am.
Now, perhaps that shouldn’t bother me as much as it does, but it does.
But it doesn’t even stop there.
I can’t complain too much about any of this, or at least i feel like I can’t, because I’m, to some extent ‘making a choice’. Now, I’d argue that the cat is out of the bag, and it’s not going back in there.
But it bought a whole kettle of fish with it.
Suddenly I’m different. I end up in positions where people (the proto-rapist types mentioned in passing above, those that are fed by the gender binary and the power it gives them) will start expressing the entitlement they feel to women’s bodies, just because I’m dressed up. I’ve had my personal space invaded, been groped and generally felt assaulted, either mentally or physically by drunk guys that don’t know how to deal with who I am. Which is probably the most optimistic way of describing them.
My problem comes from the fact that while this gives me a perspective on feminism that is much needed (I now know, to some extent, what it is women are talking about when they talk about entitlement and this kind of invasion), it is something I can put on or take off. I get to choose how brave I’m feeling every morning, and how to present myself in light of that.
How much is something you put on or take off at will apart of your identity. Am I being over the top? Is it actually the case that all I’m doing is wearing clothes?
I act like the whole thing is grand and political, and that it is an expression of my fundamental personality but I don’t know if it is. All the above could be nonsense. All shattered by the simple fact atht I’m just seeking a way to mark myself out as unusual, which is trickier in Brighton than most places, as people here are weird.
This is good, obviously.
But I do like wearing pretty things, and it does feel like a part of me. It’s this added comfort. It’s the way it makes me feel. It’s the hours in front of mirrors trying on different outfits until I get it all just so and look at myself grinning manically because I’m happy.
This is the thing, it gives me pleasure to be dressed up. It gives me an added confidence. It makes me roar with me-ness.
And this is even though it puts me in these horrible positions.
The other night, I was very drunk, and a couple of guys in the bar were basically just taking the piss out of me. Then one of them spent the rest of the evening staring at me, in the more discomforting and invasive way imaginable. I felt torn apart by him. I ended up getting even drunker and acting even more outrageously. I argued with the guy, as did Mayamoon, my wonderful friend and barkeep. Everyone agreed the guy was a tosspot, and the night went on.
But the damage was done. Combined with hangover, my confidence was shattered. I felt scared and nervous as I left the house. Even dressed perfectly ‘normally’ I found that something uncomfortable was happening. I felt nude and exposed. And all confidence was sapped.
I ended up too broken to wear even a simple skirt to the LGBT night we put on at the library, which is upsetting because that was going to be my ‘coming out’ to my workmates. A big step that I feel is increasingly important.
But I couldn’t. I was broken. My confidence was gone.
Hopefully temporary, and having a million supportive friends gives me hope.
But actually, it’s that coming out thing that I initially (all those 1556 words ago) wanted to look at.
I want to be more open to everybody. One thing I’ve thought about recently is about going to Allsorts, a Brighton based LGBTQ(uestioning) community support thing for young people in the area. I feel a little uncomfortable because I’m right at the top end of the spectrum, and my job is often about supporting the same young people (or at least part of that age range). It’s weird to think of myself as being young, but I am.
But the reason is, I kind of feel like a fraud. This is also the problem. I mean, I’m hypothetically bi, but only fancy one guy in a hundred (or less), and I don’t really feel particularly Trans. Trans is a difficult word. I think Transgender includes me, but only just. It depends on how you read it. I want to transgress gender, but I’m in no way transitioning.
I worry that my queerness isn’t queer enough, or that it’s rude for me to try and identify with a community that I can detach myself from so easily. My identity feels like less than everybody else’s. I’ve not had to deal with the kind of homophobia and transphobia that others in that community will have. I’ve not had the hardships, (though obviously, the story above is one of transphobia, it just seems too mild compared to some of the shit that happens), therefore I’m not really part of the community.
But I want to be. Not just because I want to seek out the exotic and be different, but because I need that network. I need people who might understand some of what this means. To explain to me how I’m supposed to tie together my sexuality, gender and everything else into some coherent sense of self.
I am determined to find self determination. I think this means more than just a label (genderqueer) or a political view (genderfuck/gender abolition) or even a form of dress (pretty purple dresses et al).
It’s a self. It’s a me. It’s a mode of expression.
I feel like a lot of my doubts won’t go away until I’ve found a way to make my self more holistically linked together. This doesn’t mean I want to start presenting female all the time. Hell, I never shave off my beard, so I never have presented female. It’s just not my thing. I just mean I want everything to become congruent. I don’t want to feel like I’m putting on this outfit today, because this is who I am today.
Not that I don’t have a muiltifaceted personality, we all do, I am a million different people from one day to the next (who sung that?). And that’s not a problem. But they need to be connected to a core. Or at least I think they do.
I want everything that is me to radiate from some central point, and I don’t feel that at the moment. Is this because I am still questioning my gender identity, or is it something deeper? Is this just because I feel bullied by strangers when I think I’m just trying to have a good night out?
Or do i just need to practice my Tai Chi more and make sure that all movement is generated from the centre?
The point is, that I don’t know.
This whole gender thing. This whole ME thing. It raises a million questions I have no answers for. I don’t even thing I’ve covered a vague fragment of this writing all this down. I’m just doing my mental scratchpad thing.
I guess the point is that I don’t know who I am. I can’t realy see it. I am me, I am self, but I don’t know what that means.
I guess the interesting thing is that we only see ourself reflected through other people. Be it guys taking the piss and making me uncomfortable, or friends supporting me, it’s all a lens through which I see how my self is expressed. Sure, I’ve got my own point of view, but a lot of ‘self-expression’ is literally that, it is the expression of what we in ourselves are. We must pour outwards, presenting a shape for the world, colours and tones all over the place. We paint a picture of ourselves with our clothes, our words and our actions. This picture is what other people see. To them, this picture is us.
So how do we make the us they see the same as the person we are?
Answers on a postcard, preferably a postcard with a picture of Marnie Stern on it.