Only two posts so far this month, September is buzzing away, and I have so much I could write about.
Odd times last weekend. At one social event, a woman described her distaste for “militant” looking lesbians ... then described the exact outfit I was wearing. (Striped shirt tucked into jeans, if you must know. It’s my lucky shirt, actually, the very first item of men’s clothing I bought this spring and one of my very favorite things to wear.) I knew it was about her own struggles with her sexual orientation and visibility (she’s bi and with a woman), not really about me ultimately. Still, white tall femme, as Jesse James would say? And of course I had that little moment of panic: am I an ugly, militant lesbian snickered at by all the cool kids? Sigh.
The next day was a wedding so straight, it was like queers were never invented. Except for yours truly and my faithful femme sidekick, of course. I’m exaggerating, but only a little. A measure of my own changing identity... when we were invited early this year, I joked with T. that I’d go in drag. I didn’t, of course, I went as me. Which meant wearing all men’s clothing. Which is how I would have described drag, then. Which did in fact earn me: one extremely uncomfortable older male relative, a large number of curious glances (plus one I’m pretty sure was hostile), a whole lot of feeling like a fish out of water, and the designation ‘dapper’ from the sweetheart bride who was the whole reason we even went to this thing.
During the ceremony, I got to thinking about gender theory and the latest Judith Butler book I’m reading, Bodies That Matter. The book is, in part, Butler’s response to criticisms made about Gender Trouble. Reading it, I felt for the first time like I really get what she means by the word “performative.” As Butler puts it, neither performativity nor social construction are meant to imply that gender is something you can choose to put on or take off, like the clothes in your closet. (Hussy Red makes this point beautifully in her recent post about being a femme, which also underscores how painful it is to have people suggest that your gender is like a jacket.)
So an identity isn’t performative because you “perform” it like a role, like a character you put on at Halloween. It’s performative because you create it, or a little bit of it, a version of it, with your actions. There’s no original man or woman or femme or butch or mountain-goat-gender out there, that we can each “do” better or worse. Rather, all those identities come into being, and evolve, and exist, through our doing them.
Sitting there at the wedding, the only female-bodied person in male attire, I thought to myself, I’m not imitating a thing called “man”. All of us here, any of us doing any kind of masculinity, are constantly present at its creation. We’re all a little bit in drag, and mostly not, because mostly we’re just doing us, as best we can, whatever the circumstances that might have made us the varied ways we are.
Well, it made me feel better, anyway. That, and the fact that the slightly-queer-looking caterer-woman gave me a very nice smile. That was good, too.