Wednesday, 27 August 2008

gender troubles back in the day

I'm doing a little sorting through old papers and photographs these days. Apparently I've been thinking through this gender business my whole life--well, I knew that, but apparently I've been committing it to paper from time to time as well.

Exhibit A: In which I foreshadow my interest in social construction, challenge sexism, and betray a certain confusion. Judging from the handwriting, dates from when I was 7 or 8.


What's the difference. It is true that we learn from the way we are handled. But often the problem is that we get thinking that one sex is better than the other. If you are a girl, there's no reason why you shouldn't play a sport. If you're a boy, you don't have to play sports. So if anyone tells you to be ladylike or to be a boy, just say I already am!"

Which, as T. points out, gives the syntactical suggestion that I already am a ladylike boy.

Exhibit B: In which I resurrect the most appalling sexism and use an alter ego to tear myself down. Dating from when I was 15 or 16. The background to this: Ahmad was a character I'd created. He was supposed to be Iranian (I don't know why, apologies for strange stereotyping) and the embodiment of old-fashioned, chivalrous masculinity, complete with backstory full of heroic suffering and extraodinarily good looks. In this scene, he's being interviewed by a friend's son on whether he is a sexist. I'll omit the ponderous introduction and cut straight to the ponderous chase.


Interviewer: You mean you ignore who people really are, and judge them on the basis of their gender?
Ahmad: You misunderstand. I judge people entirely on who they are.
Int: Then how can you judge them on their gender?
A: That's part of who they are, is it not? Would you not say that your maleness is an inherent part of who you are?
Int: Well, yes, certainly-
A: Then my treating you as a man is just a part of my treating you as who you are--you are a man, as well as a student and the son of a dear friend.
Int: But my--maleness--as you call it--it's not the same as your maleness or my father's maleness. They're all different. So too with women.
A: Certainly. And some woman may be timid and frightened and completely submissive while another is strong and proud of her family and respectful while a third is scheming and lustful and lazy. Naturally I would treat each of these differently, yet their personalities are all female, so I treat them all as women.
Int: Well, what if a woman's personality were just like a man's?
A: I'd pity a creature so cruelly deceived by God.
Int: But what if she was naturally like that?
A: Is a man born a cripple not naturally crippled? Is he therefore less worthy of our pity?
Int: All right, all right! But what should I put down? Are you a sexist?
A: No.
Int: But you just acted like you were...
A: You make it sound like something bizarre, when in fact I only act as it is natural for everyone to act.
Int: It's impossible! Thank you, sir, that is all!

Indeed. I had to laugh at the sheer mindless predictability of the stereotypes of the three women. But I do feel pity for who I was when I wrote this, summoning up my ideal male alter ego only to make him pronounce female masculinity a crippling deception imposed by a cruel God. Sigh. Ending self-indulgent walk down memory lane here.

Monday, 25 August 2008

gender panic-mine

We went to a movie last night, a documentary about three people transitioning to male called “Boy I Am”. (What a great title, huh?) It covers a lot of interesting ground—the intersection of race and class with transitioning genders, taking testosterone, undergoing top surgery, navigating relationships with partners and family—in a thoughtful way.

During the movie itself, I kept shifting around, absolutely could not get comfortable in my seat. Afterwards, there was an audience discussion, and I found myself unable to say anything at all. T. said some interesting things about femmes, her older friend whose partner transitioned, and some other stuff. It was a safe space to talk, you know? But I was silent as the grave.

Partly I was afraid of offending the transguys there. The drawback to the movie, in my opinion, was that it used Judith ‘Jack’ Halberstam as basically the sole representative of butches. (Halberstam is the author of, among other things, Female Masculinity, which I read this spring and found utterly liberating.) So it was too easy to conflate butch vs. transman with older vs. younger and real-life person vs. theoretical academic. (Just as a series of comparisons, not as oppositions.)

And since just about all the butches in the audience elected not to stay for the discussion... well, there I was, not wanting to recreate any border wars (butches are the real, the brave, the subversive embodiment of female masculinity! butches are just ftms in waiting, too wimpy to really do it!).

But also, I felt surprisingly emotional and conflicted about the whole topic. Shaking hands with a transguy afterwards, I found myself panicking when I realized my grip was firmer than his: is that butch-ly overcompensation? Does he think I’m a pathetic pussy, relying on an iron grip to mask my lack of ‘real’ male signifiers? (Please pardon the misuse of pussy; it’s what occurred to me at the time, sadly enough.) I’m so used to defending my right to masculinity against straight cis-men—why did I fall apart at the imagined judgments of transmen, who I would think I have far more of a natural alliance with?

If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that my embrace of masculinity and butchness itself is a relatively recent and hard-fought thing. But the movie, plus a weekend in which I looked at a lot of old photographs, made me reflect what a long fight it’s been, too.

I thought about transitioning in college, in a vague, confused way. At one point in the movie, Halberstam says if someone had offered her testosterone at 19, she would have taken it; the implication was that she’s glad now she didn’t. I sympathize with that. I was so lost at 19, in terms of gender.

The movie focused a lot on top surgery, and oddly enough, that’s always been one of the least attractive things about transitioning to me, in a physical sense. A deeper voice, narrower hips, more muscle? OK, sounds cool; at times, I’ve desperately wanted those things.

But I’m really fond of my breasts. They’re not very big, but they’re not invisibly small either. They were just about the only part of a female puberty I was genuinely enthusiastic about. For some reason, they seemed unequivocally mine, a friendly presence there on my chest. How I got this in a culture that packages up breasts and turns them into objects-of-male-gaze par excellence, I can’t tell you. But I feel comforted by their presence, hidden under layers of just t-shirt and shirt back in the day, tucked into a gentle sports bra now that I’m not a skinny-ass teenager anymore. I like the way they’re small enough not to interrupt the fall of my dress shirts from my shoulders too much, yet still present and visible, confirming the female half of the female masculinity thing.

So my confused 19-year-old self thought: but to transition I’d have to lose my breasts! I can’t do that! I’ll just have to be a woman, full stop, end of story, stopping mucking about with boyishness!

Which brought its own set of troubles, because really, I feel somewhere in between. I want my breasts and my masculinity. I want to grow up to be just like Jack Halberstam. I just didn’t think a well-made documentary and a room of well-meaning, kind-hearted transmen and their allies would bring all that anxious confusion rushing back to me.

I might lose my nerve and take this picture down, but for now, here’s a reward for anyone who’s read this far through my little identity crisis: me and T., dancing at a wedding in the mists of the past. It’s incredible but true: we had NO IDEA what butch-femme even was when this picture was taken. You’ll just have to take my word for that.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

first & only twenty-ninth

Well, happy birthday to me. I am 29 today, and I will not be making this an annual event. Late-twenties-almost-thirty is just fine with me. Finally old enough not to care, finally old enough not to put up with anyone's garbage. Being young has always seemed to me to be about restrictions so I'm content to be All Grown Up.

It's been quite a year. Last August I was scared, scared, scared. About to leave for England, full of obsessive little plans and overflowing with apology. Now here I am, and I don't even feel like the same person, or rather, I feel like the person who was always deep inside me finally got to stand up and breathe some fresh air.

We went up and saw my mom over the weekend--she dragged out the baby book, of course. Funny to see all the pink IT'S A GIRL!! stuff. My birth announcement had a little pink paper diaper thing, and my mom said, somewhat randomly, 'They had blue ones for boys.' 'And green if you weren't sure?' I suggested. 'No, I bought these after you were born... oh.' Maybe getting it just a little, since she laughed and then told, again, the old stories about how all the old superstitions predicted I'd be a boy. Well, almost, right?

No big plans for today... gotta work, then some Thai food, then out for some drinks. No need to go overboard, on this first birthday where I'm actually pretty much glad I was born, even if it took me almost three decades to figure out that IT'S A BOI!!!

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Butch Castration Anxiety?

What does it mean that I've dreamed my hair is long again four or five times in the last week or so? Sometimes I realize I've forgotten to get it cut, but mostly it's just this awful manifestation, hair where there was none. In one dream it was just long on the sides--I felt my neck and was relieved to discover the hair was still short and stubbly there. And recently I've thought, during the dream, 'This is just a dream,' but I still can't wake up, and then (in the dream) I think, 'Oh no, this time it's for real!' I won't get into the variations about being unable to schedule an appointment for a haircut as I suspect this post is getting too long. (Like my subconscious hair!)

(Just in case you're wondering: yes, I'm getting some.)

Friday, 8 August 2008

Long-suffering felines

We love our cats, we really do. They're great cats. But I have to admit we got a little out of the cat-care groove in England. We keep running out of cat food and having to rush out to our local natural pet food store at the last minute. And that store is run by two awesome women with a small child, so it doesn't have the most extensive hours ever.

A few days ago T. picked up some cans of our usual brand from a different store. A little more expensive, they looked a little different. Whatever. But the cats just didn't like it. They nibbled, they looked at us suspiciously. I mixed in some sardines and they liked it a little better. (Yeah, I buy sardines for my cats. You wanna make something of it?)

Today I went to our usual store and stocked up. When I got home I noticed that the old cans really were different. I looked closer: "all natural food for dogs".

Sorry, guys. We'll remember how to do this. In the meantime... anchovies anyone?

Friday, 1 August 2008

just a word

stolen from jess & tina:

1. Where is your cell phone? bookcase
2. Your significant other? true
3. Your hair? trimmed
4. Your mother? problematic
5. Your father? lonely
6. Your favorite time of day? evening
7. Your dream last night? hairy
8. Your favorite drink? beer
9. Your dream goal? strength
10. The room you’re in? airy
11. Your ex? straight
12. Your fear? rejection
13. Where do you want to be in 6 years? connected
14. What you are not? sleepy
15. Your Favorite meal? eggs
16. One of your wish list items? ipod
17. The last thing you did? procrastinate
18. Where you grew up? massa-fuckin-chusetts
19. What are you wearing? jeans
20. Your TV is? leaving
21. Your pets? opinionated
22. Your computer? lap
23. Your life? changing
24. Your mood? distracted
25. Missing someone? maybe
26. Your car? silver
27. Something you’re not wearing? jacket
28. Favorite store? m&s
29. Your summer? erratic
30. Your favorite color? blue
31. When is the last time you laughed? today
32. When is the last time you cried? yesterday
33. Your health? ok
34. Your children? nonexistent
35. Your future? new
36. Your beliefs? evolving
37. Young or old? both
38. Your image? aloof
39. Your appearance? queer
40. Would you live your life over again knowing what you know? yep