To The FemmeMobile! Away!











I used to watch Doris Day’s Calamity Jane obsessively when I was young. Especially every time I got sick. I was in love with her, in a “I want to be her” sort of way. Here’s a snippet:

It was full of gayness, including accidental cross-dressing. (You can rent it for $2 from Youtube, apparently. It would be a $2 well spent, I’m just sayin’.)

When I moved to Canada at 20, long before I figured out my own sexual and gender identity, I had to leave it home. I didn’t see it again until years later — probably ten years later, when my sister bought it for me for Christmas. By that time I’d figured out both the lesbian/butch attraction and the femme bit.

Watching the movie again nearly made my jaw drop. Calamity Jane both was me, and was who I wanted to be. She’s got a temper that drives her into doing stupid things (though mine’s under control now), she sticks up for the underdog even when it puts her at great risk, she’s got this super rough, tomboy, cowgirl exterior, and she really wants someone to see that she’s beautiful under it all. She wants love and doesn’t know how to go about getting it, because so many people saw the tomboy and not the girl (this is less me: people generally saw the girl, but I had a hard time realizing that). She’s strong, she’s a hero, and she still wants rescuing. She’s rough and practical on the outside, but she cleans up and wants to be a girl.

She’s me, as a femme.

It’s funny: for all her tomboyishness, she never came across as butch to me, either. I think it’s Doris Day’s feminine energy under all that faux-rawhide!

When I saw it again after so many years, I watched in absolute fascination. Here were the answers I’d been looking for just a few years earlier, when I started this blog, trying to figure out how I could be femme and yet not be a high femme or wear dresses all the time. In short, be femme and still be a tomboy. Here it was, the answer I’d watched over and over as kid, wishing I were her.

It makes me think that even as a kid, I identified with her. Maybe my subconscious was trying to help me out. 😉 Now, if only she’d been attracted to butches… I might have figured it out that much faster! ;-D

JB

Advertisements


{June 5, 2012}   Link spam!

Some fun stuff I’ve been finding.

First! Jason Alexander, y’know the comedian, did something stupid. In a comedy bit, he said cricket was gay and then pantomimed effeminate stuff, thereby offending homosexual folks as well as queer and straight genderbenders AND feminists.

But mostly the gays people.

They called him on it. He pooh-poohed them. More people called him on it… so he actually sat down and thought about it. Then he wrote up this apology, which might be the best apology I’ve ever read, in large part because it means he actually THOUGHT ABOUT IT and is willing to learn and grow. YAY!

Also, a friend linked me to this as well: Fuck Yeah, Hard Femme An extremely awesome Tumblr account with — you guessed it — hard femmes.

Which has made me think about the definition of femme some more. I somehow doubt I’ll ever find a definition that I can accept. And each time I look, I start wondering about the whole genderqueering definition again.

More on that later.

J



One of the things about being femme, and being not-particularly-high femme, is that I blend. It means I come out a lot, to both gays and straights. Somtimes it gets annoying, but mostly I don’t care. (Q seems to enjoy it; it makes us blend when she doesn’t want to be noticed, she gets a kick out of it when I tell people I’m gay — usually by mentioning my girlfriend — and I think she likes that I’m so willing to be out when I could as easily fake straight.)

Anyway, I had a hilarious moment in my dog class the other day. One of my straight clients, Bev, is in her 60s or 70s. She wears brilliant blue contacts and dyes her hair jet black. She’s the epitome of eccentric in clothes, mannerisms, speech, etc. The woman has Flair. I have no idea if she knows I’m gay, but I don’t make any secret about it. Several of my clients know that my assistant trainer is also my girlfriend.

Anyway, we were just winding up class, and I mentioned that I was going to Cancun in May.

Bev: Oh, how fun! Where are you staying?
Me: I have no idea! Some resort. There’s this group called Olivia, and they rent out a whole resort or a whole cruise ship and stock it with no one but lesbians. *big grin*
Bev: Oh, you’re going to have fun!

And then she gave me this saucy, knowing look. I nearly killed myself laughing! (So did everyone else, though the couple from Iowa, who hadn’t known, gave me a double take before they chuckled! It’s impossible to tell if they were surprised I was gay, or surprised that I, specifically, with my lack of gaydar-waves, was gay. They didn’t seem terribly alarmed, so I’m guessing the latter.)

I had another coming out moment, as well. I’ve been asked to guest lecture at the Los Gatos High School a couple of years running now, and every year Steve asks me, “Have you ever used positive reinforcement on people?” To which I say, “Yes!” And think up a demonstration. Now, mostly I think of Q, since I’m around her the most, and the past two years I stumble over that. “I was out with my — er, uh, friend, and we were…” I know high schools can be funny about gay stuff, so even though Los Gatos is lesbian mecca, I didn’t want to get Steve in trouble.

Well, I have another client who’s a teacher there, and I saw her a few days ago. So I told her what was going on, and said, “Paris, I have a girlfriend but I don’t know what the policy is and don’t want to get Steve in trouble. Would I? I also don’t like censoring myself, and generally don’t bother to; I’m not interested in hiding this aspect. What can you tell me about school policy?”

Paris was hilarious. She said that, like anywhere, they had their intolerant people, but that school policy was progressive. They have a Gay and Straight Alliance, diversity and tolerance posters all over, “Safe space” triangles, and the teachers and staff have all been coached on what to say if they hear someone using the terms “fag,” “faggot” or “gay” in negative settings. So, she said, I should be perfectly fine in saying anything I’d like.

Then she got excited about it. “In fact, if anyone said anything to you, they’d get in huge trouble. We have — do we? We do have other out staff, and if they’re comfortable with it we encourage it so the kids are exposed to more types of people and have role models. And you’re successful and happy and top in your profession, so that’d be great!”

I had a good crack up (and was flattered). And she was even more excited that I’m comfortably out and talk about it casually. I couldn’t decide if she was proud of me or if she was excited that the kids would have a good role model/stereotype breaker. I’m not sure SHE knew which was true! Likely both.

It always cracks me up in a strange sort of way when someone is proud of me for being out and honest about it. I mean, I’m so divided. It’s totally ego-stroking to be praised for it and have someone be proud of me. It’s amusing that they’re proud, because it’s not like it’s something they helped with. It’s frustrating that they’re proud, because it shouldn’t be a big enough deal to be proud over. It’s distressing, because it’s a sign of how much even straight people realize that it’s difficult and scary to be out, and it shouldn’t be. Such a maelstrom of emotions.

Mostly I let the happy ones surface and try to acknowledge but let go of the less happy ones.

J



{December 22, 2011}   Femme as a Gender

Wow. I started this post in AUGUST, you people. Jesus, my life is entirely too busy. *sighs*

So, Q is more knowledgeable than me about general women’s studies, but I’m more knowledgeable than her about femme specifically. Given she’s not femme, this makes sense to me. 😉 After one of my posts, she was asking me about femme as a gender and why it was transgressing gender boundaries, and I was trying to explain it. This is, edited, what I wrote:

I had a guy friend once say to me, “No matter what else, you can always claim ‘woman’ as an identity.” At the time I hadn’t even heard of femme, and had no idea about gender identity. Still, I was appalled and offended that he’d apply ‘woman’ to me. I couldn’t say why, only that, like you say, it didn’t fit. It makes me feel twitchy and horrible. When people refer to me as a woman I generally want to slap them. I don’t, because they don’t understand why, but it makes me feel awful.

Femme is a gender separate than ‘woman.’ (Let’s just say that if I’m going to refer to biological sex, I’ll say ‘male’ or ‘female’ — otherwise I’m talking about the genders. :)) You kind of have to just start there — there isn’t any easy “here is what makes something a gender” sort of definition. What makes femme transgressing gender boundaries is… well, there’s lots.

The first thing that most femmes point to is the fact that it breaks the patriarchal hold on things. Femmes dress up and look nice NOT to attract or please men, but to attract or please other women, which is the first gender boundary broken.

Femmes also do it, much like butches, in the face of great prejudice from other lesbians: butches get attacked by hard-core feminist lesbians for giving into the male stereotype, but so do femmes. Just like butches, they’re seen as “selling out,” which isn’t something “normal” women have to deal with from other women. Straight women are expected to be feminine and it’s applauded if they are, and gay women are, mostly, expected to be really andro. So here, femme is transgressing gender boundaries; women as a gender aren’t dealing with discrimination for looking pretty, but femmes as a gender are.

There’s also a power difference between femmes and women. I’ve gotten pretty damn good at spotting a femme when I walk into a room, even if they’re not “high” femme. N is an obvious femme, for instance, even when she cowgirls up. Those women who, whether or not they look all girlish, are feminine in some way (even if it’s a tomboy way), but have that underlying steel are almost always femme. Femmes, when they state a preference, are typically deferred to. This is another of the gender boundaries that are broken. Women – lesbian and otherwise – tend to defer to masculine-centered people, but masculine-centered people tend to defer to femmes.

In a similar  trend, while many women are deferred to out of politeness, they are also expected to do “womanly” things. Not true of femmes: femmes might look all feminine, but that doesn’t make them delicate flowers who are restricted in their activities: a feminine woman typically won’t climb a tree in her skirt, or would be frowned upon if she did, but a femme won’t let the skirt stop her, and is generally encouraged in her boisterousness.

There’s a sexual component, too; femmes are seen as more sexual, more sexually powerful, and more sexually dominant in their relationships. You and I are a pretty good example: the majority of the time, your goal seems to be that I come first. 😉 In that sense, it’s seen as more important to make sure that the femme enjoys herself; after that it’s the butch’s turn. (Not so cut and dried as that, but I hope you get the idea!) With women and sex, it’s the guy’s privilege to come first, and hopefully he’ll then attend to the woman or let her attend to herself. Think about media: women are still seen as less sexual, less likely to come, and that’s considered okay. It’s not, however, considered okay with femme women. Again, it’s breaking gender boundaries.

Finally, femme takes all the things marked as female, and therefore weak, and makes them powerful. Women in a patriarchal society are seen as second class; femmes, especially in a femme/butch society, are typically first class and often deferred to. Again — by becoming anything other than second class, it breaks gender boundaries.

…[F]emme is typically a female gender, but it’s not the gender of “woman.” It’s gender bending because it’s a different gender on a female body. It’s very similar to woman, just like butch is very similar to FTM, but they’re both different things. Butch and FTM, and femme and women are similar in that they’re very close to each other, and sometimes the lines blur, but they’re still definitely different.

Ironically, this challenges my earlier assertion that anyone can be femme, because part of my very definition is that femmes are queer. A big part of it, in fact.

I was reading Butch/Femme: New Considerations of the Way We Want to Go recently, and noticing that they didn’t really seem to have a definition of femme, either. In fact, their biggest definition was that femmes were the counterpart to butches. (Not all of the articles said that; most didn’t touch on definitions at all, but those that did were often of this bent.) Now, this is an older book with older theories, and maybe what I need is some newer reading, but it got me thinking again about what makes femme? And what makes it transgender? Because most of the things I listed above are feminist, rather than femme, and I felt femme long before I understood feminism.

One thing I read over and over is that femme is a conscious act of gender, but I felt femme before I was consciously acting any gender. (I still don’t feel like I’m consciously creating a gender, but rather am expressing what’s always been there. I haven’t changed, I just found the right label.)

I think, though, that the question I really need to start with is: what’s gender? What makes something a gender? Dictionary.com has a lot of useless definitions. So, naturally, I went to Wiki. You want to know what Wiki says? Of course you do.

Gender is a range of characteristics used to distinguish between males and females, particularly in the cases of men and women and the masculineand feminine attributes assigned to them. Depending on the context, the discriminating characteristics vary from sex to social role to gender identity.

Sexologist John Money coined the termgender role in 1955. “The term gender role is used to signify all those things that a person says or does to disclose himself or herself as having the status of boy or man, girl or woman, respectively. It includes, but is not restricted to, sexuality in the sense of eroticism.”[30] Elements of such a role include clothing, speech patterns, movement, occupations, and other factors not limited to biological sex. Because social aspects of gender can normally be presumed to be the ones of interest in sociology and closely related disciplines, gender role is often abbreviated to gender in their literature.

This makes me think I ought to look at this list (“clothing, speech patterns, movement, occupations”) and see if femme (and whatever else I decide to pick on) has its own gender. If it doesn’t, does it matter that it doesn’t fit that list, or does it still qualify as its own gender because it “feels” that way? And back to the oldie but goodie, is gender created or innate? Because it certainly felt innate to me when I stumbled upon femme.

I wish I had more time to read about stuff like this… And to examine that list in regards to femme. I wish I knew more femmes so I could examine them, too. >.> Jeez…

J



There is this constant debate among the femme community, with people pretty much coming down very strongly on either side, about whether or not femme can be applied to bi or het women, or men of any shape, size, or sexuality. It basically comes down to two arguments, boiled down thusly:

1. Of course, because we’re trying to be inclusive and (my own opinion, here) if we’re saying gender shouldn’t be linked to what body you’re born into, then it also shouldn’t be forced on you because of your sexuality.

2. Lesbian/Queer femme is already a minority: get your damn straight-woman or male-of-any-sort hands off my gender; I have enough areas in which I’m overlooked! Don’t appropriate this one! (I actually quite understand this; it tends to be my emotional reaction. Then my hyper-sensitive sense of morality kicks in, and I realize I don’t really agree with this one…)

Got that? Good.

Now, when I was first looking at femme, I kept seeing how femme and butch were transgenders. They were transgressing gender boundaries; ergo, trans. I learned initially that transgender referred to a person transgressing gender boundaries, which could refer to femme or butch or andro or FTM or MTF or anyone inbetween. I also learned that transsexual meant specifically FTM or MTF.

Since then, through experience I’ve learned that those terms are far from agreed upon, and we, as humans, tend to boil things down to the easiest way of saying it: trans, whether it’s transgressing or transitioning.

All this makes me wonder: do FTM and MTF folks have that same, “stop appropriating my shit!” reaction? I’d think they have much more reason to, to be honest (starting with the fact that, uh, they coined it). I’ve always felt a little strange saying I’m trans (even though I leaped on it initially) because, well, my trans path is VERY DIFFERENT than an FTM/MTF’s trans path. At the same time, I don’t want my trans experience swallowed up into the more socially-fascinating FTM/MTF trans experience. That’s not me; we are totally different ends of the spectrum, only very distantly related if related at all.

I almost feel like we need a different term. Leave trans where it belongs, with the people who used it first: those people who are actually transitioning. I’d rather have a label of my own, to show I’m transgressing gender boundaries.

…I have no idea what that label might be, mind you. But it’s something else I’ve been thinking about.

JB



{April 1, 2011}   It’s all about the smile

Something really cool has happened over the last few weeks, maybe even months. It happened really slowly, so I didn’t notice it at first. And initially, it only happened in safe spaces. Then toward stereotypes. But the other day it happened while I was walking a Great Dane (is there anything more femme than a blue Dane with a bright pink

This is not Bentley, but it sure looks like her!

collar complete with fancy ribbon and crystal-studded ID? I THINK NOT. She’s owned by a very straight woman, but damn I feel femme when I take her out.)

Anyway, the very awesome thing is this: I’m flirting! Like I did to boys before I came out (to myself), which is to say that it comes as naturally as breathing.

At first, it was to women I knew were lesbian, at gay bars and gay two-stepping and so on. Then it was to the people in my (very gay) town, the ones I could identify as masculine-ID’d. Then to the stereotypical dykes. But the other day I was walking down the street with Bentley and her bling collar, when I saw a cute woman sitting on a bench, reading. Before I knew quite what I was about, I’d pulled myself up and given her that knee-jerk saucy grin I use whenever I’m flirting without necessarily meaning to.

She didn’t look up. But that’s not the point! The point is that a few months ago I would have been worried about flirting with strange women, because god forbid I offend or give the wrong signals, even if that’s just another sign of cultural homophobia. But now, I’m flirting without thinking twice about it, grinning at women just to see if they’ll grin back! I’m totally interested in Q, and the flirting wouldn’t go anywhere, but… well, it really is as natural as breathing, and it makes everyone feel good.

I can’t help it. I’m a flirt. *laughs* It’s coded right into my DNA, I tell you! And now I’m no longer worried or anxious or anything about flirting with random women, which makes me feel fabulous! Plus, how could I not flirt when I have Bentley? She’s like, femme personified. 😉

J



{March 17, 2011}   Gender and Sexual Orientation

In my various wanderings across the web and through various gender books, one of the things I continuously run across is the argument that your biological sex should not define your gender. I think pretty much everyone reading this blog is going to agree with this.

What I think is interesting is the other argument that I hear on a frequent basis, though: that your sexual orientation DOES define which genders you’re allowed to be.

The argument here is that, for instance, only lesbians can be butch or femme. (For the sake of brevity, and because it seems more hotly contested, I’m going to shorten this to just femme. The arguments for butch actually change slightly, anyway.) Of course, this is a very black and white argument: it doesn’t take into account bi women, or only takes them into account when they’re dating other women. If it does take them into account, it then identifies them as ‘queer,’ so only queer women can be femme, but even then queer in this use seems to silently mean ‘attracted to other women,’ even among the people who would argue in other circumstances that queer can mean almost anything.

While I understand the desire to say, “Hey! I’m femme, and I’m already a minority, damn it, you hetro people get your hands off my gender!”, I still don’t think it’s actually right. I don’t see the difference between using biological sex to constrain gender or using sexual attraction to constrain gender. Either way, we’re saying certain genders can only be used by certain people. Wasn’t the whole point of breaking out of gender boxes so that genders were no long constrained by biology? Which, according to most, is what drives sexual orientation.

If I’m going to say that my biology does not dictate my gender, then I must accept that there are fabulous gay men out there who are also femme, and in fact that there are even hetero cis women who are also femme — whether or not I like it.

Am I wrong? Is my logic flawed somewhere?

J



{January 7, 2011}   Femme study

Okay, here we go!

I’m not even sure how to start with this one. This is me, folks, not talking about sex and still unsure how to begin. Scary! 😉

A while back, while DK was studying gender and femme and butch and all that for her degree, she sent me this study. IT WAS AWESOME. As awesome as my chocolate graham goldfish, which are pretty damn awesome.  It’s 15 pages, and I’m not going to post it because someone worked really hard and that seems rude. But if you give me your email address, I’ll send it. 🙂 (Shuddup, there’s totally a difference.)

I think what I’ll do is just start reading, and tell you all my reactions. ;-D It’s been so long that I’ve forgotten most of it, to be honest… Except, well, it was just like me.

It is “The Misunderstood Gender: A Model of Modern Femme Identity” by Heidi M. Levitt, Elisabeth A. Gerrish, and Katherine R. Hiestand.

Here’s a snip of the abstract (what it’s about):

Femme identity remains a highly controversial topic. It has been maligned in both heterosexual and queer contexts, and is rarely represented in empirical literature. In this study we examined how femme women experience their own gender identity. Interviews were conducted with femme-identified lesbians. […] The core category in this model “Maintaining integrity: Upholding beliefs about sexual desire and gender representation” reflects the need [for femmes] to uphold their sense of integrity across a variety of contexts by confronting stereotypes about both women and lesbians.

I found that last bit interesting to start with — the idea that upholding the sense of femme identity is done, in part, by confronting stereotypes. Hmm.

It starts out with a brief history of butch-femme, where it came from (within the US), what it meant, why it took those forms. One of the near things in the study is that it gives femmes power even from the start: it acknowledges that butch women changed what it meant to be a woman and publicised lesbianism, but that femme women did the same. That by being hyper-feminine they were just as much to credit for stretching the roles of ‘women’ in culture at that time. Hee!

By orienting their sexuality toward a butch woman
instead of a man, the femme women made lesbian
desire public and challenged notions of female
sexuality.

😀 I love seeing credit for my femme ancestors. 😉

Some intersting history tidbits that I hadn’t heard, but make sense, say that the reason the femme-butch dynamic was so more equal right off the bat (than the hetrosexual relationships they were supposedly emulating, according to the outside world) is because femme women were seen as brave and courageous, putting themselves in view with butch partners, being caught in bar raids and all the rest. In addition, femme women often ended up supporting their butch partners financially, because butch women had a harder time getting or keeping work. This put them on a far more equal footing than if they’d been in relationships with men.

It’s really the courageous thing that I latch onto, though. Today, I often feel like I’m seen as the less impressive because the whole world can’t see my sexuality. I’m not obvious; I can hide. It really grates. So to hear that at some point, femme women were seen as courageous for sexualizing femininity and standing with their partners, makes me happy.

The central focus of sexual relations was the femme partner’s pleasure, as often a butch partner would not expect nor wish reciprocity and would receive satisfaction from the act of pleasuring.

Actually, I find this is still the case. It’s pretty wild, having come from hetro relationships. I’m still not quite used to it, I have to admit, but I do find myself strutting a lot more. *laughs* (I should note that everything to this point has been referring to the 40’s and 50’s.)

There’s also this repetitive use of the word ‘rebellious.’ Femme women were rebellious. Hee hee hee.

In the 80’s, butch-femme came back after their near-abolishment during the feminist movement, and for the first time became something people claimed not because they had to be one or the other like was in the case in the 40’s and 50’s, but because it was an identity.

There’s a bit on femme literature, and basically the lack thereof. It’s kind of painful to read, including bits about the fight to have femme seen as equal to any other gender presentation, and it makes me wince more when I know that at the same time, butch was getting attention in gender studies and becoming more and more an ‘acceptable’ gender. I can tell things are changing now, but I definitely still feel this leaning. (Not you guys. You guys are awesome. ;-D)

But! Interesting and good things: femme women realized their sexual orientation at a much later date than butch women (22 to the butch 15), and most lesbians now say that femme and butch are good for lesbian culture as a whole. Woot! Less discrimination. 🙂 And it’s SO NICE to see that I’m normal, at least for a femme, not having figured out my own sexual orientation until later! I realized I was bi around 20, and the jury’s still out on whether I’m bi or lesbian. (It will probably forever be out, because I do think I’m mostly lesbian with a bi leaning. ;-D)

Next was a bunch of technical stuff about how they did the study. To sum: Yup, looks official. Yup, looks good.

Um. And now I’m tuckered out. I’ll have to pick this up another day, again.

But it’s so nice to see, even in the beginning, that there are other people like me! And I know they get into defining femmes (by interviewing TONS of them and pulling out the similarities), and I remember being wowed at how continuously I fit the gender — down to realizing my sexual orientation later. 😉

Ohhh, it makes me happy. 😀

J



One of the things Kate said in her book, Gender Outlaw, was that one of the gender constructs for femmes was that they look (typically a butch) in the eye, look away, and then look back and hold the gaze.

I almost fell out of my bed, folks, because I do that all the time. (And actually, another reason I think sometimes the social construct theory is wrong; because until I decided femme fit, I didn’t know any other femmes. How could I have learned this pattern if there was no one to teach me? Suggests it’s inborn, rather than created.) Of course, some part of me goes, “Do you really do it all the time? Or are you just remembering the times you’ve done it and forgetting the majority when you haven’t?” But the more I think about it, the more I think I’m right.

Interestingly, I only do it to people I’m personally interested in, whether it’s interest in how they look, in friendship, or in something else. If it’s a business transaction? I’m far more likely just to look and hold the gaze, no looking away needed.

Fascinating. 😀

It also tells me that somewhere out there someone has studied the social construct of femme, and oh my god I want to read that. We have social constructs? I had no idea!

One of the other interesting things she said was that butch tended to be stepping outside the male gaze. Wait, I’m not sure I’m saying this well. So, in our patriarchal society the male gaze is the one that gets to be active and assertive by looking, and women are to be passive and submissive/vulnerable by being looked at. So butch is stepping outside that; females who are essentially taking that gaze back, taking that power of the male gaze for themselves and refusing to be the looked-at ones. They tend not to expose skin or sexualized themselves in every day life (at least, not in a culturally common way, but let me just tell you how hot Q was when I saw her in scrubs one day, omg. …I’m really looking forward to her coming home tomorrow.), and tend not to attracted sexual male attention. Femme, on the other hand, is typically purposefully stepping into a more vulnerable space, attracting the male gaze and attracting attention, more likely than not showing skin. I don’t mean dressing slutty; if I get dressed up, I will likely wear a dress that bares my shoulders, or a shirt that has a V-neck, or a skirt that bares my legs. Q, on the other hand, is going to wear a suit — that covers a hell of a lot more skin!

This wasn’t interesting because it was a novel concept, though I hadn’t consciously thought of it before, but rather because of the way Q and I interact. Q is a pacifist, despite dressing in a way that tells people she is not to be trifled with. Q has had… well, I think she’s had some major betrayals in her life, but she doesn’t seem to count them the way I do. ;-D (She would agree that she’s had a few, whereas I’m like, “Just let me at almost everyone in your history, I’ll tear them to bits…”) Q’s dated mostly other butches, with the occasional femme thrown in — though lately, as butch/butch has become more acceptable, she’s dated predominantly other masculine-centered andros or butches. I’m far more femmey than any of her recent flirtations. Now, I’ve talked before (at least, I thought I had, but I can’t find that post anywhere. Possibly it was on my personal blog. This is the problem with multiple blogs.) about the clothing deal: I like clothes that put me in that vulnerable space, though I never feel vulnerable. Q prefers other clothes, in large part because when I look vulnerable she feels like it is then her job to watch out for me (though she knows I can take care of myself; it’s still what society says, right? Masculine watches out for vulnerable feminine.). Plus, she’s far more aware of possible harm because she’s experienced it; her trend is to see where things can go wrong. I haven’t experienced that level of harm, and in fact have experienced the opposite; that if I treat people like I expect them to treat me nicely, and even place some slight trust in figures seen as untrustworthy, they are pleased at being treated decently and so they return it. Therefore, I expect things to go well.

(I also have a ruthless streak. I read end-of-the-world books and go, “…I’d survive that.” In general I curb that tendency, due to a violent episode I had when I was younger. But this also means that if I were attacked, while I don’t know if I’d escape, I’d sure as hell do some damage before I was taken down. Most attackers back off when they realize you’ll do damage.)

Now, here is where things started to link together in my mind. Q is pacifistic, feels like she needs to protect me when I put myself in a vulnerable, looked-at position, but her hands are tied; she can’t really protect me if things go wrong because she’s a pacifist. She hasn’t been dating femme women, and I do wonder if this might be a large part of why not; other butches aren’t putting themselves in that vulnerable position, and therefore putting her in a cognitively dissonant position. Which in turn makes me wonder if she was able to take up dating me, despite my perceived vulnerability, because of my underlying warrior. I don’t act like I expect her to protect me, like I can’t take care of myself, like I’m vulnerable or weak, or like I need protecting. Maybe it makes it easier to deal with my small clothes when I break them out, then? I know men treat me differently than other women who wear the same thing; I always assume they’re picking up on my inner warrior (or inner steel, if you prefer). Maybe that’s also what makes it a bit easier for Q to date someone in a more vulnerable state? (Or maybe I’m totally off the mark here.)

Hmm. Hey! Q! Does this sound like a plausible subconscious motivation? I mean, I know you really date me for my hot body, but… ;-D

(It’s much more fun when I can apply things I read to myself and dynamics between me and the people I’m around. :D)

J



{November 6, 2010}   Re-thinking Gender

There’s two parts to this post, so bear with me.

Part one!

I’m reading Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein, on DK‘s suggestion, and I really like it. It’s making me think again in twisty ways that I find, without some influx of twisty thinking, I tend to stop doing. (Which is a shame, as I really enjoy doing it!) It does remind me, though, to be careful with my words.

One of the premises of the book is that gender is a societal construct, but then in the next breath Kate talks about never “feeling like a man.” If gender is a societal construct, then we would ‘feel’ like whatever society told us to feel like, and there would be no transgenders of any sort. Maybe the way we perform gender, the earmarks we look for, are agreed upon and enforced by society, but I don’t think it’s entirely a societal construct; not if we’re “feeling” that one is right and another is wrong.

It reminds me very much of something I still struggle with, and struggled badly with for a long time. I was raised with the idea that women should not be barefoot and pregnant; that this is the ideal of the conservative patriarchy, and something they try to enforce (which I do agree with). I’ve met many feminists, and at one point held the belief myself, that women only wanted to be “just” wives and mothers (Christ! Hardest job in the world, and it’s a “just.” There’s something really fucked up there.) if they’d been told so and brainwashed into it; that no woman would “naturally” be inclined toward wife and motherhood. Then I realized that if we’re going to give women a choice in what they want, part of that choice has to be being a wife and mother. I’ve met a few women who get great joy in doing so, who feel complete and happy. (Heck, AlphaFemme seems to be an example of this; she talks about the great joy she gets in being a domestic wife — AF, I know you’re not married, but work with me here. ;-D — and I don’t think she’s been brainwashed into believing that’s what she wants.)

As my cousins (all conservative catholic, very much raised with the idea that the only proper job for a woman was to be married with kids) started to get married, I really struggled with it. I wanted to shake them all and say, “You don’t have to do this! Stop it!” But if we’re going to give women a choice… I’m better, now, at believing they’re doing what’s right for them. To make myself okay with that, I also believe that if this isn’t right for them, then it’s part of their greater growth, and it’s right for them right now to attain higher healing or something like that. It’s definitely not perfect nonjudgement, but it’s the best I can do for the moment. Now that I’ve seen several of them married, there are actually two who take great joy in their current state, who are radiant and happy (if sometimes tired!) when I see them. It’s a good reminder that some women really do want that.

It’s something I need to remember as I read gender bending books, because it’s easy to start saying, “People only portray women and men genders because we’re told to!” Maybe many people only portray them for that reason, but there are some people for whom they’re actually correct, for whom they fit nicely. Definitely something to remember; to an extent, gender is a social construct, but some part of it is inborn, too, and I shouldn’t discount someone’s gender just because it’s the majority. So, really, this is a note to self. 😉

It does make me laugh, though, that the argument often used for why there aren’t natural genders is that they don’t feel right. In arguing such, the person is almost disproving their own point! (Maybe this isn’t Kate’s argument: I haven’t read enough to know. But man, it’s an argument I hear a lot.)

Part 2!

Anyway, there was something else that occurred to me that I wanted to mull out (and get other opinions and discussion on, if possible!).

There was something in Gender Outlaw where she was making lists of what possible genders there were, and she added boy/girl
lady/gentleman
femme/butch
faggot/dyke
man/woman,
and kept going. But really, it was that ‘boy/girl’ that struck me.

I once had a friend say to me, “whatever else you identify with, you can always identify as a woman.” I was appalled. I don’t feel like a woman. I have never felt like a woman. I feel more like a girl, but that’s not right, either. I feel femme. (In his defense, I hadn’t yet even discovered femme.)

More recently, someone on an author list I was on was asking if there’s a difference between boi and butch. Now, those of you who identify as such are welcome to correct me, but in the limited time I’ve been in the community I’ve thought of them as two different things. Both masculine, yes, but I think of butch as presenting adult-masculine, and boi as presenting teenage/young twenties-masculine. They’re two very different presentations, and I’m not remotely interested in bois. What’s really interesting to me is that I think of ‘baby butch’ and ‘boi’ as two different things: A baby butch, to me, is either a butch who’s just coming into the identity, or a young (emotionally, mentally, or physically) butch. A boi is someone presenting as young-masculine. (On a slight tangent, Q and her buddies have “Boi’s night” — which makes perfect sense to me. They’re getting together to play, whether it’s at a bar, on a video game, or just hanging out. Just like I have “girl’s night,” when my whole attitude is one of play. Slightly different than living that, though.)

Given my responses to girl/woman as applied to me, where one almost fit (despite my age) and the other DID NOT (despite my age), I’m thinking that I subconsciously see these all as different genders. (Realizing that also helped me finally come to terms with femme as a transgender. It’s so close to feminine that I was still having issues coming to grips with the idea that it’s its own gender, rather than an offshoot. But girl/woman and lady/woman are all close, too, and I’d call those separate genders. This made me realize that though femme is close to feminine, it doesn’t make it an offshoot; it just shares some attributes, and that’s okay. :))

I also wonder how much I’m conflating ‘archetype’ with ‘gender,’ and if the two actually should be conflated, anyway.

(In a total aside, I’m sitting at my little glass table outside, and there’s a hawk crying somewhere nearby. What a beautiful, haunting sound!) (And now Bobby da Bird is imitating or responding to it. Very cute.)

If I define both archetype and gender, I find they’re awfully close; it’s just that one is more all-encompassing than the other (gender being more all-encompassing and less rigid than archetype). Let’s see… off the top of my head, full of mistakes:

Archetype: the life-long patterns and paths, ways of behaving and thinking.

Ex: The hero archetype has a life pattern of a difficult journey, coming to grips with something at the end (either mental or physical). The warrior archetype goes to battle, and must learn eventually when NOT to go to battle. (Ha ha, this is totally my archetype. >.>) The bard archetype is a wanderer who brings news, information, and new ways of thinking by entertaining and telling stories. The damsel archetype is someone who wants to be rescued, then protected. (This, in seemingly direct opposition to the warrior, is also me. Luckily Q has a knight archetype. :D) And so on among many more archetypes.

Gender: Clothes, behaviors, ways of acting that declare of us one gender or another. Sort of. Maybe an aspect of personality? Damn, I can define what makes a gender presentation, but not what a gender is. I’m going to go with an aspect of personality and tastes.

Okay, so the stress on archetypes is a life-long arc or behavioral pattern, whereas the stress on gender is the current way one behaves and expresses. Two different things, and yes, I think my tendency toward thinking of girl/boy/boi/butch/femme/woman/man/etc is a gender, not an archetype. (Of course, girl/boy have the same problem that man/woman do: whereas man/woman are also conflated with biological sex, boy/girl is conflated with age, and as a gender will likely mature into woman/man. So maybe it’s only a gender on someone old enough to have chosen it? Hmm.)

Anyway, I started this to get your ideas. Do other people think of boi/butch/girl/woman/femme/man/etc as genders? Or is it more like boy/boi grows into man/butch, and it’s all one gender? And what about gender only being a gender on someone old enough to have chosen it (whether or not they’ve done so consciously)? I’ve met teens I’d refer to as a ‘young man’ or ‘young lady,’ and adults I’d refer to as a ‘girl/boy,’ so…

Geez! So complex! 😀

J



et cetera