I want you to know some things about my approach to gender performance.
I want to tell you because my friend Lina asked me today how I think about gender and gender performance, which got me thinking, which made me realize that I have some strong ideas about this, which made me wonder if it’s time to state them out loud.
So here we go.
Typical cultural activity associated with “womanness” include: femininity and / or motherliness; degree of attractiveness to men; and engagement in sexual activity with other people.
I wear primarily men’s clothes and wear my hair short, in a men’s cut. I am regularly mistaken for a boy, more often by men than by women; (I think this is because men are less likely to look directly at me, since I’m clearly not going to really hold their interest. Based on what they see out of their peripheral vision, they assume I’m a boy. So when they call me ‘Sir’ and I respond in a female voice, they get startled and confused. Women seem more likely to look before assuming, and they’re therefore more likely to refer to me as ‘ma’am’ or ‘miss.’ More on this in a second.) I think children are the bees’ knees, though I don’t have any kids of my own and don’t spend much time with children outside of my research. I’m not involved with anyone at all right now, and haven’t been for some time.
So much for the key indicators of “woman-ness.”
Yet for the first time in my adult life, I am comfortable identifying as a woman. That’s weird, right? That
embracing gender ambiguity would make me feel more comfortable inhabiting a genetically female body? But it does. See, I’m comfortable in this body now. I’m comfortable holding forth from within it.
But let me tell you what I’m not trying to do:
1. I’m not trying to ‘pass’ as a male. I think that for the most part, anyone who looks hard enough can figure out that I’m female, albeit a really queer looking female. But I’m also fine with being mistaken for a male, even though it’s not exactly what I’m going for. I have female friends who feel bad for people who mistake them for males, because they’re usually so embarrassed when they find out their mistake. I say fuck ‘em. It’s their problem for making assumptions and using those assumptions to substitute for paying attention. I say you play with gender, you have to own the whole ball of wax.
2. I’m not trying to straddle male and female gender norms. Nor do I consider myself to be a little bit of each gender. My identity performance falls somewhere between the two poles, which by the way were just arbitrary social constructs in the first place. I don’t have times when I feel or act more feminine, or when I feel or act more masculine. There are days when I dress in a more feminine way and days when I wear more masculine clothes; there are times when I’m more emotional or when I’m more of a dick; but there are never times when I think of myself as more girlish or more mannish.
I know. This is tough to understand. It’s even tougher to explain. Bear with me.
3. I’m not trying to wear my gay for the world to see. And I also sort of am trying to wear my gay for the world to see. A year ago, all I thought about was how gay I looked. I obsessed over it. I thought about it all the time. I don’t obsess anymore, though I do like making my queerness evident to the world. Basically, I don’t care if you think I look gay, and I also care if you think I look gay.
Rock Ruffergood, a performer in the Bloomington, IN-based Gender Studs
Someone asked me today why LGBTQ life gets easier with time. I can’t speak for everyone in the LGBTQ community, but I can say that for me, the biggest change and the biggest relief came when I began to embrace an identity that felt more authentic to me and, by default, less a reflection of cultural values. I’m sure that for many women, their self-concepts align fairly closely with how our culture tells us female identity should look; it just happens that cultural values and my (gendered) identity don’t overlap very much at all. Eventually, as I explored this fact, I realized that the coming-out process was also a sort of (re)gendering process, and one that led to a small shift in almost everything–the way I carry myself, the way I sit in a chair, the jokes I tell, the way I wear my hair, where I choose to stand in a room. Everything changed, just a tiny bit. Everything shifted just a tiny bit toward a body and a self that I’m far more comfortable being inside of.
And lord, it’s been such a relief.