Konagod’s written a couple of excellent posts working through his thoughts after reading this article about transgenderism and transsexualism in the NY Times. It struck me, as I read his second post this morning, that getting into issues of how one’s gender is expressed (as opposed to how one’s sex and sexuality are expressed) starts to explain why there are straight people who so closely identify with the queer community. Like me, for instance.
Recently, in the comments thread of this post—which mentioned that the latest Arabic linguist who’d been discharged from the military for being gay was asked, as part of the investigation, whether he belonged to community theater—Paul the Spud, Sarah in Chicago, and I set to coming up with other questions they might have asked.
Paul the Spud: Geez. Did they ask him if he owned any Madonna albums? Knew how to cook a quiche? Knew who hosted the Tony Awards last year?
Shakes: Do you currently own, or have you ever, a copy of Mommie Dearest? Do you know the lyrics to "It's Raining Men"? Have you ever read Shakespeare's Sister?
Paul the Spud: Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Judy Garland fan club? Do you have a subscription to "Men's Fitness" just for the pictures? Can you quote more than three lines of dialogue from Valley of the Dolls?
Sarah in Chicago: What is the appropriate placement for a throw-rug? What is the best facial lotion base for combination skin types? Who had the biggest impact, Joan Collins or Greta Garbo? What colour ruffles was Dorothy wearing when she got to Oz?
Shakes: Did you like Beaches?
Sarah in Chicago: Hell, do you like Bette Midler?
I then said: “For the record, here are my answers to the questions: Do you own any Madonna albums? Yes. Do you know how to cook a quiche? Yes (but eww, eggs). Do I know who hosted the Tonys last year? Yes. Do you currently own, or have you ever, a copy of Mommie Dearest? Yes. Do you know the lyrics to "It's Raining Men"? Yes. Have you ever read Shakespeare's Sister? Yes. Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Judy Garland fan club? No, but I had a Judy Garland doll! Do you have a subscription to "Men's Fitness" just for the pictures? No. Can you quote more than three lines of dialogue from Valley of the Dolls? Oh yes. What is the appropriate placement for a throw-rug? Right over there. What is the best facial lotion base for combination skin types? Shiseido. Who had the biggest impact, Joan Collins or Greta Garbo? Trick question. It was Joan Crawford. What colour ruffles was Dorothy wearing when she got to Oz? Blue and white. Did you like Beaches? Yes. Do you like Better Midler? Yes. I'm clearly a very homosexual gay man.”
To which Sarah replied: “Trick question. It was Joan Crawford.—OMG!!! I thought NO ONE would get that! *boggles* Okay, you're not just an honorary queer, you're obviously a flaming gay man.”
This was no surprise to me. I’ve been told I’m a gay man trapped in a woman’s body since I was about 16.
And, before that, I was routinely called a lesbian by my classmates. Now I’m just called a “lebisan” by spelling-challenged emailers who can’t understand why a straight woman would blog about LGBT rights.
The thing is, I’m not a lesbian and I’m not really a man trapped in a woman’s body. My sexuality and my mind-body agreement on my sex (biological womanhood) are “normal.” But then there’s my gender—the social and cultural expressions of my sex—and that’s where I get a little, well, queer.
When my girlfriends were begging their mothers to wear make-up, I couldn’t have cared less, and still don’t. I often dress “like a boy.” I never felt comfortable with the straight dating scene and all its accoutrements—singles bars, nightclubs, bouquets, etiquette, and rules. I don’t long for “Girls’ Night Out.” I’ve never had a manicure. I didn’t want a wedding with a white dress. I don’t want to be a mother. In everything from my regarding fashion magazines with the same detached fascination as I would an article on an aboriginal tribe in National Geographic to my oft-described “male” sense of humor, emotionality, and pop culture preferences, I have turned out very unlike the girlfriends of my youth.
I don’t hold in contempt any of those things, nor do I consciously reject them; I don’t find them inherently incompatible with feminist ideals—I firmly believe there are straight and gay women who enjoy looking and feeling very feminine for themselves. The intrinsic understanding of these things (or desire for them) just isn’t in me. And that leaves me bucking the conventional gender expressions of my sex.
What I am is a gender-bender, but unlike David Bowie playing with feminine flourishes, my contortions of gender happen mostly internally, manifesting less in what I look like and more in what I think, and how I think about things—my mind doesn’t have a problem fitting with my body as with gender dysphoria, but it sometimes has a problem fitting with other straight women, who, comfortable in their “normal” gender expression, look at me curiously. Or suspiciously, as if I’m just putting on some kind of bullshit act, especially when their straight boyfriends or husbands comment that I’m “cool” (a strange little twist of sexism indicating preference for a boyish personality in women, of which I’ve often been an unfortunate beneficiary).
There are other women like me, and straight men, too, who have never felt comfortable with the expectations for their expression of gender, largely centered around aggression (sports fandom, objectification of women, hostility toward gays) and, increasingly, a disdain for intellectualism. Because traditional gender roles are still so dominant, many of us end up feeling more comfortable among the queer community, where atypical gender expressions are hardly a big deal—and being ridiculed for modified expressions of gender are often the first indication of potential membership. (I’m reminded of David Sedaris’ essay on being sent to speech therapy as a child for his feminine lisp and, noting the other kids who shared his fate, suggesting that the therapist’s office should have been labeled “Future Homosexuals of America.”) Before sexuality manifests itself, it is divergence from expected gender expression that piques the hand-wringing of concerned parents—and the ire of antagonistic peers. And the potential ostracization by staunch gender traditionalists in adulthood isn’t predicated on one’s sexuality. Being a straight girl whose gender expressions are “weird” may save me from unfair legislative attack on my ability to marry and parent, but I’m still regarded as a deviant by the same assholes.
And even straight people who aren’t homophobic or strict traditionalists often don’t “get” it. My LGBT friends have never looked at me askance because I’ve done something “mannish.” They’ve never asked Mr. Shakes and me when we’re going to have a baby (with the presumption that, certainly, we are—it’s just a matter of when). They’ve never suggested I should be more feminine, that I’d be so much prettier if only I’d just…
We don’t get along in spite of our differences, but because of what we have in common. We’re all, somehow, out of the “norm” on the spectrum, in one way or another. So we hang, even though there isn’t really a name for someone like me, not in the sense of a label like gay or transgendered. Misfit, maybe. Tomboy. A friend once dubbed me queer-brained, and that sounds about right.