Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Genderqueer Pride

I need to share the email I shared with my parents this morning. It's something that would have crushed me years ago, when I was less out to myself, and would have made me argue and be resentful. My parents are very traditional and conventional, from my point of view, and I had a hard time growing up as a post-conventional child in their household. Now I've been through so much self-inquiry in the past years that I can receive a letter like theirs, and feel strong and comfortable replying.


Dear Trix,

I'm very happy to see your new display photo /on Facebook/, but let me have a comment.
1. A woman is attractive if she is feminine (in behavior - gentle)
2. In appearance - specifically: your eyebrows are too strong and too broad for a woman. They are non-esthetical. They look like the eyebrows of the French president De Gaulle or Russian president Brezhnev.
Please don't be like that, because these eyebrows don't suit you at all! I advise you to consult an esthetician. If a woman has eyebrows growing in their own way it's non-esthetical. You would be much prettier and more attractive if you paid any attention to your appearance - and that counts for a lot. Your female acquaintances have probably never said anything to you about it, because they did not want you to resent them, or because they themselves have no idea about their looks. And that counts for a lot. And if your hair is perpetually messy - that's not the best looking.
I suggest you model your appearance on your girlfriends XY and WZ.

I hope you will accept this suggestion in goodwill. Your Dad

PS: After you change your appearance, change your display photo again, and read your friends' pleasant comments.


Dear A /dad/ and B /mom/,

Your letter from this morning is very entertaining. And it's my pleasure to be able to respond to it honestly.

I take the fact that you notice that I don't look feminine in my latest picture, as a great compliment! I noticed the gender ambiguity too, with delight, when I took the picture, and I immediately used it for my profile. Because in my inner nature, I am not a woman, I am an androgynous being, and I feel best when my external appearance reflects how I feel on the inside. I love my big bushy eyebrows and I would never consider thinning them, because they help my androgynous appearance. I don't have acquaintances who don't want to get on my bad side, instead I have friends and we tell each other the truth to our faces. My behavior is gentle when that's necessary, and at the same time I'm confident and determined, which you could call "male" characteristics. It's on purpose that my hair is messy in the picture, because this way, I express my wild and unpredictable nature. The fact that you give me X to model myself on, makes me laugh, because her appearance is a personification of exactly what I don't want to be.

I am proud of my new picture and I admire it. The people who matter in my life accept me exactly the way I am and even love me because of my uniqueness. I'm sorry if my appearance bothers you and you think it's not pretty and non-esthetical. I'm sorry if you think it's impossible that anyone would really like me just the way I am. Have you noticed how content I look in the picture where I don't give a false impression that I'm a woman?




I wish I could post the picture, but I don't want to, because I'm doing this anonymously :)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Don't make me use a pronoun

A friend of mine recently got very sick and he needed to be admitted to hospital. I went to visit him yesterday. I spent some time looking for him and finding the right room, and a friendly receptionist said to me, “Yes, she's down the hall and to the right.” I'm guessing I might have looked confused for a moment, because then she added: “The person you're... Your person is down the hall.” And off I went, thinking, yeah, my friend has an ambiguous name, it could be male or female.
It took me until this morning in the shower (where I'm daily confronted with my own incongruous biological sex) to realize what that was all about: my friend is transgender, transsexual, full-op, and has been for a number of years. But in his medical records, he is forever a F. Which I guess makes sense in that context. In fact, I'm also guessing that they have him down as FTM, because of the way the receptionist looking at his record corrected herself.
I've heard a lot of grief from the trans community about being referred to by the wrong pronoun (i.e. the one they don't personally identify as). It's considered rude, disrespectful and invalidating. To a trans person, using the wrong pronoun about them is like saying: “No matter how hard you try to appear and act as (gender x), we will never accept you as that, because WE know what you really are, and you, you are just confused about your own identity.”
But, having been on the other side of this divide and raised in a cis/heteronormative society, I want to say a few words in defense of people who do use “wrong” pronouns. I would have done so myself just a few years ago. And I would guess that for most people, it's not that we are trying to be intentionally rude. I think it's more that we are trying our best NOT to be rude in what we experience as a very awkward situation. Let me explain.
Those of us raised in heteronormative environments (and at the time of this writing, I think that's still most of us) grow up adopting a number of beliefs which, if we never take the time to examine them (again, true for most people), lie in us unconsciously and govern how we behave and interact. Some of those beliefs are: There are two genders in the world: male and female. What gender you are depends on the genitals you are born with. That gender is for life. It is important to display obvious gender characteristics of your assigned gender: that makes you attractive and esteemed in our society. The only contexts heteronormative culture has for people who do not conform to reinforcing gender norms in their appearance and behavior, are those considered in some way deviant, marginal, to be ridiculed or pitied: the bearded lady in the freak show, the old spinster, the tomboy, the dyke, the woman with a flat chest, the sissy boy, the faggot, the eunuch, the man with the small penis. In other words, these people have somehow “failed” at being their proper gender, and that is considered something shameful.
Now imagine a person who subconsciously holds those beliefs, who has never had much reason to call them into question, suddenly having to interact with a transgender individual. Another rule we have as a society is that we try to be nice to each other (or at least to strangers!) :) This heteronormative person now finds themselves in an impossible dilemma: if they use the pronoun which the trans person considers the right one (but the heteronormative person considers the “wrong” one based on genitals), in the mind of the heteronormative person, they are essentially saying to the trans person: “You are pitiful; you are so bad at being your gender that I am using the other pronoun; you are a freak; you are someone I ridicule and not someone I can be an equal with.” Now, they can't afford to appear this rude to someone, so they go with the pronoun that matches the genitals, but probably squirming inside not knowing what to do, because at the same time the trans person is in their face about NOT being the gender they were just referred to as.
I think the solution is simply to make space for some conscious consideration of how to act. I'm inclined to say something like: “You know, he actually WANTS to appear male, and PREFERS to be called 'he'.” I have a feeling many people would appreciate some instruction, where they are too embarrassed to ask.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

It takes a real man to buy a shower gel

So I've not been posting in this blog for quite a while, although my relationship to asexuality continues, I just don't write about it. I've had various realizations along the way, and in my mind I've been composing an "all-encompassing theory of everything" gender and sex related, that makes sense at least to me, and I hope to post it here in the not too distant future. I also came across this recently created site by someone who is pursuing a degree as a sexologist, and identifies as asexual: please go here and help them out with their research to put asexuality on the map.

Anyway. While I haven't been posting here, I've been coming out more and more clearly as not-female-not-male, and investigating the implications of that. Recognizing my own conditioning around how I do certain things because I was socialized as female. So today I found myself in need of a body wash product. And I was in a large supermarket chain that shall remain nameless. Okay it was Smith's. As I habitually drifted through the voluptuously curvy pastel bottles of the feminine section, looking for my favorite shea butter based gel, I realized how half of that isle had always remained alien to me, off limits, wrongly gendered, not for me. And noted that there was in fact no good reason whatsoever for me not to open myself to the whole world of possibilities that those angular, easy-to-grip, bottle-of-engine-oil resembling packaging in serious dark hues might hold.

Sniffing along the masculine smelling (whatever that is supposed to mean) brands, I soon learned from the labels that if I buy one of those, it is likely to cause me to be the subject of unlimited and unrelenting female attention. (And that would be a feature, not a bug.) Not only that, but I will get late nights, I will be ready for all sorts of nocturnal adventures, I will smell just how she likes it, and if I use this product in every shower, she will turn into a man-eater, because this is how dirty boys get clean... I will keep her intrigued and then all I will have to do, will be to rise to the occasion - because the cleaner I am, the dirtier I get... Washing myself with this is sure to bring out the lasses. It's proven to attract, and pheromone infused - need we say more? If my grandfather hadn't worn this original product, I wouldn't exist! Axe products are the worst offenders here, with ridiculous sexual innuendos out the yin-yang. In addition to promising to increase my sexual prowess, the labels are replete with battle imagery: murdering dirt and odor, I will win, odor will lose; I'm gonna maim those pesky odor causing elements, and all that will be left after the carnage, will be the fresh smell of victory.
I was having a good time reading these and laughing out loud and taking notes... Just got me thinking how much time can you really spend in a supermarket having fun? Granted, not all masculine products are that overtly machistic. Dove strikes an interesting balance for example. I mean look at the name for a start. Dove? Really? Like, what kind of 'real' man identifies with a 'dove'?

/picture of "Dove-men" from the web/

Where do you see a group of virtually naked men standing close together and touching in a friendly way? Most of the men I know have plenty of hang-ups about touching other men, even with all their clothes on. I've been conditioned well enough by this society to know that Dove is no label for a grunting, beast-hunting, women-by-the-hair-dragging symbol of pure maleness. I mean, they created a pouf for men. Good job of trying to reconcile that with masculinity. They don't call it a pouf - they make it look serious, call it a "shower tool", reinforce it with rubber on the side - dark gray rubber at that. BTW, is it a coincidence that pouf is also a word for a homosexual man?

Dove for men focuses on lauding the moisturizing properties of the products, and urges you to save water while you shower. Seriously, as a product of the society that raised me, if I had been socialized as a man, I would be afraid to buy this because people might think I was a 'fucking faggot'. (Sorry, no offense intended.) In fact I become grateful that I was not socialized as a man, because men seem to have a lot to prove.
Conversely, women's products were all about nurturing the skin, being healthy, soft, smooth, moisturizing, replenishing, restoring the skin - in other words, descriptions referring to actual product properties, rather than outrageous claims of product suitability for mating purposes, obviously not checked by any consumer protection agency. The closest any women's product got to hinting at mating, was some vague reference to feeling irresistible.

Here's what all of this implies but nobody is saying outright: Body care is traditionally considered a feminine activity, while real men are supposed to smell dirty and sweaty from just having battled and killed an enemy. The only excuse a man can have to be clean and smell good, is to score with the chicks. Then maybe it's worth the sacrifice. Some men feel insecure and emasculated about buying body care products, so these must first be imbued with a proper aura of masculinity, which will allow for their consumption by such 'real men'. The aura of masculinity is achieved by associating such products with getting sex and victory in battle. By extension, many male-born persons unwittingly pick up the implicit assumptions in this advertising, and create an imaginary picture of what it means to be a man, and sadly believe that they should live up to that ideal.

I ended up buying Old Spice Pure Sport. I liked the smell best of all, and as an added bonus, the bottle happens to not have any gendered language or other unbearable hype on the label.