Monday, November 8, 2010
Identity, sexual & otherwise
"I am gay but I am not “queer,” nor do I ever use the word. . . The word “queer” signifies something that is strange, odd, or unusually different. It is not a term that accords respectability or promotes acceptance."
-Bob, a reader who posted a comment on about.com's GLBT Teens Guide.
That's fine for Bob.
Yesterday I wrote a post on gender identity or lack thereof, and once again came up against the thought that although I am by definition heterosexual, I identify (for the most part, if I "identify" at all) as queer. No, not gay, but queer. Unlike Bob, I'm not looking for acceptance. Then again, I'm not part of a group that needs to be acceptable or accepted, for I can go out and marry someone without a problem. But, I have been beaten up twice in my life for not adhering to the rules of what a woman should look like, and once for holding a woman's hand in public. Whether I've been discriminated against or not for being outside of the norm is something I can not tell you, for I have a tendency not to notice such things. Maybe yes. Maybe no. I think I've had more problems with looking like I was a teenager well into my 30's.
No matter. I haven't posted what I wrote quite yet (but I'm planning on it), for I had to ask myself (yet again), "why are you being so self-disclosing in the public sphere?"
My rationale is similar to the It Gets Better project, but much smaller (indeed!) If only one other person relates to what I have to say, I'm glad. One reason why kids kill themselves is because they think they are totally unique in this world, and as most of us come to find out, we are not alone. I wish there was a "it gets better" for weirdos, oddballs, and underachieving geeks. I do know that it is both fine and not-fine to not have a "group" with whom one can identify. The "not fine" piece urges me to self-disclose.
Maybe it's a form of "coming out." I've never looked at it this way before (which is truly amazing, now that I think of it). I've always thought that there's a helluva lot of oversharing in many people's coming out to their parents. On the other hand, I tend to think we're all sexually "variant" to some degree, and if we were more open about it, people who feel shame about just how variant they are might feel a little better. I know it sure would've helped me. I won't get into that here, but here is my earlier rambling on sexual identity:
It seems that every time I blink, there's a new "identity" name for somebody. In the last few days, I've encountered the word "cisman" many times, and figured it was a new spelling of "sissy" coupled with "man", and therefore an effeminate man. Nope. It's a man who was born as a man, and "identifies as a man". Oddly, I could not easily find where this term comes from.
The expression "identifies as a ______" really bugs me. Once, a drag queen said to me, "Honey, I"m more of a woman than you'll ever be", and I said, "I'm sure you're right." She was wearing a mini skirt and thigh high boots, and though I've worn both, I seriously feel like I'm "in drag" when dressed in "sexy woman's clothes", and it isn't a fun sort of drag. Just wearing a skirt of any type causes me to feel uncomfortable, as if I'm in the wrong skin.
I have given the idea of gender identity both a lot of thought, and in way, little thought. One time I wore a man's suit to a bar mitzvah, and, unbeknownst to me, it had a huge impact on someone who was struggling with their own gender identity. The reason I wore the suit? I liked the way it looked. If I challenged people's ideas about how a grown-up woman should dress to a somewhat formal gathering, it wasn't my intent, but I suppose I did just that.
I have been mistaken for a boy many times in my life. Folks who have met me in the last 2-3 years might be surprised to know this. I certainly don't look masculine. Well, you can see my picture right there, to the right. I'm wearing some make-up, and even nail polish in that one, but you can see that I have a pretty soft face in any case. I keep thinking I should replace that pic with one that is more "accurate" to who I am. Wearing nail polish was a short phase in an otherwise un-nail-polished life, and I've worn make-up (for the most part) the way, say, Keith Richards does. I consider it something to do for fun, or for effect, but neither an obligation (though it feels it in the city), or part of "who I am."
I tried explaining to someone I know that I don't "feel like a woman" the other day and he said "you're deluded." I did not explain myself well, but I don't care all that much about it.* I have worried for years, however, about young women who feel as I do and think they must go out and have female-to-male surgery because of their feelings. I emailed with a young woman who was feeling pressured by her "community" to "identify" as a ftm (female to male), and it was terribly painful for her. She didn't want surgery, and didn't feel like "a man", but she was so outside of feminine norms that she was being told she was "in denial." So, here I was, without a community of peers, saying it was a-okay to be without any identity at all.
I do understand feeling as if one has been born into the wrong body, and have known people who feel this way and always have, but I hold that this is quite different than not feeling "gendered" and not conforming to gender stereotypes. I do understand wanting to belong, to have an identity, but y'know, some of us just don't.
Hey, I'm a non-reproducing, uterus-less person. Does that make me "neuter", like many a house pet? It would be impolite in the extreme to call me that, but how come there isn't a "neuter" identity? I suppose it doesn't seem sexy or powerful, for one thing, and besides, we're not really supposed to talk about our plumbing in polite or public company.
When woman talk about their offspring, and the offspring of their offspring, a part of me drifts away. I have never experienced these universal experiences of being a woman, and I seem to be lacking the proper empathy in regards to these experiences. I'd rather talk about what books we're reading. I suppose that just makes me a nerd, and could have nothing to do with gender, or it could make me bit of a jerk, which I certainly can be in my quiet way.
I still want to argue with anyone who says I'm deluded for feeling ungendered. Well, I suppose no one likes having another say their feelings are unsound, but I do think it goes deeper. I have no "tribe" to hang out and march in rallies with, but I do have my own, if you will, "non-identity." I refuse to fit into a box.
I rather enjoyed being taken for a boy, though it was absurd at times. A flat top buzz cut seemed to carry more visual weight than 36D breasts. One day, when mowing my lawn, a woman asked me, "Young man, how much do you charge?" Well, I didn't know the answer to that one, but I could not fathom her mistake while I was wearing a tight t-shirt. That episode rather offended me, as a new home owner, and not a boy for hire in the neighborhood, but other experiences were rather fun, such as hanging out in gay men's bars where women were not welcome. I found it complimentary that any man would think I was simply a very short boy. Sometimes, however, I'd be found out, and on occasion, thrown out on my ass.
So, my concerns. . .
I wonder what life would have been like if I was born twenty years ago, and not in far back enough to squeak me into the baby boomer generation (yech). I think I'd probably be feeling similarly pressured as the girl whom I had emailed with. I'm not "against" GLBT groups, but since there were none when I was a kid, it never occurred to me to be anything but myself. Sometimes it was confusing, as I always felt more comfortable with gay people, and did wonder "where do I fit into this?" I was, and am, basically heterosexual, and no, I'm not hedging on the bisexuality term, for I can't fall in love with women in the same way as I do with men (at least in my experience thus far), and that is what I think is important. Sexual identity? Why don't we call it "loving-identity"?
Some of this stuff seems so trivial. When I looked truly butch, it bothered people to see me knitting or sewing. Why wasn't I riding a motorcycle, or working on my car? What I looked like clashed with my non-interest in power tools, vehicles, and team sports. Then again, I felt fantastically sexy when I lifted weights in men's work out attire and sporting a crew cut. My muscles didn't get big enough for my taste, and on some days I did wonder how unsafe it was to take testosterone. At the time, I was happily married to a man. That man liked to cook, and didn't know how to fix anything. Did that make him a woman, too?
I liked to play with Barbie dolls when I was a kid, so that absolutely proves I am not male-identified. No, I'm not male identified. I'm not female identified either. Most groups of women, well, I think, "too much estrogen!" Barbie dolls or no, the concerns of "real" girls were mysterious to me, and still are.
Maybe I'm just a refuse-nik, a term that should be brought back into use. I refuse to be labeled as anything, and when you impose that on me, I'll change, just to mess with things. This messing about is not just to be a pain in anyone's butt, but for myself. That slippery thing called "self" is particularly slippery with this person, and that's all. No, that's not all. It's playful, and I enjoy being fluid. The stereotyped behavior of so many people simply baffles me.
End of rant.
*The lady doth protest too much. True enough, but there's no lady here. Still, this person doth protest too much. Yeah, I care, but how and why, I'm not entirely sure.
Image note: It's a first! A pic of me, taken a few minutes ago.
Addendum: A part of me wants to say "if you're gay and you think I"m full of crap, tell me." On the other hand, since I was called "dyke" repeatedly during high school, stayed in the boy's infirmary at summer camp because of the amount of bullying I was subjected to by girls, and. . .
Let's just say the list is long.
I'm hesitant to offend those who have suffered through coming to terms with being gay or transgendered, the possibility of familial rejection, and who are subject to the whims of public opinion about their sexuality. However, when I think of the kids who are being bullied as I was and have no place to land, no adults telling them that indeed it gets better (and yes, it does), I feel I must say my piece. I did struggle with my sexual identity as a teenager. If all my friends were gay, felt more comfortable in gay bars and neighborhoods, and was identified as gay by others, I had to wonder. And no, I did not breathe a sigh of relief when I first fell in love with a boy.
It does get better, for even though I'm writing about this, it is not because I'm confused (though I do have confusion about all those labels). I'm okay with who I am, whatever that is, if indeed it "is" anything.