Wednesday, November 10, 2010

More on identity & labeling

We look at this bunch of stuff above and think "girl's stuff." Below, here's some "guy's stuff":

What gender do you assign to this?

Or this?

Here's a doll for girls:

A toy for boys:

And, of course, before we can even identify ourselves, we must make sure that no one treats babies in ways inappropriate to their gender, so we have. . .

I've been called out on some of my thinking by someone named Dirt, who writes this blog. Though I think her methods are a bit too confrontational, I agree with a lot of what she is trying to do. I searched my own blog archive and found, interestingly, that I wrote a post about gender identity on the day before my birthday both last year in "why do I have to identify as anything?", and the year before. The '08 post did not get published. Here is an excerpt from what was called "being a woman, whatever that means":
". . .there's a part of me that thinks that all the study of identity itself has created some monsters that were never there in the first place.

Monsters? Yes. When I think about myself as a teenager, take that person, and drop her into the university of today (or ten years ago), the pressure to see myself as transgender would have been enormous. I can hear some of you balking internally. Wouldn't it have been better if I had others to identify with? I say the answer is "no."

Sorry, but I'm fairly firm in my belief that folks under the age of 25 or so are terribly impressionable, worry too much about what others think of them, and have a deep need for belonging. Most of the young transmen I've met are as conformist to their in-group normalcy as a frat boy is to his peers.

Of course, this isn't news. Most people need to belong to something."

I'd written about this many times. Another old post had a picture of a book with the subtitle "queer strategies for resisting assimilation."

"Dirt" pointed out to me that most gender identifying in talk and identity is based on stuff. It's not that I didn't notice that. I've brought up the blue/pink silliness before. I should refrain from calling it "silly", for here's where it all starts.

How can we resist assimilation (otherwise known as socialization)? Those of us who do not assimilate "properly" wind up being labeled or labeling ourselves. Dirt is upset, too, about women and girls having surgery when "all" that it is going on with them is that they don't fit gender stereotypes. I agree, for the most part. Liking boy's toys, boy's clothes, trucks, tools, etc., etc., blah blah blah, does not mean one is a man trapped in a woman's body. In her email to me, she writes, "not born into the wrong body, but the wrong society." For the most part, 'tis true. Dirt's blog has a good post about the reasons people feel they "might be trans."

So, I've proved to myself that this has been on my mind for a while. A good deal of it is a reaction to what I see as a fad to think of oneself as ftm if one doesn't conform to gender stereotypes, and I am upset by this. I've been hesitant to be strong in my convictions for fear of stepping on anyone's right to "identify" as what they want. But, in view of the enormity of peer pressure that has escalated due to the web, I feel an increasingly strong obligation to write about this. If it was only a matter of identity, and not one that involved surgical intervention, I would not be so concerned.

The feelings of not feeling "right", not feeling comfortable in one's skin, not being sure of one's sexuality. . .all the feelings are part and parcel of coming of age. For some, it is particularly difficult. I believe that there is a growing challenge to expand the definitions of what "feminine" is, if indeed we must continue to even use such words as masculine and feminine. Our need to categorize (and medicalize) everyone and everything seems to be limitless. It is a sickness of our society.

Some say it's "natural" to categorize and see the world in terms of male and female. I'll save that argument for another day.


jmcleod76 said...

Interesting couple of posts here, Julie. I've thought and wrestled a lot with these questions myself, as someone who views myself as, variously and all at the same time, butch, genderqueer, ungendered, in-between, a boi, etc. I even refer to myself as a "guy" a lot. As in, "Who's hungry? This guy ..." Girl is OK, too, though. Woman ... meh. Its so ... womanly, and I still feel like an awkward teenager.

The thing that keeps me from feeling that I am trans is that, while the vast majority of traditionally feminine ways of dressing and moving and acting are incredibly uncomfortable for me, I like my body (OK, I do wish I were thinner - I think it would be awesome if I were wiry and muscular, but, alas, genetics and horrible childhood eating habits have not been kind to me in this respect). The parts of myself that make me biologically female have brought me nothing but pleasure (well, I wouldn't miss my period if it were gone ...). It's not my body's fault that I detest dresses and make-up and frilly things and the color pink and crossing my legs, etc.

Seriously ... Detest ... Women I've dated always want to play dress-up and make-over with me, and I can't quite say why, but the whole idea feels like such a violation. I should, as one butch blogger I sometimes read put it, be able to have fun with it and view it as drag, but I just can't. Maybe it's because I felt pushed toward femininity by so many people - my mom, my sister, teachers, kids at school, the media - for so much of my life, and always felt like such an inadequate female. It hurt. It wasn't until I was about 24 that I finally settled on the idea that I could just be butch and that was OK. Even though I presented in very masculine ways for most of my life, I always resisted it to some degree. After all, butches get so much flack, both in the culture at large and in the queer community: "Eww. Why would anyone date a butch? If I wanted that I'd just date a man ..."

Now, I don't pretend to have the trans thing all sorted out, though I so have many trans friends, pre-op, post-op, non-op, what have you. There are more ways to express a trans identity than I could ever wrap my head around. And, while I personally find the idea of changing my assigned sex unfathomable on a personal level, I think that just lends credence to the idea that we should trust transfolk to know what's best for themselves. Yes, young people are impressionable and make rash, stupid decisions sometimes, but changing one's assigned sex is not a decision that one can fall into easily. There are a lot of hurdles: legal, financial, emotional, you name it. Furthermore, as difficult as it is to be a butch expressed woman, I have no doubts that being trans is much more difficult. Occasionally, I worry about freaking out other women in public bathrooms, but I still look female enough - soft and "curvy" - that I only rarely get mistaken for a man. For my trans friends, though, just navigating which bathroom is safer for them can be a big deal.

I'm not sure I've made any sense here. There's too much I want to say and not enough time, space or mental energy to say it. Just wanted to let you know I was engaged with this topic.

Julie H. Rose said...

Thanks for writing, Jaime. The thing is, if I wasn't clear (and I don't think I was), I find changing my "assigned gender" completely fathomable. I suppose that's why I "worry" about young people working out these issues with surgery.

What you wrote, about getting flak from both society & the gay community. . .well, isn't that internalized sexism?

There's too much I want to say, too, and some things I haven't the guts to write, even if I'm more self-disclosing than the average person (perhaps).

Btw, I don't see you as butch. Am I just blind? LOL!

Julie H. Rose said...

Just wanted to clarify, Jaime, that when I wrote "internalized sexism", I didn't mean you, I meant the lesbian community.

jmcleod76 said...

"I don't see you as butch." Them's fightin' words ... ;o)

Butch is in the eye of the beholder, I guess. There is, or used to be, a club in Portland, called the Butch Project. The purpose statement was "The Butch Project is a Portland, Maine based effort to develop community amongst dykes and queers who identify as Butch. Membership is extended and open to all those who identify as Butch, and to those exploring the possibility of a Butch identity. All Butches are welcome regardless of how that identity is expressed."

That last bit was particularly important because there can be ugliness among butch-identified folks about whether or not any given person is butch enough to deserve the label. The idea is that butch is an identity with many different expressions and, just as there is no right way to be a man or a woman, there is no right way to be butch. I identify as butch, have lived that identity since at least childhood and have owned that identity, with pride, for a decade.

I think I probably got read as butch more often in Pittsburgh, where makeup and gender normative dress and behavior were more widespread than in Maine. Here, there are lots of short-hared, casual dressing, non-make-up wearing, tough ass women who are straight, married moms with no inkling of identifying as butch or queer or genederqueer or anything like that. I do get mistaken for a man a lot more than I would expect, though, even here in Maine. Kids, especially, will often ask if I'm a man or a woman.

Because Maine is such a casual place, too, I find myself wearing a lot of gender neutral clothing. There just isn't a lot of opportunity for me to get decked out in a suit and tie (though I do love to do so - I can seldom pass up buying a cute tie if the price is right). After all, when's he last time you saw a man in a suit around these parts? I did go throuh a big saggy pants, Dickies work shirts, heavy boots and a leather jacket phase, complete with a wallet chain, in my 20s, but an office job and a (femme-identified) partner who found the whole thing more puerile than sexy caused me to shrug off that particular version of myself in due time.

I have more thoughts on transfolk, but I think that's enough for now.

So, what's your definition of butch?

Julie H. Rose said...

I don't have a definition, Jaime. I wasn't challenging your butch-ness, either, and I think you know that (or at least I hope you do)!

I am hesitating to say I see you as "being feminine" as if that was some sort of insulting thing to say to you. It does, actually, mean nothing, if I'm challenging what feminine and masculine "mean."

I can't imagine anyone mistaking you for a man, but people seem pretty dumb in this arena.

Maybe the other thing is that I come from a generation and lived in a place where Butch was defined pretty rigidly, as you wrote about. Things have changed, which is good, though some butch lesbians of my generation, such as the one I linked to in my post, are pretty angry about the changes.

What you write about Maine is oh-so-true! I had something about that in my original post, but removed it, because it seemed superfluous to whatever point I was making. One reason I feel comfortable living here is because of this, so maybe it isn't superfluous at after all.

jmcleod76 said...

Hmm. No comment on any of that, I'm afraid.

Just for fun, though, here's a list of the top 100 Hot Butches. Its creation last year created a bit of a stir because it contains a wide range of people - queer women, straight women, transmen, one transwoman, and softer masculine presentations, many of whose inclusion challenge any rigid definition of what "butch" is. I like that there is variation in age and body type, too.

Not safe for work, by the way. It's a kink site. All of these pics are PG-13, at most, though.

Julie H. Rose said...

Heh heh. Already seen that list! Well, if anyone else is reading this (and not commenting), go take a look.

I read that list was "controversial" because of how inclusive it was. More food for thought.

BitterGrace said...

Fascinating discussion, as usual. All I have to add is that I love Kay Ryan ;-)