i work at a large, relatively conservative midwestern public university.
i run a residence hall, which means that part of my compensation is a dining hall meal plan, which i utilize most weekdays for lunch & dinner.
tonight I had dinner with a graduate student I supervise, and when we walked into the dining hall, i made eye contact with an exquisitely dressed (bow tie and vintage Malcolm X glasses) person I had never seen before. Based on the look we shared later, and the nervous wave they gave me in the dish room, I’d say the person recognized me as being somehow like them.
I eked out an awkward “i like your tie” after they waved to me, and i wished i had been better dressed today (no tie, need a haircut), not because i want to be desirable to people on campus (i don’t) but because i want that person to know that i’m a bow tie wearing dandy too. and maybe they’ve seen me before–i don’t know…because i do wear a bow tie most days to work, and i’m generally pretty visible on campus. there are not a lot of butches hanging around this place.
so whoever you were– visitor? upperclass student who rarely eats in the dining hall, or person who lives on the other side of campus who usually eats at the other dining hall, or maybe new transfer student? grad student? i hope you saw me–i think you did–and i’m glad i saw you too. because it’s hard to be ourselves out here–in cincinnati, at this school.
I don’t know if you’re reading one of my favorite blogs yet, but if you aren’t, maybe you should.
The title of this blog is “if i can bake a cake, i can build a bomb“, which is one of those tenets I have heard and seen around anarchofeminist circles for many years, and it’s one of my favorite maxims (obvi, or i wouldn’t have named my blog this). It has many meanings to me.
If I can bake a cake, I can build a bomb. If i have the intellectual capacity to learn baking, i have the intellectual capacity to learn electrical wiring. (And vice versa, fyi…one of my parents is an electrician and a kick ass chef .)
The overarching meaning for me is that I contain multitudes. My gender, sexuality, affections, emotional attractions, physical attractions, hobbies, academic interests, the kinds of culture I consume, my political ideas– I am all over the map. I am not just one thing, and the many things I am also contain multitudes.
I’m a serious music lover. I am happiest when music is on– I listen to headphones all day at work, I listen to music at home, and in the car, and on the bus, and when I’m walking around Minneapolis. (I do not listen to headphones while I’m riding my bike because it’s unsafe, in my opinion.) I have so many favorite bands and songs and albums that I could never just choose one favorite band or one favorite song– my love is infinite. Asking me to choose one favorite band or one favorite song would be like asking me to always be the exact same person, each and every day in and day out– and sorry folks, that’s not going to happen.
The other day I sat at a little round coffee shop table with my friends KJ and LE, and we discussed how the internet has us listing all this stuff about ourselves– our favorite movies, books, hobbies, bands– on dating profiles, on facebook– and we do such work trying to paint these pictures of ourselves that we leave so few surprises for when we actually get down to the business of actually getting to know a person. Our attempts to taxonomize ourselves have left us moving through the world as bodies covered in labels and lists. [And I know from taxonomy– I’m a virgo who does analysis for money.]
I’m feeling sad and frustrated by what seems to be the perennial explosion of “it’s done like this!” There seems to be a lot happening in what i’m about to call the Butch Blogosphere that feels a little bit unforgiving and inflexible– and I struggle with reading some of the stuff that’s been going around.
I want to say that:
1) I believe there are at least as many genders as there are people– and then times it by about a zillion, because i think each person has the capacity to express many variations on gender– and that’s what I mean when I say gender is fluid. Bond writes about diversity– well, I think there is fluidity and diversity. [Bond–I love your blog and I’m not trying to start anything– just saying what I believe based on my experience.]
2) I believe there are as many ways to perform various largely recognized categories of gender (i.e. butch or femme) as there are people who self-identify with those genders. I reject the notion that I am less butch than someone else because I do not bind. I reject the notion that I am more butch because I have short hair. I reject the notion that I am less butch because I sew, or that I am more butch because I can grill up some tasty food outdoors.
When I see people simultaneously fighting for gender and sexuality liberation– be those people queer or straight, trans or cis, then policing each other’s gender and sexuality expressions, i experience cognitive dissonance. How can we say “I want to be free to be myself, but you are not free to be yourself?”
I came out 15 years ago. It’s been a roller coaster (you can read some of that here) and through most of that, I have expressed a butch gender identity– with the exception of some times when I was with my ex-husband. [Yes, I mostly wore women’s clothes then, and sometimes wore make-up. I was still way closer to butch than femme in a lot of ways.] I have absolutely been guilty of judging others and trying to police the identities of others– but as I get older and give less of a shit about what other people do and think in general, I have realized how sick it is to fight for liberation without including everyone’s expressions in that.
So I’m just stating my opinion– there are billions of ways to perform gender, billions of ways to be queer. Thank you, universe.
[And thank you to Bevin who helped me expand on a few ideas.]
[Also, to anyone skeptical about my baking skills? I said I can bake a cake– I never said I could bake a vegan cake.]
Sometimes when I go out to restaurants and bars that are not completely populated by other gay folks, I scare people in the bathroom. This Saturday night, I was out with three friends and I had to use the restroom. When I walked in, there was a person in the other stall, and no one waiting. I entered the available stall and while I was using it, three or four women walked in–talking to each other. My heart stopped– just for a second. This hadn’t happened in awhile.
First, I was wearing a tie. Ties detract from every feminine aspect of my body– my chest, the width of my hips, the softness of my face/features– it seems like straight women see the tie first and the person wearing it second– so when i came out of the stall, two of them gasped before realizing I was female.
This is one of the prices I pay for my gender presentation in spaces where there is no single-user restroom available. I know many many people who experience this kind of pressure and fear and frustration every time they need to use a public restroom. Generally I can speak and immediately assuage the discomfort of the other women in the bathroom– my voice isn’t very high, but it’s certainly not the voice of a man (and less masculine now that I quit smoking).
Should I speak to assuage their discomfort? Does my right to pee in public supercede their right to feel safe in the restroom? No, it doesn’t. But it doesn’t supercede my right to feel safe in the restroom either. Someone told me to dress more femininely when I go to straight places. Well, that defeats the purpose of spending 32 years becoming the person I am. I don’t have and don’t want separate outfits to wear when I go to straight places (which are most places–even most places that I go).
Recently, my department at work was moved down two floors. We are mostly still sitting near the same people we have always sat near. I have never experienced any kind of gender or sexuality discrimination at work– I am very very lucky, I know, but my workplace is committed to being a great place to work. The move has resulted in us sharing a restroom with a whole new department of people we don’t know, and I told “wrong bathroom” at work the other day by someone I don’t know. I replied politely, “I don’t think so” and when i turned to face the person, I could see her surprise that she was wrong. I guess I’ll use the unisex a little more often until people who don’t know me are accustomed to seeing me at the copier or in the halls….which honestly is fine by me because I prefer using the unisex, but don’t want to occupy it in the even that a person with a disability is in need of the facilities.
It’s funny– I do identify as butch, but I don’t think I look like a man [nor do I want to look like a man]. I have the round body of a fat woman, but my chest is smallish [thanks, 1996 reduction!] just because I’m wearing men’s clothes doesn’t mean I’m in the wrong bathroom.
This has been happening to me for years. It happens more when I am thinner, and it happens more depending on my hairstyle. It happens more in the winter than in the summer. It happens more in bars than professional settings. It happens more in Cincinnati than Minneapolis. It happens more and more.