The Nail that Sticks Up Will Be Hammered Down
I have a confession to make. Lately, I’ve been in a bit of a heavy, slow, existential crisis. I realize now that this has been going on for 34 years. It’s always about gender and sexuality.
When I was a kid, I knew I was different, and other people were able to see it before I was able to see it. I was not a tomboy…but I was definitely not the perfectly feminine princess child my mother tried to fashion. When it came to sexuality, I was a total prude because I knew that I wasn’t experiencing things that other people were. Classmates started calling my heterosexuality into question before I even have a vocabulary to describe how I felt. I realize now that it was my gender they didn’t understand. I didn’t understand it either. I wore a navy blue corduroy blazer to elementary school.
sexuality was terrifying too– in my early adolescence, when peers would play a game like spin the bottle, i’d run for the hills. I didn’t play spin the bottle until I was over 30.
I spent years trying to be something I wasn’t, and when I finally first embraced the word butch, I started to breathe better. Every single day, I still feel pressure from outside forces to be hammered down into something more palatable, more acceptable. And I have chosen to resist.
I believe that gender is a social construct— I was not born a woman, but I was born female. The social construction of gender is so woven into my experience of culture, perception, my own existence that thinking about it makes me feel as though I am in The Matrix. I choose to deconstruct gender because I am certain that it’s a fiction, formed from discursive power. I choose to deconstruct how I feel about my gender, explain how I experience my own gender, defend the choices of words I use to describe my gender.
This would be so much easier to explain in three dimensions… I’d be able to pick up the piles and move them around, show you what I’m trying to say, but I don’t think that I know how to do that either.
In the last 6 years, I have embraced the word butch to describe part of my gender, and I intend to continue to use that word. To me, it means masculine female, and I have written about how I believe it should bend and stretch to fit the person using it. I continue to be committed to that stance.
I have also felt committed to continuing to identify as female, and as a woman. But as the word butch has fit more and more comfortably, the word woman has started to constrict. The importance that my explanation for this disconnect from woman not creep up on misogyny is huge. I have called myself a feminist since I was in elementary school, and my experiences around identifying as a feminist are important to me. When I say that I may not be a woman, I say it from inside my body, inside my understanding, and I do not intend to insult anyone who sees woman as a great thing to be. I think woman is a great thing to be, and I would give up a lot of things I like to feel comfortable using that umbrealla of woman.
Female is my sex. I thought that woman was my gender, but I was mistaken.
I first called myself a lesbian in the mid 1990s. That was never a good word for me because honestly I have not been and I am not exclusively attracted to people who are female-identified, female assigned at birth, or woman identified. Many of you know I have an ex-husband, who I was attracted to and loved deeply, despite feeling pulled between my ability to perform my gender in a comfortable way and still be a suitable “wife”. There’s a photo of me, in drag king attire leaving the house to judge a drag show at the college where I worked, and I’m wearing my husband’s shirt. He helped me get dressed, he drove me to the show. I wish I had known how to express gender better at that age. I wish I had known how to talk about sexuality better at that age. I think we could have learned much more from each other.
After we were divorced, I called myself lesbian again, but only for a short time. I have dated trans masculine people, femme-identified people, and people who use other specific language to describe their gender. I kept calling myself woman although Wittig made the point that possibly, you can’t be both.
Wittig says that it would be incorrect to say that lesbians associate, make love, live with women, for ‘woman’ has meaning only in heterosexual systems of thought and heterosexual economic systems. Lesbians are not women (1978).
Okay then, Monique– if I am not lesbian, and I am not woman, then what am I?
Foucault & Butler
Foucault wrote about modern society by talking about Bentham’s Panopticon. In the Panopticon, a single guard can watch over many prisoners while the guard remains unseen. This is related to my thoughts on sexuality and gender because I believe that I am guarded by the discourse on gender and sexuality in the culture where I exist. The guard remains unseen.
Butler says we perform gender (agreed) without being conscious of it, but I am definitely conscious of it. Every morning as I tie a tie and put on shined up dress shoes, I know what I am doing. Some days, I wish I could take the blue pill and remain unconscious in the Matrix.
“There is nothing outside the text…” meaning there is no meaning outside of context. Things that are private and unnamed are therefore not real, which i believe is why I spend so much damn time trying to classify and name myself. I don’t feel that any of the big structural boxes fit me, so i can only take existing ideas and push them around and try to squeeze myself into them?
I probably would have never become comfortable without Halby’s book Female Masculinity (please, check it out). Through a much-needed re-read of that book after a big break up, which was partly due to me not dealing w/ my own gender angst as viewed through the transition issues my former partner was exploring, I was able to clarify how I feel about my own gender so much more, so that I could get to a place where I feel comfortable being who i am without worrying nearly as much about how other people’s genders reflect on me.
In a text message conversation with Bevin a couple of years ago, I managed to cobble together the (still) best sentence I can imagine that accurately describes me–if you go in for that sort of thing. “Okay then my sexuality is queer. Dyke is my culture. I occupy the subject position Butch at the vectors of nerdy and dandy which form an argyle pattern when graphed.”
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.
Hey folks, have you checked out The Brown Boi Project? They’re in a fundraising campaign right now. As you do your holiday giving, consider them for sure.
Another organization I have also supported in the past is the Trans Youth Support Network in Minneapolis.
What are your favorite organizations for giving?
I’m not perfect. My feminism is not perfect, my queerness is not perfect, my understanding of privilege is not perfect. I continue to grow, evolve, learn, try, fuck up, and try again. My intentions are generally to share information that I think is interesting, and see what discussion comes out of it from people. Sometimes I have to step away from conversations though, because I get really frustrated.
Today I’m grouchy about Dan Savage. I wish he would take ownership of the critique that he harms more than helps when he uses words that don’t belong to him.
Today I’m grouchy about feminists who are openly transphobic. I’m sorry, but I do not agree with you that sexism against women creates an environment that oppresses people into gender dysphoria. That may be true for someone you know, or some trans people, but it does something that I feel really uncomfortable with: it takes away people’s agency. Yes, I agree that gender inequality fucks us all over–but telling me how to express my gender without masculinity is no better than those who tell me that I’m only supposed to have one kind of femininity as a female-bodied person.
Ooh, that might be a longer post at some point.
Today I’m continuing to love Tiger Beatdown. Check this one: http://tigerbeatdown.com/2011/10/10/my-feminism-will-be-intersectional-or-it-will-be-bullshit/
I know this isn’t a specifically feminist quote, but it’s been on my lips all day.
There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all. -Mario Savio