Friday, January 30, 2009

More than the threads on my back.

On Masculine Females, as described by Leslie Feinberg in "Transliberation," an anthology of thoughts collected about gender identification.

The term masculine female elicits many responses in me. The book written by Feinberg seems to want to eliminate the idea of the binary, but what this term seems to do is perpetuate them - or does it? Meaning, perhaps it's only my thoughts that draw up a curvy woman with breasts and hips, who rocks a pair of sagging jeans, walks with her shoulders, has shortened nails and sits with her legs too far apart to be crowned demure by the "feminine" committee, when I hear masculine female. If that's the case then I am not sure how this definition breaks down the concrete identification and societal meanings that lay as the underpinnings of what it means to have an M or F on their government-issued ID. It is, once again, pushing us to catagorize ourselves for the masses.

That being said, in my world, I sometimes feel as though I fall under this label (even though I am being more mindful of the negative ways self-adopting labels affect my psyche). I'm not trying to rid the English language of gender representations, but I am trying to break people away from sticking to their hard fast rules of either all male or all female. I like to talk about the continuum, and I enjoy seeing people happy in their bodies -- be it within the societal terms of male or female, or in the gray that is the creation of their own world.

I will admit that as my body and mind develop and becomes more of my own, there have been times where I considered altering my physical and mental states to match my thoughts on how I felt comfortable. But after talking it out through my dreams, the pages of my journal, friends and the Internet, I felt similar to Feinberg's discussion on how people sometimes adapt themselves to the "trying to be a real man," ideal. Here's the problem we do not live in a bubble and I can't easily escape the definitions and interpretations that have been pounded in to my head. I am, however, very mindful of this, and each time I slip into my jeans and t-shirt, I am also mindful that I am not slipping into a dress. I am also aware that it hasn't always been like this.

It was election day 2008 the last time I wore a dress. I was asked to do live blogging at the LGBT Center as the results came over the wire. I remember feeling both beautiful and uncomfortable. My worries were my own, and I didn't let people in on the fact that lately I would leave the house in dangling earrings, only to stuff them in to my pocket three blocks down the road. It was a full month since I last dressed like this, but I wanted to try it on one last time, just in case.

At the time of this transition I was dating a woman who had known me back when I wore calf-high suede boots with a vintage-looking jersey dress. I was shaving my armpits back then, and I wore my shoulder-length hair pinned back in the middle - a slight twist on 1950s rockabilly. As I began to stretch my wings, I wasn't sure how to hold the balance between the old and the new me. And then I had to determine whether it was old or not -- were the dresses new and jeans and t-shirts old, as opposed to the other way around? I remember all through middle and high school my lanky body would hide beneath Dickies, which are cotton, creased pants mostly worn by maintenance workers. I think I had a pair for every day of the week. When I made it to California post high school I hung around with skateboard kids who, like me, drank 40 ounces of beer, and pretended to not care if we looked good or bad. But then I got a corporate job and everything changed. There was a dress code and a command for respectful attire. I felt the pressure to react in the most feminine way I had ever done in my life: tight shirts and slacks. I guess I felt good, but whenever I would meet my friends after work, I wanted to rip my cleavage-laden top off of my body and replace it with the warm and relaxed hooded sweatshirt that we all wore as we hiked around the San Francisco bay area. I felt grown up, and maybe that is what I also associate with being feminine.

I'd be lying if I said that conformity is not an advantage, and a privilege. I look back and see how cleaning up my image and mouth earned me more respect. Later I understood that I can still be me - a strong woman who cares about her Independence - in a pair of jeans, boat shoes and a nice sweater. The sweater may have been pink, but I was moving back to my comfort space. I looked simple and fem, while still kicking ass while playing darts at the local bar where I threw back beer after beer. Eventually I moved back towards A-line tanks and shorts, sometimes intermixing my style with a skirt; and gender non-conforming flip-flops. It seemed like we all looked alike under the hot sun.

NYC is where much of my life turned. I was finally out as a gay woman to my family and friends, and soon I began to shift (once again) my identity to find out how I could get a date, look good and be successful; feel right in my body - both on the inside and out. It started a happy mix of societal interpretations of gender, then a hyper stage of femininity, and, finally, where I am at now: a point in my life when I simply cannot live without my baseball hat. I feel the best that I have ever felt in my life - armpit hair puffed out, short hair, makeup-free face, and of course my confidence.

I know that it's more than hair and clothes; it's me pushing me from the inside-out. I remember being afraid of going through that with the same woman that I was dating while flaunting myself in a dress. I wasn't sure that I was strong enough to work through all of the emotions that come with the physical and emotional stages I was sifting through - I wasn't feeling affirmed, and would never ask for it, so I broke it off. My world and my affirmation to myself and to my growth was too important to me to not make sure I was both caring and being cared for.

When I was home in Pittsburgh, PA (my hometown) for the winter break I realized my outward appearance has an effect on people. The first night I was home a man stopped me as I walked towards the little image of a person in a dress on the women's restroom door. He asked why I looked like a boy, and also included how he could see my "femaleness" underneath all of the clothing. I asked why he thought there was one definition to explain what an M or F looks, acts, feels like. Reflecting now on the long debate about MY gender and MY sexual orientation with this stranger, I realized something: perhaps I am a masculine female; a person happily stuck in my own interpretation - my own shade of gray.