Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Rehearsing Masculinity: Gender Fuck in a Bow Tie

Earrings and tights: Reitmans; Boots: Ecco; Dress clips, skirt, blazer, clutch, and top: vintage; Solitaire ring: heirloom; Right hand ring: Birks; Stackable rings: Etsy; Faux eternity band: boutique
As you may recall, from time to time I like to wear outfits inspired by man-tailoring and masculinity.


As I've said before, I actually feel that, for someone as femme as I am, such outfits only serve to highlight my femininity.


Kind of like standing beside Beau does. Though Beau's not really the "manliest" of men and could even be called a tad "fey," I feel much more womanly in my body and feminine in my mannerisms when I'm with him. 

That's neither a good thing nor a bad thing. It's just a thing, a juxtaposition thing.



So on this day, masquerading just a little bit as a man, I headed downtown with Beau and did my little posey posey thing while we waited for my appointment with my hairdresser. 

My city's alleys, if not exactly famous, are frequent stars of cheap television programs and movies pretending to be shot in New York City. You may never have been to my city. You may never have even heard of it. But I can guarantee that you've seen it masquerading as New York on the silver screen.



It is true that we do have some New Yorkish details and elements here.



But I've actually lived in NYC and I can assure you that this ain't it. Not even close. 

For one thing, it's too clean. For another, it's never too crowded, even in our rapid transit system during rush hour. Mostly, it has way too much open space to be anything like New York. There are no canyons formed by the high, closely set, steep cliffs of architecture like there are in New York. I can actually breathe here, easily. I like that.

Not to mention our extraordinary ocean and mountain views around every corner.
 
I pay attention to nuances, details, and distinctions like that -- from the macro of architecture...


... to micro of jewelry design.


It is in such details that one can find a few shots that can pass for New York.


And it is in such details that an ostensibly feminine outfit of a skirt and a tight shirt that one can find a few things that can pass for masculine: note the tweed skirt, the tailored blazer, and the herringbone weave of these tights. 


Though I am generally perceived as very feminine, I like to mix and mingle the masculine and feminine, in my appearance and, even more, in my attitudes and beliefs.

I don't believe that women are always naturally feminine, or that men are always naturally masculine. Instead, I think girls are raised and pressured to be feminine, and boys are raised and pressured to be masculine. I think such pressures are unnecessary and restrictive at best, and harmful and cruel at worst.

So I like to mess with people's notions of gender. I like to mix it up. I make a "conscious effort to mock or 'fuck with' traditional notions of gender identity, gender roles, and gender presentation which assume that one's identity, role and orientation is determined by one's" (wikipedia) biological sex. 

My hope is that I'll mess with people's heads just enough that they'll start asking themselves important questions about whether or not gender really is natural after all.

Excuse my language, but the official term for that is "genderfuck," or, if you prefer, "gender bending." I'm a gender bender and I always have been, since I was a small child.


These distinctions between masculine and feminine, male and female, can be so important to people, it becomes almost comical. We have become so obsessed, we feel we must constantly enforce this false line between masculine/male and feminine/female. You know what I mean: it's the pink aisle in toy store; it's the pink and blue toothbrushes; it's the pink razor for the woman's legs and the blue razor for the man's face; it's the assertion that a marriage must only be between a man and a woman.

It's all contrary to actual human nature, which is just not that rigid.

I mean, really, what man ever actually poses like the guys in these ads? But they're ideal, urban and urbane men. They model an identity that many men feel they must strive to achieve.


 

Everywhere we turn -- in the cradle, in the family, at school, at work, in the media -- men and women are taught how to behave differently from one another. We're taught how to walk, how to hold our limbs, how to hold the very muscles of our faces.

We get pretty anxious about it all. What man hasn't felt anxious at some point that he's not measuring up as a man? What woman hasn't at some point felt anxious that she's not feminine enough? 

As we try to get it "right," we end up practising in front of mirrors, carefully choosing our clothes, modulating the pitch of our voices, faking our interests... all as a kind of constant rehearsal or performance of masculinity or femininity. We all fail, at least some of the time.



People get very hung up on maintaining their femininity...


... or their masculinity.

Pose like this if you're a boy.



Pose like this if you're a girl.

Enough!

It's absurd!

In academia, we call all this "rehearsing masculinity." If gender (masculine or feminine) really were naturally associated with biological sex (male or female), would we have to work so hard to get it right? Would culture have to condemn gender rebels so much? Would parents have to "correct" their children's behaviour so much?

If it's so natural, why do have to practise, rehearse, and perform it?

This is my pain face. I think of it as the authentic me. Funny how others see me as sunny and positive.
It's not natural. That's the fact of the matter.

It's too stressful to get all hung up on gender. So screw it. Fuck with gender!


 
Let's all stop being anxious, lighten up, and play with gender instead.

As for me, I'm buying Beau an engagement ring! Who says I can't?


So be whoever you really are.


A little bit butch.

 

And a little bit femme.


And a whole lot of exactly who you really are -- whoever that may be.

(I'm joining the dress-up fun at Visible Mondays at Not Dead Yet.)

qwerty

10 comments:

  1. My dear, no one would mistake you for butch.

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  2. Fabulous post! And much more accessible than Judith Butler!

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    1. Ooooh, someone knows his/her queer theory! Yes, Butler was one of my sources here and I'm thrilled to hear that I write more accessibly than she does. I once wrote a pretty scathing review of her writing style. Obfuscation is for chumps.

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    2. I may have to quote that last sentance today.

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    3. "Obfuscation is for chumps"? Oh do! But make sure everyone knows that it was said by the brilliant blogger, Charlotte Issyvoo. : ) In what context would you quote it?

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  3. Women seem to have more leeway in this society to move back and forth across the gender divide with clothing. Even back in the day (40s, 50s, 60s), when dresses were de rigueur, we still had famous female gender benders like Marlene Dietrich. Famous men in feminine attire seemed to have been confined to comedy---think Benny Hill. Now of course, is the age of Ru Paul and "Drag Race" but still, a man walking down the street in feminized clothing is probably gonna attract more attention than a female in manly clothing.

    As a woman, I do like the freedom to wear guy gear one day (I love men's button down shirts) and then bust out a petticoat and skirt the next. Or sometimes both together, as you have done :)

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    1. Yes, I think you're right, though I sometimes wonder if it's because women's power isn't taken as seriously so our "cross dressing" isn't seen as a threat. That said, for a long time it was illegal for women to wear more than three items of men's clothing in public (the reverse being true for men). The target was butch women, of course. So sad.

      It takes remarkable courage for a man to wear women's clothes in public. It was actually drag queens who helped me embrace my own femininity because helped me to see it as tied to me (and them), not to my biological sex. I keep meaning to write a post about them.

      You might also like these two posts, the about gay pride, and the second about the 20th C history of women, including butch women, in suits:

      http://www.sublimemercies.com/2013/07/gay-pride-charlotte-goes-camp.html
      http://www.sublimemercies.com/2013/04/on-women-in-suits-femme-butch-ki-ki-and.html

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  4. I really enjoyed this post on gender-bending, Charlotte. It makes me question assumptions even I, a liberal in a liberal profession, make all the time. Well-said and amen. And thanks for sharing your thoughts with Visible Monday.

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    1. Yay, I messed with your paradigm! Yay! That's what I'm all about, baby. Feel free to mess with mine too. : )

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  5. You in a long line of smart women, bending gender! It's often so flattering and almost always femininzing! And that, as you know, is true for you. Love it. It's odd that anyone even notices it still, in this day and age, but they do. You look grand.

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