I had an interesting conversation the other night. My partner, it seems, feels a bit inadequate in that I often seem to be more feminine than her. In this instance, she was referring to my refined choice in underwear, shall we say. Ordinarily, her attitude towards anything this outwardly feminine would be a towering shrug of the shoulders, but somehow when her partner is unintentionally upstaging her, gender guilt surfaces. I may not have much money, but I do make sure that what I wear reflects the fullest difference between how I present and what I know about myself. It is not always difficult to look elegant and tasteful, even on a budget.
A friend of mine recently recommended a documentary series called Gender Rebel, which aired a few years back on the Logo network. It’s available online for those who might be curious, though, as an aside, I wish they’d picked a more diverse sample of participants. Specifically, it followed the lives of three biological females who identify as genderqueer, all of whom, if memory serves, also identify as lesbian. One of them is shown shopping for clothes, exactingly selecting an outfit, hoping to look as close to a teenage boy as possible. I have to say I identified heavily with the amount of time spent and the almost obsessive focus employed to look totally authentic as the opposite gender.
On the same topic, I have to say that I also understand why some queer women bind their breasts. Perhaps not entirely, to be fair, but I do know what it is like to devote much time and effort to make certain that one’s outward appearance reflects inward feeling. It is the reason why I, in a bolder time where I had much less gender policing to contend with, made sure my toenails (and often my fingernails) were flawlessly painted at all times, or let female friends experiment on me with makeup, the more feminine the better. And it’s the same reason why I now wear an article or two of clothing designed for women and feel an incredible sense of satisfaction and rightness of being having done it.
But part of me wonders if it’s worth it to spend so much effort making myself feel plausibly female by transforming my outside appearance. Doesn’t gender exist in the mind? Should I be focused instead on reconciling my own internal issues of not fitting in and not belonging? If I heal myself inwardly, will it matter so much to be the perfect incarnation of a gender identity I embrace more than another? Certain people in my life will never get it, no matter what I wear. My partner, sadly, is one such person. She isn’t bigoted or closed-minded, of course, because we wouldn’t be together if she were. Shortly after we started dating, I sat down and explained the whole thing to her, step by step. She still didn’t get it. To her, I am complex in all sorts of ways, and this is just another one of them. In some ways, it’s the people who are entirely accepting and yet uncomprehending that frustrate me more than the homophobes.
I bother to write all of this to share my own story. This may be comfort to some, education to others, and perplexing to many. And I ask, how much about gender do we have to deconstruct before the willing, but confused allies know us for what we are? Sometimes I wonder if it’s just a question of finding the perfect analogy. For example, the arguments for same-sex marriage had to be phrased in heterosexual terms to win victories in court and will continue to be until the bitter end. But maybe fostering understanding by means of translation isn’t the greater point, whether within ourselves or within those who are allies. Maybe you can love even that which perplexes you. Maybe you can cherish what you cannot conceptualize. Maybe you can accept even that which does not make logical sense to you, provided that misunderstanding does not turn to fear, hate, and anger.