Naming all the parts - My Bar Mitzvah: March 4, 1961,...

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Unformatted text preview: My Bar Mitzvah: March 4, 1961, "TodayI am a man. ” <<4>> NAMING ALLTHE PARTS For the first thirty—or—so years of my life, I didn’t listen, I didn’t ask questions, I didn’t talk, I didn’t deal with gender~I avoided the dilem— ma as best I could. I lived frantically on the edge of my white male priv— ilege, and it wasn’t ’til I got into therapy around the issue of my transsemalism that I began to take apart gender and really examine it from several sides. As I looked at each facet of gender, I needed to fix it with a definition, just long enough for me to realize that each definition I came up with was entirely inadequate and needed to be abandoned in search of deeper meaning. Definitions have their uses in much the same way that road signs make it easy to travel: they point out the directions. But you don't get where you're going when you just stand underneath some sign, waiting for it to tell you what to do. I took the first steps of my journey by trying to define the phenomenon I was daily becoming. There’s areal simple way to look at gender: Once upon a time, someone drew a line in the sands of a culture and proclaimed with great sell-importance, “On this side. you are a man; on the other side, you are a woman." It’s time for the winds of change to blow that line away. Simple. 22 GENDER OUTLAW Gender means class. By calling gender 2 system of classification, we can dismantle the system and examine its components. Suzanne Kessler and Wendy McKenna in their landmark 1978 book, Gender: An Ethnometbodologz'mlApproach, open the door to viewing gender as a social construct. They pinpoint various phenomena of gender, as follows: Gender Assignment Gender assignment happens when the culture says, “This is what you are.” In most cultures, we’re assigned a gender at birth. In our culture, once you’ve been assigned a gender, that’s what you are; and for the most part, it’s doctors who dole out the gender assignments, which shows you how emphatically gender has been medicalized. These doc— tors look down at a newly—born infant and say “It has a penis, it’s a boy.” Or they say, “It doesn’t have a penis, it's a girl.” It has little or nothing to do with vaginas. It’s all penises or no penises: gender assignment is both phallocentric and genital. Other cultures are not or have not been so rigid. In the early nineteenth century, Kodiak Islanders would occasionally assign a female gender to a child with a penis: this resulted in a woman who would bring great good luck to her husband, and a larger dowry to her parents. The European umbrella term for this and any other type of Native American transgendered person is berdacbe. Walter Williams in The Spiritrmd the Flesh chronicles nearly as many types of berdac/ye as there were nations. Naming All the Parts When the gender ofa child was in question in some Navajo tribes, they reached a decision by putting a child inside a tipi with loom and a bow and arrow—female and male implements respectively. They set fire to the tzpi, and whatever the child grabbed as he/she ran out determined the child’s gender. It was perfectly natural to these Navajo that the child had some say in determining its own gender. Compare this method with Even as early as I702, a French explorer who lived for four years among the lllinois lndians noted that berdaches were known "from their childhood, when they are seen the following modern example: [The Montana Educational Telecommunica- tions Network, a computer bulletin board.) enabled students in tiny rural schools to com- municate with students around the world. Cynthia Denton, until last year a teacher at the only public school in Hobson. Montana (population 200), describes the benefit of such links. "When we got our first messages from japan, 0 wonderful little fifth-grade girl named Michelle was asked ifshe was a boy or a girl. She was extraordinarily indignant at that, and said, ‘l’m Michelle—l'm a girl of course.‘ Then lpointed out the name ofthe person who had asked the question and said, ‘Do you know if this is a boy or a girl?’ She said, ‘No, how am I supposed to know that?‘ lsaid, 'Oh, the rest ofthe world is supposed to know that Michelle is a girl, but you have no social responsibility to know if this is a boy or a girl?’ She stopped and said, 'Oh. ' And then she rephrased her reply considerably " —Jacques Leslie, The Cursor Cowboy. I993 23 frequently picking up the spade, the spin- dle, the ax [women’s tools], but making no is the determination of one another’s gender a “social responsibility?" Do we have the legal or moral right to decide and use of the bow and arrow as all the other small boys do. " assign our own genders? Or does that right belong to the state, the church, and ——Pierre Liette. Memoir of Pierre Liette on the Illinois Country 24 GENDER OUTLAW Naming All the Parts 25 the medical profession? But she was another man. If gender is classification, can we afford to throw away A" the gm: mund he’ the very basic right to classify ourselves? "mug!" She had it “Ming But she gets it while she can. Get back. get back, Get back to where you once belonged. Get back, Loretta. Gender Identity Gender identity answers the question, “who am I?” Am I a man or a woman or a what? It’s a decision made by nearly every individual, and it’s subject to any influence: peer pressure, advertising, drugs, cultural definitions of gender, whatever. Gender identity is assumed by many to be “natural”; that is someone can feel “like a man,” or “like a woman.” When I first started giving talks about gender, this was the one question that would keep coming up: “Do you feel like a woman now?” “Did you ever feel like a man?” “How did you know what a woman would feel like?” I’ve no idea what “a woman” feels like. I never did feel like a girl or a woman; rather, it was my unshakable conviction that I was not a boy or a man. It was the absence ofa feeling, rather than its presence, that con- vinced me to change my gender. What does a man feel like? What does a woman feel like? Do you feel “like a man?" Do you feel “like a woman?" I'd really like to know that from people. Gender identity answers another question: “to which gender (class) do I want to belong?” Being and belonging are closely related concepts when it comes to gender. I felt I was a woman (being), and more importantly I felt I belonged with the other women (belonging). In this culture, the only two sanctioned gender clubs are “men” and “women.” If you don’t belong to one or the other, you’re told in no uncertain terms to sign up fast. Sweet Loretta Martin Thought she was a woman —lohn Lennon and Paul McCartney, Get Back, I969 I remember a dream I had when l was no more than seven or eight years old—l might have been younger. In this dream, two lines of battle were drawn up lacing one another on a devastated plain: I remember the earth was dry and cracked. An army of men on one side faced an army of women on the other. The soldiers on both sides were exhausted. They were all wearing skins—l remember smelling the un-tanned leather in my dream. I was a young boy, on the side of the men, and l was being tied down to a roughly-hewn cart. I wasn't struggling. When I was completely secured, the men attached a long rope to the cart, and tossed the other end of the rope over to the women. The soldiers of the women's army slowly pulled me across the empty ground between the two armies, as the sun began to rise. I could see only the sun and the sky. When I'd been pulled over to the side of the women, they untied me. turned their backs to the men. and we all walked away. l looked back, and saw the men walking away from us. We were all silent. I wonder about reincarnation. I wonder how a child could have had a dream like that in such detail. i told this dream to the psychiatrist at the army induction center in Boston in I969—they’d asked if I’d ever had any strange dreams, so I told them this one. They gave me a H, deferred duty due to psychiatric instability. 26 GENDER OUTLAW Gender Roles Gender roles are collections of factors which answer the question, “How do I need to function so that society perceives me as belonging or not belonging to a specific gender?” Some people would include appearance, sexual orientation, and methods of communication under the term, but I think it makes more sense to think in terms ofthings like jobs, economic roles, chores, hobbies; in other words, positions and actions specific to a given gender as defined by a culture. Gender roles, when followed, send signals of membership in a given gender. Gender Attribution Then there’s gender attribution, whereby we look at somebody and say, “that’s a man,” or “that’s a woman.” And this is important because the way we perceive another’s gender affects the way we relate to that per— son. Gender attribution is the sneaky one. It’s the one we do all the time without thinking about it; kinda like driving a sixteen—wheeler down a crowded highway. . .without thinking about it. In this culture, gender attribution, like gender assignment, is phallo~ centric. That is, one is male until perceived otherwise. According to a study done by Kessler and McKenna, one can extrapolate that it would take the presence of roughly four female cues to outweigh the presence of one male cue: one is assumed male until proven otherwise. That’s one reason why many women today get “sirred” whereas very few men get called “ma’am.” Gender attribution depends on cues given by the attributee, and per— ceived by the attributer. The categories of cues as l have looked at them apply to a man/woman bi—polar gender system, although they could be relevant to a more fluidly—gendered system. I found these cues to be useful in training actors in cross-gender role—playing. Physical cues include body, hair, clothes, voice, skin, and movement. l'm nearly six feet tall, and I'm large-boned. Like most people born “male,” my hands, feet. and forearms are proportionally larger to my body as a whole than those of A -m~mm»~w.mm.wvmx , (. Naming All the Parts 27 people born "female." My hair pattern included coarse facial hair. My voice is naturally deep—l sang bass in a high school choir and quartet. I've had to study ways and means of either changing these physical cues, or drawing attention away from them if I want to achieve a female attribution from people. Susan Brownmiller’s book, Feminim'ty, is an excellent analysis of the social impact of physical factors as gender cues. Behavioral cues include manners, decorum, protocol, and deportment. Like physical cues, behavioral cues change with time and culture. Dear rib/{y and other advice columnists often freely dispense gender—specific manners. Most of the behavioral cues I can think of boil down to how we occupy space, both alone and with others. Some points of manners are not taught in books of etiquette. They are, instead, signals we learn from one another, mostly signals acknowledging membership to an upper (male) or lower (female) class. But to commit some of there manners in writing in terms of gender— specific behavior would be an acknowledgment that gender exists as a class system. Here's one: As part of learning to pass as a woman, l was taught to avoid eye contact when walking down the street; that looking someone in the eye was a male cue. Nowadays, sometimes I‘ll look away, and sometimes l'll look someone in the eye—it's a behavior pattern that's more fun to play with than to follow rigidly. A lemme cue (not “woman,” but “femme") is to meet someone's eyes (usually a butch), glance quickly away, then slowly look back into the butch’s eyes and hold that gaze: great, hot fun, that one! In many transsexual and transvestite meetings l attend- ed, when the subject of the discussion was "passing," a lot of emphasis was given to manners: who stands up to shake hands? who exits an elevator first? who opens 28 GENDER OUTLAW Naming All the Parts 29 down at the card. apparently not registering what he saw. “You just go on over there, honey, and take your test. We'll have you fixed up soon. 0h," he added with a wink, “if you need anything special, you just come back here and ask old Fred." I left old Fred and joined the line for my test. I handed the next officer both my license and my court order authorizing my name change. This time, the officer didn't doors? who lights cigarettes? These are all cues I had to learn in order to pass as a woman in this culture. It wasn‘t ’til I began to read feminist literature that I began to question these cues or to see them as oppressive. Textual cues include histories, documents, names, associates, relation— ships—true or false—which support a desired gender attribution. Someone trying to be taken for male in this culture might take the give my license a cursory glance. He kept looking at me, then down at the paper, then me, then the paper. His face grim, he pointed over to the direction of the testing booths. On my way over to the booths. old Fred called name Bernard, which would probably get a better male attribution than the name Brenda. Changing my name from Al to Kate was no big deal in Pennsylvania. It was a simple matter of filing a form with 01“. WNW» the)’ "Wing Y0" 3” Tight?" 39W" l C°Uld the court and publishing the name change in some unob- trusive “notices” column of a court-approved newspaper. Bingo—done. The problems came with changing all my documents. The driver's license was particularly interest- ing. Prior to my full gender change. I’d been pulled over once already dressed as a woman. yet holding my male driver's license—it wasn‘t something l cared to repeat. Any changes in licenses had to be done in person at the Department of Motor Vehicles. l was working in corporate America: Ford Aerospace. On my lunch break. I went down to the DMV and waited in line with the other folks who had changes to make to their licenses. The male officer at the desk was flirting with me, and I didn’t know what to do with that, so I kept looking away. When I finally got to the desk. he asked “Well young lady, what can we do for you?" “I've got to make a name change on my license," I mumbled. “Just get married?" he asked jovially. , “Uh, no," I replied. 5 “0h! Divorced!" he proclaimed with just a bit of hope 1 in his voice, “Let's see your license." I handed him my old driver's license with my male name on it. He glanced reply, the second officer snarled at old Fred to “get his butt over" to look at all my paperwork. I reached the testing booths and looked back just in time to see a quite crestfallen old Fred looking at me, then the paper, then me, then the paper. Mythic cues include cultural and sub-cultural myths which support membership in a given gender. This culture’s myths include archetypes like: weaker sex, dumb blonde, strong silent type, and better half. Various waves ofthe women’s movement have had to deal with a multi- tude ofmyths of male superiority. Power dynamics as cue include modes of communication, communi- cation techniques, and degrees of aggressiveness, assertiveness, persis— tence, and ambition. Sexual orientation as cue highlights, in the dominant culture, the het- erosexual imperative (or in the lesbian and gay culture, the homosexual imperative). For this reason, many male heterosexual transvestites who wish to pass as female will go out on a “date” with another man (who is dressed as a man)—the two seem to be a heterosexual couple. In glanc— ing at the “woman” ofthe two, an inner dialogue might go, “It’s wearing a dress, and it’s hanging on the arm of a man, so it must be a woman.” 30 GENDER OUTLAW Naming All the Parts 31 For the same man to pass as a female in a lesbian bar, he’d need to be system Ofgender one is following. with a woman, dressed as a woman’ as a “date,” But none of this explains why there is such a widespread insistence upon the conflation ofrex and gender. 1 think a larger question is why I remember one Fourth of July evening in Philadelphia, about a year alter my surgery. I was walking home arm in arm with Lisa, my lover at the time, after the fireworks display. We were leaning in to one another, walking like lovers walk. Coming towards us was a family of five: mom, dad, and three teenage boys. “Look, it‘s a coupla faggots," said one of the boys. “Nah, it's two girls," said another. “That's enough outa you," bellowed the father, “one of ’em's got to be a man. This is America!" So sex (the act) and gender (the classification) are different, and depending on the qualifier one is using for gender differentiation, they may or may not be dependent on one another. There are probably as many types of gender (gender systems) as could be imagined. Gender by clothing, gender by divine right, gender by lottery—these all make Eurocentric culture needs to see so much in terms of sex, It's not like gender is the only thing we confuse with sex. As a culture, we’re encouraged to equate sex (the act) with money, success, and security; and with the products we're told will help us attain money, success and security. We live in a culture that succeeds in selling products (the apex of accomplishment in capitalism) by aligning those products with the attainment of one’s sex- ual fantasies. Switching my gender knocked me for a time curiously out of the loop of ads designed for men or women, gays or straights. l got to look at sex without the hype, and ads without the allure. None of them, after all, spoke to me, although all of them beckoned. as much sense as any other criteria, but in our Western civilization, we bow down to the great god Science. No other type of gender holds as Kinds of Sex “Can you orgasm with that vagina?" much sway as: Biological gender, which classifies a person through any combination —Audience member question for Kate of body type, chromosomes, hormones, genitals, reproductive organs, or on the Geraldo Rivera show. some other corporal or chemical essence. Beliefin biological gender is in fact a beliefin the supremacy of the body in the determination of his important [0 keep gmde‘r and “’95 separated 35, FCSPeCtiVEIYy 05’6"" and identity. It’s biological gender that most folks refer to when they say sex. fimmfln. Since function is easier to pin down than system, sex is a sim— By calling something “sex,” we grant it seniority over all the other types p161“ Starting place than gender. of gender—by some right of biology. "Yah, the plumbing works and so does the So, there are all these We: ofgender which in and of themselves are not ClCCi'iCltf " gender, but criteria for systemic classification. And there’s sex, which —Kate's answer somehow winds up on top of the heap. Add to this room full of seeds the words male, female, masculine, feminine, man, woman, boy, girl. These There are SO many Sex manuals on the market—the how—to kind—and words are not descriptive of any sexual act, so all these words fall under depending 0“ Where You look thefeiS bound to be one that talks about what you like to do. That’s great, and i own several of them, but it’s the category of gender and are highly subjective, depending on which 32 GENDER OUTLAW beyond the scope of this book. The purpose oftalking about sex here is to disentangle it from gender. Sex does have a primary factor to it which is germane to a discussion of gender: sexual orientation, which is what people call it, if they believe you’re born with it, or rexaalpreferenee which is what people call it if they believe you have more ofa choice and more ofa say in the matter. [W]e do not need a sophisticated method- ology or technology to confirm that the gen der component ofidentity is the most important one articulated during sex. Nearly CV9 ryone (except for bisexuals. perhaps) regards it as the prime criterion for choos- ing a sex partner. —Murray S. Davis. Smut: Erotic Reality/Obscene ideology, I983 The Basic Mix-Up A gay man who lived in Khartoum Took a lesbian up to his room. They argued all night Ove r who had the right To do what, and with what. to whom. ——anonymous limerick Here’s the tangle that I found: sexual orientation/preference is based in this culture solely on the gender ofone’s partner of choice. Not only do we confuse the two words, we make them dependent on one another. The only choices we’re given to determine the focus of our sexual desire are these: >> Heterosexual model; in which a culturally—defined male is in a rela— tionship with a culturally—defined female. » Gay male model: two culturally-defined men involved with each other. Naming All the Parts 33 >> Les/nan model: two culturally—defined women involved with each other. >> Bisexual model culturally—defined men and women who could be involved with either culturally—defined men or women. Variants to these gender-based relationship dynamics would include heterosexual female with gay male, gay male with lesbian woman, les— bian woman with heterosexual woman, gay male with bisexual male, and so forth. People involved in these variants know that each dynamic is different from the other. A lesbian involved with another lesbian, for example, is a very different relationship than that of a lesbian involved with a bisexual woman, and that’s distinct from being a lesbian woman involved with a heterosexual woman. What these variants have in com— mon is that each of these combinations forms its own clearly-recogniz— able dynamic, and none of these are acknowledged by the dominant cultural binary of sexual orientation: heterosexuality / homosexuality. Despite the non-recognition of these dynamics by the broader cul— ture, all there models depend on the gender of the partner. This results in min— imizing, if not completely dismissing, other dynamic models ofa relationship which could be more important than gender and are often more telling about the real nature of someone’s desire. There are so many factors on which we could base sexual orientation. Examples of alternate dynamic models include: >> Butch/Femme model, however that may be defined by its partici— pants. Butch style, whether worn by men or women, is a symbol of detachment. Dressing butch gives the wearer the protection ofbeing the observer, not the object. A femme-y look, by contrast, suggests self- display, whether in a quietly demure or sexually flashy fashion. Butch is a style of understatement: “I don‘t need to show flesh because I am in a position to choose. Butch 34 GENDER OUTLAW Naming All the Parts 35 is no coy "come hither" look, but a chal- Adult/Child models lenge—"l see you and maybe i like what i Same—aged models see. “ Parent/ Child model: There is something about femme-y style Multiple partners models that in itself produces insecurity, a sense of Able—bodied models vulnerability and exposure. The femme Dfirentbr—abledbodies models invites the gaze and it takes a great deal of Reproductive models feminine self-confidence to risk that kind of Owner/ Slave models scrutiny. M onogamous models —Wendy Chapkis. Non—monogamous models Beauty Secrets: Women and the Politics of Appearance, I986 ‘ I’m sure I’m leaving models out ofthis, and someone is going to be real— ly upset that I didn’t think of them, but the point is there’s more to sex » Top/Bottom model which can be further sub-classified as domi— g (the act) than gender (one classification ofidentity). nant/submissive or sadist/masochist. Try making a list ol ways in which sexual preference or The bottom is responsible for being obedi- _ orientation could be measured, and then add to that list ent, for carrying out her top’s orders with (or subtract from it) every day for a month, or a year (or dispatch and grace. for being as aroused and s for the rest of your life). Could be fun! sexually available and desirable as possible, and for letting her top know when she is physically uncomfortable or needs a L Sex Gender break....The top is responsible for can- [here are plenty ofinstances in which sexual attraction can have structing a scene that falls within the absolutely nothing to do with the gender ofone’s partner. bottom's limits, although it is permissible to stretch her limit if she suddenly discov- When Batman and Catwoman try to get it ers the capacity to go further than she ever 5 0" S€Xually. it only works when they are has before. —Pat Calilia, Sapphistry: The Book of Lesbian Sexuality, I983 both in their coped crusader outfits. Naked heterosexuality is a miserable failure between them....When they encounter each other in costume however There are also: something much sexier happens and the Butch/Butt}; models k l l l l l i i Femme/Femme model: i where we get to hear the delicious sound 5 r i only thing missing is a really good scene Triad (or more) models of Cotwomari's latex rubbing on Batman‘s Human/Animal models black rubber/leather skin. To me their 36 GENDER OUTLAW Naming All the Parts 37 flirtation in capes looked queer precisely Slde COlOl' Right Side because it was not heterosexual. they Fm “Wk” Red Fist Fuckee were not man and woman, they were but Anal sex- ToP Dark Blue Anal Sex, Bottom and cat, or latex and rubber, or feminist oral Sex, ToP Light Blue Oral Sex, Bottom and vigilante: gender became irrelevant L‘Bht S/llr TOP BObin’S Egg Blue Light 5/", Bottom and sexuality was dependent on many F0“ Emmy Top Mustard Foot Fetish, Bottom other factors... ‘Wmng Gm' T°P orange Anything 5°95. Bottom You could also read their sexual encoun- 6”“ Golden Showers YEllOW Wants Golden Showers ters as the kind of sex play between gay Hum". Swing Green Hustler, Buying men and lesbians that we are hearing so U-“llormslnllltafl. TOP Olive Drab Uniforms/Military, Bottom much about recently: in other words, the Likes Bowm' Ch'CkenhaWk White Home (0’ Virgin) sexual encounter is queer because both v'mm" 3‘9"“ White Lace Victorian Scenes, Bottom partners are queer and the genders of Dogs Bondage Grey Wants to be put in Bondage the participants are less relevant. just Sh'tscenesr T°P. . Brown Shit Scenes, Bottom because Batman is male and Catwoman is “S3” 5/” 8‘ Wh'Pl’mgv T°P Blafk Heavy S/H & Whipping, Bottom female does not make their interactions Piercer ' purple mm“ heterosexual—think about it, there is L'k“ M°"5t’"3t'"g women Maroon ls Menstruating nothing straight about two people getting Gmul’ sex» Top l-aVender Group Sex, Bottom Breast Fondler Pink Breast Fondlee it on in rubber and latex costumes. wear- ing eyemasks and carrying whips and other accautrements. —-Judith Halberstam. “Queer Creatures." On Our Backs, Nov/Dec, I992 Sexual preference could be based on genital preference. (This is not the same as saying preference for a specific gender, unless you’re basing your definition of gender on the presence or absence of some comblna- tion of genitals.) Preference could also be based on the klnd of sex am one prefers, and, in fact, elaborate systems exist to distinguish just that, and to announce it to the world at large. For example, here’s a handker- I love this code! It gave me quite a few ideas when I first read it. But despite the many variations possible, sexual orientation/preference remains culturally linked to our gender system (and by extension to gender identity) through the fact that it’s most usually based on the gender of one’s partner. This link probably accounts for much of the tangle between sex and gender. The confusion between sex and gender affects more than individu— als and relationships. The conflation of sex and gender contributes to the linking together of the very different subcultures of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, leather sexers, sex—workers, and the transgendered. A common misconception is that male cross-dressers are both gay and prostitutes, whereas the truth of the matter is that most cross-dressers that I’ve met hold down more chief code from the Samois Collective’s Coming To Power. The code is used for displaying preference in sexual behavior. Colors mean active if worn on the left side, or passive if worn on the right. A . ' . mamS‘ream IObS. careers. or prolessrons, are married, and are practicing heterosexuals. 38 GENDER OUTLAW A dominant culture tends to combine its subcultures into manageable units. As a result, those who practice non—traditional sex are seen by members of the dominant culture (as well as by members of sex and gender subcultures) as a whole with those who don non—traditional gen— der roles and identities. Any work to deconstruct the gender system needs to take into account the artificial amalgam of subcultures, which might itself collapse if the confusion of terms holding it together were to be settled. In any case, if we buy into categories of sexual orientation based solely on gender—heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual—we’re cheat— ing ourselves ofa searching examination of our real sexual preferences. In the same fashion, by subscribing to the categories of gender based solely on the male/female binary, we cheat ourselves of a searching examination ofour real gender identity. And now we can park sex offto the side for a while, and bring this essay back around to gender. D e site I was not an unattractive man. People’s reactions to my gender change often included the remonstrative, “But you're such a good—looking guy!” Nowadays, as I navigate the waters between male and female, there are still people attracted to me. At first, my reaction was fear: “What kind of pervert,” I thought, “would be attracted to a freak like me?” As I got over that internalized phobia of my transgender status, I began to get curious about the nature of desire, sex, and identity. When, for exam— ple, I talk about the need to do away with gender, I always get looks of horror from the audience: “What about desire and attraction!" they want to know, “How can you have desire with no gender?” They’ve got a good point: the concepts of sex and gender seem to overlap around the phenomenon of desire. So I began to explore my transgendered rela— tionship to desire. About five months into living full-time as a woman, l woke up one morning and felt really good about the day. I got dressed for work, and checking the mirror beforel left, I liked what I saw—at last! I opened the door to Mam-ammna-wmma.»ww A . N. . .. n, Naming All the Parts 39 leave the building, only to find two workmen standing on the porch, the hand of one poised to knock on the door. This workman's face lit up when he saw me. “Well!” he said, “Don't you look beautiful today." At that moment, I realized I didn’t know how to respond to that. l felt like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck. I really wasn’t prepared for people to be attracted to me. To this day, I don't know how to respond to a man who's attracted to me—I never learned the rituals. To me, desire is a wish to experience someone or something that I’ve never experienced, or that I’m not currently experiencing. Usually, I need an identity appropriate (or appropriately inappropriate) to the context in which I want to experience that person or thing. This con— text could be anything: a romantic involvement, 3 tennis match, or a boat trip up a canal. On a boat trip up the canal, I could appropriately be a passenger or a crew member. In a tennis match, I could be a player, an audience member, a concessionaire, a referee, a member of the grounds staff. In the context ofa romantic involvement, it gets less obvi— ous about what I need to be in order to have an appropriate identity, but I would need to have romeidentity. Given that most romantic or sexual involvements in this culture are defined by the genders of the partners, the most appropriate identity to have in a romantic relationship would be a gender identity, or something that passes for gender identity, like a gender role. A gender role might be butch, femme, top, and bottom— these are all methods of acting. So, even without a gender identity per re, some workable identity can be called up and put into motion within a relationship, and when we play with our identities, we play with desire. Some identities stimulate desire, others diminish desire. To make our— selves attractive to someone, we modify our identity, or at least the appearance of an identity—and this includes gender identity. I love the idea ofbeing without an identity, it gives me a lot of room to play around, but it makes me dizzy, having nowhere to hang my hat. When I get too tired ofnot having an identity, I take one on: it doesn’t really matter what identity I take on, as long as it’s recognizable. I can be a writer, a lover, a confidante, a femme, a top, or a woman. I retreat 40 GENDER OUTLAW into definition as a way of demarcating my space, a way of saying “Step back, I’m getting crowded here." By saying “I am the (fill in the blank)," I also say, “You are not, and so you are not in my space.” Thus, I achieve privacy. Gender identity is a form of self—definition: something into which we can withdraw, from which we can glean a degree of privacy (( 5 » from time to time, and with which we can, to a limited degree, manipu— late desire. Our culture is obsessed with desire: it drives our economy. We come right out and say we’re going to stimulate desire for goods and services, and so we’re bombarded daily with ads and commercial announcements I N T E R L U D E geared to make us desire things. No wonder the emphasis on desire spills over into the rest of our lives. No wonder I get panicked reactions The LeSbian from audiences when I suggest we eliminate gender as a system; gender defines our desire, and we don’t know what to do if we don’t have desire. Perhaps the more importance a culture places on desire, the more con— Issues: Ty”, wing that ,mlbfilflimm me if that a: a man, you flated become the concepts of sex and gender- were beterorexual, in the eye: of the eomtruct, argway. Did As an exercise, can you recall the last time you saw someone whose youfiel like)!” were“ man WM um” labia”? gender was ambiguous? Was this person attractive to you? And if you Kate: I didn’t feel like I was a man. Ever. I was 55mg 3 man, knew they called themselves neither a man nor a woman, what would it but I never felt like I was. I was, in every aspect, ful_ make you if you’re attracted to that person? And if you were to kiss? filling the gender role of“man." The societal role Of Make love? What would YOU be? man. And so socially, I was a man. No question. But I never feltlike I was. I “me" one time at 3 gay and labia“ write”, mm" Justin: Wbat i: tbe a'iflerenee between t/Je way that heterorexual 0"“ in 53" hands“. I was 0“ a Panel and “king the" women relatedtoyou, anal/1e way tbat lesbian: relate tayou same questions. Because it was a specifically gay and les- mm? bian audience, an audience that defined itself by its sexual Kate: Real good question! When I was being a man relating orientation, I wanted to tweak them on that identity. l asked. “And what if I strapped on a dildo and made love to you: what would that make me?” Without missing a beat, panelist Carol Queen piped up, “Nostalgic.” with a woman, there was much more of an assumed “man role” and an assumed “woman role,” and it was dichotomized. For the most part, there were certain constructs that were assumed, patterns of relating that are uniquely heterosexual that would be silly to try now. Now there’s much more negotiating, much more talking, and much more fluidity in terms of roles in relating with women. Also, there’s a distance in a heterosexual relationship. There can be a certain kind of getting together, but then there’s always, ...
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This note was uploaded on 09/16/2010 for the course SOC 450x taught by Professor Weiss during the Spring '09 term at Purdue University-West Lafayette.

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Naming all the parts - My Bar Mitzvah: March 4, 1961,...

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