Some Thoughts On Gender-Bending

My sister and I got into an interesting argument the other day. When she and Will were out with our Granddad, they both bought shoes. Skater shoes, actually. The same pair of skater shoes. From the boy’s section. I can’t say this surprises me, since my own sneaker-type shoes are also skater style, and from the boy’s section. No, what surprised me was that Liz and I argued over who’s shoes are “girlier”.

Um, excuse me? They are both from the boy’s section. Hell, they’re even the same bloody size. I don’t see how either of them could really be considered girly, but here’s a smidgen of context: mine are black, with a phoenix printed in white around the heel. Hers are solid colours, in black, blue, and dark grey.

And, well, this made me think a bit. Because while some people have a hard time with girls in boy’s clothes or shoes — or, fuck forbid, “colours” — other people don’t even notice, as they don’t much care. I’m pretty much fall into the latter category.

But flip that around for a second, and all of a sudden, it’s a whole ‘nother game.

Somehow, it’s okay for girls to gender-bend a little. To wear blue, or black, or red, or green, or grey. To wear boy’s shoes or socks. To have short hair, wear pants, and eschew makeup. But, well, when boys start gender-bending . . . that’s just not okay. Boys aren’t supposed to want to wear purple or pink, or skirts, or dresses, or nail polish, or makeup or have long hair. Transgressing those boundaries can have serious consequences for the menfolk that we just don’t see when women wear trousers.

And it makes me wonder why the hell that is.

Are we so attached to gender roles that we just can’t stomach this? Are we so fed up with women becoming “masculine” that the mere hint of femininity in a man makes us see red? Are we so hung up on gender and what we think it tells us that we can’t imagine a world where it doesn’t matter? Is this a hangover from the patriarchy, where — because women are objects and fetishized — what they wear doesn’t matter, but men — the actors, the agents, the ones with power — need to conform to a strict set of codes? Is there actually something inherently male or female about the shape or colour of the cloth that covers your nakedness? Is the concept of gender-bending too close to transgender for closed-minded comfort?

Honestly, I don’t know. But it bugs the shit out me regardless.

I consider myself pretty open-minded. I like gender-bending, and have been known to do it on occasion. But I’m also aware that my gender-bending is pretty limited in scope, because I’m a cis-female and present as such. I honestly couldn’t pass for anything else, even if I tried. (Trust me on this; when I played a pickpocket in Oliver! at 15, I was dressed a girl, even though my fellow pickpockets were all girls-dressed-as-boys — my face gives me away every time.) My brother and sister do a bit of mild gender-bending, via hand-me-downs. Will doesn’t care if my hoodies were from the girl’s section, he’ll take ’em as long as they fit and are warm. (Soon, however, I will be stealing his hoodies, since he’s now bigger than me. Thank you, sexual dimorphism.) Liz wears hand-me-downs from me and Will both and doesn’t give a flying toss as to which side of the store the clothes came from.

I like witnessing other people gender-bending. I honestly think that there is nothing better than a pretty boy wearing eyeliner. (Unsurprisingly, I very much loved Johnny Depp in the Pirates movies.) And boys in skirts? You will never hear me saying no.

But . . . here is where my awesomeness slams up against the cold, hard bricks of reality: I can’t escape the culture I grew up in, and that is both blessing and curse. While my love of (almost) all things outside the norm endures, I’m also kind of caught up in the whole gender-is-very-important swamp. Like everyone else, it feels important to know whether the person I’m dealing with/ talking to is male or female. It shouldn’t be, really, because I do truly believe that we are all just people. But if you put someone who is gender-fluid, gender non-conforming, trans*, androgynous, or gender-queer in front of me, I’m going to start burning with curiosity. I will never ask them if they are biologically male or female, or what their “gender actually is”, because a) that’s rude as fuck, and b) it’s none of my damn business anyway. But the curiosity will still eat at me. And that . . . that doesn’t make me feel so good, because it’s a sign that I’m still part of the cultural machine that marginalizes these people, which is a process that is just wrong on so many levels I can’t even. And I want to be part of a better future, not a past problem.

But at least I’m not afraid to own up to the less-than-perfect parts of me, and can/will/do accept those who exist outside the strict parameters of the gender binary. And the fact that I keep my mouth shut because I know it’s the right/polite thing to do has to count for something, even if I can’t squash the curiosity.

I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.

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