So a while ago when I was bored and broke in France, I signed up to get e-mails from Gawker because they were running some sort of contest to win money or a vacation or something. I don’t remember exactly what. The point is I was bored and broke and living in a cornfield… Er, vineyard.
In the time since, I’ve deleted a hundred e-mails from Gawker, bothering only to open the particularly salacious ones that I couldn’t resist.
I’m so lazy, I can’t even unsubscribe myself from a mass e-mail subscription.
I got my daily e-mail today and didn’t know what to expect at the headline “When Gay Men Think Baseball Caps Make them Masculine”. Mostly a quick laugh.
As my boyfriend and I sat down to dinner at our favorite white people’s place (aka Panera), I realized two paragraphs in that this was going to be a serious article that I wouldn’t be able to finish in the 20 seconds it would take my boyfriend to get a Diet Pepsi. Now that I’ve read through the article, I have to say that Rich Juzwiak, the author of the post, is largely spot on in his assessment of gender presentation politics in gay-male circles.
This temptation to spurn effeminate stereotypes (successfully or not) is a complicated thing.
Well, on the one hand it’s not. It’s ingrained in those of us who were mocked for being girls or gay or fags during school years. For example, even though I’m an adult – all 24 years’ worth – I still have my moments where I can’t even walk down the road without telling myself to walk like “a man”. Some days, when my arms just don’t want to make it all the way down to swing at my hips, I remember being a middle schooler and my mother telling me not to hold up my left arm too close to my body because it made me look like a girl. On my better days I tell myself that I’m trying to forge my own identity, that I want neither to be wholly masculine or wholly feminine in my presentation because I think both genders – as they are “traditionally” understood – have so much good to offer. Who says that because I have a penis, I am therefore obligated to be loud, dominant, and aggressive? I think that this is also a problem for straight men, as Mr. Juzwiak himself also points out.
As gay men, we’ve taken masculinity – something that should theoretically be value neutral – and loaded it with meaning. Gender presentation = power. And it’s not just a question of in-group politics.
When I first started teaching, I worried a lot about my gender presentation, especially since my first gig was at an all boys-high school in rural France. For a while this made me really uncomfortable to the point where I didn’t even want to show my face on campus some days. I wished I had been placed in a different school where I wouldn’t feel like I was back in high school trying to not stick out too much. After a while, I realized that I couldn’t fool anyone even if I wanted to. For better or worse, my solution was nothing more and nothing less than simply showing people that I was comfortable with who I was.
The beautiful thing about being gender queer is inventing your own narrative, it’s deciding who you want to be and how you want to live your life without bowing thoughtlessly to societal expectations and not taking shit from anyone about who you decide to be. This is one of the reasons that I adore my boyfriend. At first glance, he looks like a frat boy. But it’s not the baseball cap that Juzwiak writes of – it’s his simple preference and if you spend any length of time with him you’ll know that he isn’t trying to play some masculine conformist game. There is a power that transcends masculinity in being self-confident – which many would argue is an inherently masculine trait, but I would argue is gender-neutral, belonging inherently to neither the masculine or feminine gender. There is a power in knowing who you are and standing behind that 100%.
In the end, I survived my teaching experience because my students knew that I wasn’t going to take any crap from them. Not because I played some stupid game of feigning heterosexuality or masculinity.
The first lie you give up is telling yourself that you’re straight.
The second is hoping that other people will still think you’re straight.
As long as we cede to heteronormativity, we are admitting that we fall short of an ideal imposed on us by society. This is not a question of being “anti-butch” – but a question of being favorable to all gender expression. Assimilation has never been the answer for any minority group; let’s stop imposing self-hatred on ourselves, because essentially that’s what this comes down to.