But first, let me make it crystal clear what I’m not saying.
one must be woman-manly or man-womanly. … Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated.” ― Virginia Woolf, A Room Of One’s Own
Fatal. Deadly. Obsolete. Impossible.
To be a man pure and simple.
Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated.
What follows is not a pure endorsement, but a mediation on Woolf’s words. How I wish I could just embrace Woolf word for word, but I can only embrace Woolf for what I believe she was trying to say. In her words I see myself, and many others, struggling to define themselves within, or outside of, the two-gender spectrum.
Still, that won’t stop me from using man and woman here, because that’s how so many people will define us. Woolf is, I believed, trapped in the language of her time. Terms like “opposite genders,” “woman-manly,” and “man-womanly” to me, speak of a system she’s aware of, but using the system’s language. Were it possible for her to be introduced to the modern gender studies vocabulary, I don’t doubt she would happily adopt in terms like “gender spectrum.”
She might instead say: “It is impossible to be a man or woman purely. Period.” It is not so much that opposite genders must be married, or consummated, but that on this gender spectrum, we all lie defined between two ideas. If “Particle A” was man and “Particle B” was woman, and the rest of us were just particles nestled in between, we could only be defined by our proximity to Particle A or B, but we could not occupy the same space. The manliest man that you can think of is not a man purely. Men and women are ideas, the manliest man you can think of is, or was a human being, and humans are not ideas.
but when I started growing a beard this year, as a part of a New Year’s resolution to just be a hairier, happier human being — I wondered what facial hair would do my gender performance. I have messed around with facial hair in the past, but that was back before I changed my presentation drastically. With infinity scarves and fanciful flourishes came a clean-shaven look, and that felt right. That’s the me that a lot of people first met, everyone in the social justice academia space, whether it be secularists, the LGBTQ community, feminists, or all of the above, they met clean-shaved me. And hopefully they picked up on some queues I was throwing out there.
I suppose the concern about growing a beard was two-fold: I did not want to be perceived as being more masculine, nor did I want so sub-consciously start acting more masculine just because I was getting beardy.
At least, it didn’t change anything about my gender performance. My overall style does feel a little bit different because it’s not a tightly-trimmed beard, so the whole “fancy flourishes” thing feels like it’s become a “scruffy artist” persona.
The most interesting thing about my beard is that I think it actually highlights anything feminine about my gender performance, rather than mask it. It creates contrast; it might make feminine performances more surprising; more jarring; it might make someone stop and think.
TW: Potentially Transphobic Language
Last week the University of Pittsburgh welcomed Kate Bornstein as the keynote speaker to their GSWS “Gender and the Body” conference. She talked about herself, Tibetan Buddhism, postmodern theory, gender theory, and going deeper than tackling patriarchy, but rather society’s all-encompassing hierarchy that includes mental health, religion, gender, race, sexuality, intelligence, etc.
There was a lot of really good stuff here, and as somebody who hasn’t been in a University class in close to a full year, it was really stimulating. I need to be presented with new, challenging ideas like this.
I’ve had a copy of Kate Bornstein’s “A Queer and Pleasant Danger” for over half a year, and seeing her in person is going to propel me to finally read that, but during her keynote I realized I had read her work before in GSWS 101, Gender Outlaw. Excerpts at least.
Seeing Kate is like seeing a Trans Treasure, an icon, and I count myself very lucky to be able to hear what she had to say. Hypothetically, even if I didn’t understand or agree with what she was saying, I would have respected the ?#@* out of her opinions (but I often understood and agreed).
Towards the end though, Kate veered into a subject that I think may have offended some, and as she noted, some people left the room at this point.
Kate Bornstein talked about why she identifies with the word Tranny, and the history and etymology of the word. Tranny, largely understood to be a Transphobic slur, had friendly communal roots, according to Kate. I found her perspective so refreshing and interesting. Perhaps there are some similarities to gay men who can use the f-word endearingly, or black people reappropriating the n-word; I’m not sure – neither of those words originated with positive connotations as Kate claims the “t-word” did.
But if the t-word triggers you, sends you into an emotional spiral, and you had to leave while Kate used it, I’m not taking up any issue with you! You do you, you do what you have to do to stay safe. But the hypothetical situation of people being critical of how Kate identified, and explaining her identity, and the history of her identity, is disappoints me.
Like I said earlier, Kate is a Trans Treasure, somebody who’s been around the block and seen some ?#@*. The idea of some 18-21 year old young inspired idealistic person walking out to show Kate “you shouldn’t use that word” is so disappointing, because that same person is walking out on an explanation, something that might expand their view on a situation. Context matters here! This is Kate Bornstein, keynote speaker at the GSWS conference, do you really think she’s here to stir things up, or cause harm?
Kate humorously flip-flopped on those who left, “I’m not sorry. I’m a little sorry… I’m not sorry.”
I just think it’s important to hear some radically left ideas, especially if you’re painting yourself as a radical. Kate’s 68 and a cancer survivor, and we were all so lucky to hear her speak. Now, would I be here advocating that we all listen to old Trans-exclusionary-feminists just because of their years of experience? No. Would I advocate that we all go listen to MRA’s on campus because they’re also radical? No. All I’m advocating for, is for some young GSWS majors who think they might know everything about what words we should and shouldn’t use, and consider language to be the be-all-end-all, to reconsider.
I like the label “Heteroflexible.” For years “mostly-straight” just wasn’t cutting it. “Mostly-straight” almost sounds defensive, like “oh heavens no I’m not all the way Bi or Pansexual, I’m mostly-straight!”
I like “Heteroflexible” largely because of the “flexible” idea. It conveys that I’m into the opposite of something, but not just my sex, like Heterosexuality implies. It’s like a game of Twister; I’m straight but I’m having a good time here so I’m going to make some adjustments so I can keep playing (that sounded better in my head, maybe I can revisit that someday). I may be into the opposite gender identity, if we’re using a purely two-point spectrum, with all the flaws that carries with it. Still, “Heteroflexible” is a faster explanation than “Well I’m just not that into masculinity; I’m attracted to femininity and androgyny, cisgender, agender and transgender.”
But, I’m getting off track here. Even if I was just Heterosexual, I’d be bothered by the string of Uber Drivers I’ve had recently. The guy who shows me a nude of a woman on his phone, the other guy who talks about how much he likes lingerie football, the guy who drops me off at a bar and wishes me luck meeting women?
I’m not completely surprised that the assumed sexuality of a passenger is straight; that’s practically the sexuality everybody assumes of everybody in society, unless your performance tips them off, but how often conversations just veer into “girls are hot, right man?” just weirds me out. We can really talk about anything, it’s only 15-20 minutes of conversation, why does it have to go that direction?
Because male-to-male conversations are expected to go that way? When it’s just two guys palling around we can just talk about hot babes right? I don’t know how I have to act or what I have to wear to stop people from bringing that up in front of me, but I’d sure as hell like to know.
“Here then was I (call me Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael or by any name you please – it is not a matter of any importance) sitting on the banks of a river a week or two ago in fine October weather, lost in thought.” – Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
For months I’ve sat on this domain, Marybeton.com, wondering “how will I even begin?”
I knew it would always begin with the source of inspiration, but how will I introduce myself to you, if there’s a you out there?
I think I owe it to you to let you know that I am male-identified-at-birth, and largely okay with my male pronouns. The doubt I carry about myself is why I’m here I suppose. I graduated college with a few credits in GSWS studies, and I want to dive deeper, learn more about the subject, and at once, learn more about myself.
Hardly a day goes by when I don’t look in the mirror and wonder about myself. And there are a lot of questions. I don’t think transition is right for me, but I have lots of ideas about my gender performance. Sometimes I whisper the name “Lorelai” to myself, with confidence.
I’m lost in thought and needed a place to record the thoughts. Maybe I’ll watch some TV and break down their worth in how they portray and treat gay, female, trans, or POC characters. Maybe I’ll read a book or two and write what I think about it. Maybe I’ll just confess things to you. – M.B.