Gosh, postcard, you say that as if it’s a bad thing.
Gosh, postcard, you say that as if it’s a bad thing.
Since this is supposed to be a blog about androgyny, this post will be both feminine and masculine. It will have pink and blue and lots of purple. It will make you think! It will make you see humans differently! There may or may not be a stripy flag with bright colors. It will not be an either/or post, but a both/and post. This works well here and now at the Equinox, when the night and day are equally long and therefore the Yin and Yang of the environment will be affecting us equally.
All of which is just to say I had almost all of my clients cancel today, so oodles of time to write with no ideas whatsoever. Sigh
In her essay for PopSugar, “I’m Asian, I Came Out of the Closet, and I Finally Cut My Hair Short,” Jo Chiang writes about the difficulties of fitting into a white-dominated US queer subculture within the dominant gender-binary-heavy US heteronormative culture as an Asian, given the differences between Asian and Euro-Caucasian hair. She says, in part:
“Androgyny has always been about that hard-edged balance between masculinity and femininity. But when Asian masculinity is desexualised and Asian femininity is infantilised, twists on gender presentation don’t quite make the same impact.[…] It’s an ongoing journey to feel positive about my queerness, my race, and my hair on top of that. Even out of the closet, I would often feel awkward and ill-fitted. I tried new haircuts. My hair wasn’t fine enough to pull off the pixie cut or flexible enough for a pompadour, and my cowlicks were too tenacious for anything asymmetrical. It took trial and error and error and error, until I figured out a solution. I found a Japanese hair salon. They knew my texture, the quirks of my part, and the shape of my skull. While they did not share my Taiwanese heritage, they understood the very specific struggles I had with my hair.
“Instead of going wild with a clipper, my stylist brought shape to the back of my head with careful trimming. She left the sides and top long to let my cowlicks bear down with their own weight, but added a choppy texture to keep it from flattening. When I stopped bringing in photographs of models I wanted my hair to resemble and instead worked with my stylist to understand the ways my hair grew out, I finally settled into cuts that suited me and my queerness.
“I walk the streets happy to confuse strangers with my gender presentation.
“There is no one way to look queer. A haircut isn’t a requirement for coming out. But the decision to resist against assumptions of gender and femininity and race can be a healing and invigorating aspect of loving and accepting yourself in a world that continues to police beauty.
“These days, I walk the streets happy to confuse strangers with my gender presentation. When I feel especially frisky, I style my hair up with some grooming cream, and when frisky is too much work, I wear a hat. Either way, long or short, my hair will always be as queer as me.”
I like the way this essay targets the intersectionality of identity–the flipside of the intersectionality of oppressions, since, after all, we get oppressed because of our identities. Having lived in Japan and been a martial artist for more than half my life, I have had a lot of East Asian/Asian-American friends, and it is good to learn a bit about their realities. One of the things I will consider this week is where hair texture is not the only problem a person could be facing in the Queer Hair Dilemma. But Chiang’s meditation is a great place to start.
I say this because I think we all look for quick fixes, believe that quick fixes are in fact possible: “Now that I know who I am, I need to declare it. Declaring it will be easy. Declaring it nonverbally may even be easier than doing it verbally.”
Ah, fond hope, so soon dashed for most of us. I am putting this out here as a hypothesis, which I intend to test this week by talking to my queer/lesbian friends.
H1: Most people struggle to find a haircut that represents them as they want after they come out.
Wish me luck, children. I’m goin’ in!
Jo Chiang, “I’m Asian, I Came Out of the Closet, and I Finally Cut My Hair Short,” PopSugar.com.au. 16 Aug. 2016. Web. 16 Aug. 2016.
No thank you.
No, really. I’m fine.
No, wait, go back a bit.
Sense and Sensibility, 1995. Titanic, 1997. Luomo Vogue, 2015. Divergent, 2014.
In winter I am regularly sirred at the grocery store, probably because at first glance the checkout clerks see the outlines of my fedora and winter coat and only at second glance do they take in my makeup, earrings and facial structure, and immediately apologize. It doesn’t really bother me, but with all the brouhaha lately, with short-haired women being kicked out of restaurants for trying to use the women’s restroom, and the far worse things transgender people experience, it has given me pause. I have started to consider how I might respond if such stupidity were to happen to me.
The most prudent response would be to offer to show my driver’s license. Of course when you go to reach for it, be careful, because depending on a) how much of a nutcase the person is and b) what state you are in, if they think you are reaching for a weapon, you could end up dead. Idiot country.
The great temptation would be, if it were a man telling me not to use the women’s room, to say, “Oh, I’m sorry. Did you need to use it first? That’s okay, I can wait.” And if it were a woman, to say, “You’re just jealous because I am prettier than you.” But I feel like the people who are freaking out about this stuff probably are short on sense of humor or irony, so I doubt I would actually do that.
So I just watched the single season of Young Americans, a Dawson’s Creek spinoff, via YouTube last week. Although the main stories are about the townie, Will, and his efforts to fit in with his richer classmates, and the townie, Bela, and rich kid, Scout, who start to fall in love and then find out that they might have the same father, my favorite plot line is about Jake and Hamilton. Jake is actually Jacqueline, who has used her computer hacking skills and gender-neutral looks to enroll in the school as a boy, hoping that her absent mother will finally notice her; complications ensue when chemistry arises between “Jake” and Hamilton.
For a show about summer session at a (very white) boys’ boarding school, there is a surprising number of women in it and most of them aren’t total clichés. Bela is a mechanic working at her father’s gas station and Jake is a computer hacker who claims convincingly that s/he hacked NASA. The males are also nuanced. Finn, their rowing coach and English teacher talks a lot about literature, and Will writes poetry (and they steal a plot device from Cyrano de Bergerac, with a love poem and mistaken identity). So first of all, hooray broader representation of women and men!
You have to hand it to the WB, the television network that produced this show: they were horrible at racial diversity but they told interesting stories. The show played around with the awkwardness between Jake and Hamilton for about three and a half episodes, until Jake finally tells Hamilton that she is a girl, but since he needs to keep her secret, they end up having to let the other guys think they are gay. In the final episode, when everyone’s secrets get revealed, there is a moment when Hamilton turns to Jake and says, “Next you’re going to tell me that you are really a lesbian pretending to be a straight girl pretending to be a guy, because I might actually be into that.” This is funny mainly because the actress playing Jake, Katherine Moennig, really was exactly that, and it reminded me a lot of Shakespeare.
In Twelfth Night, we get Viola, a woman who gets shipwrecked and then dresses as a young man and works as a page for the Duke Orsino who is in love with the Lady Olivia. Viola has to pass messages between them and Olivia falls for her/him. And for audiences of the day who knew that the actor was of course a man playing a woman pretending to be a man and avoiding the lady’s advances, this was apparently just as chuckle-worthy. But I am not sure why it is so funny.
I think some of it is similar to what happens when you tell a little kid that the sky is green and they laugh hysterically because (they might say) the sky is most definitely not green, so claiming that it is seems funny. (And I should point out that in really terrible weather, such as right before a tornado, the sky can be green. Pray you never see it.) Humor often is the result of turning expectations inside out, and the stronger and more inevitable the expectation is, the funnier it is to see it transgressed, transposed or just tossed out the window. Apparently masculinity and femininity are two such expectations, or otherwise why are we still telling these stories and being entertained by them?
I feel like this matters in part because if we could figure out what we mean by masculine/feminine, male/female, we might also begin to unpack all the irrational fears underlying these ridiculous new bathroom bills. Given that transphobia is “fueled by insecurities people have about gender and gender norms” (Serano, qtd. In “Transphobia”), and can have horrific consequences when it leads to harassment and violence, our society needs to get a grip. And this is a deeply political social problem because, as Jody Norton writes, “male-to-female transgender incites transphobia through her implicit challenge to the binary division of gender upon which male cultural and political hegemony depends” (Norton).
Norton, Jody. “’Brain Says You’re a Girl, But I Think You’re a Sissy Boy’: Cultural Origins of Transphobia.” International Journal of Sexuality and Gender Studies. 2, Number 2 (2) 1997: 139–164.
“Transphobia.” Wikipedia. 12 April 2016. Web. 14 April 2016.
Having been sirred twice this weekend, even when wearing large earrings, I am back to thinking about the social costs and benefits of androgyny. Doing a Google Image search shows primarily a lot of thin white girls in menswear, Grace Jones and Justin Bieber, and also the occasional thin young man in gender-neutral clothes. Obviously, this is an incomplete picture because Internet images are an inherently biased sample: what comes up in the first page is not the most common example of your search term but rather the most popular. The reality is much more variegated and, especially in the wake of the backlash to the 2015 Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage throughout the US, potentially much more dangerous. I recently saw a news story about a woman in Detroit who got pulled out of a restaurant’s ladies room and tossed out onto the street because the security guard thought she was male and wouldn’t let her show him her ID. All this mainly because she had a crewcut. Now she is suing; in places like Mississippi and North Carolina where such behavior has recently been legalized, suing might not even be an option. Just today a woman in England was kicked out of a McDonald’s ladies restroom for being too masculine.
Clearly this has to stop.
Once, while traveling in Japan, I walked into the women’s bathroom and a Japanese woman said, “This is the women’s bathroom, you know.” I replied, “I am a woman, you know.” Now that was twenty years ago, but even now, outside Tokyo, most girls and women in Japan wear their hair long and dress relatively feminine. (And don’t even get me started on the ‘cute’ subculture.) That woman saw a white woman with a very short haircut walk into the restroom in a short sleeve shirt and trousers (I was wearing earrings, but they were probably fairly small). Also, I was a B cup back then. (Ah, youth.) So some of the confusion was intercultural.
But part of the problem now in the US is also cultural. Some people cling to the old gender norms and others don’t. And when you add to that the very real challenges that transgender people face every day, and the danger of horrific violence that they often are threatened with, this whole thing goes beyond an issue of some people feeling comfortable to an issue of other people being safe.
The bathroom “problem” in this country is about at least three things: physical spaces, hate- and fear-mongering politicians and media, and gender norms.
The only real reason for segregated bathrooms is the problem of urinals. But if all bathrooms have stalls, we no longer have to segregate our bathrooms. Massachusetts Institute of Technology has a list of 70 gender-neutral bathrooms in 35 buildings. This is a good start. But it leads me the problem of intersectionality, and a broader conversation about ableism in this country. Katie Rose Guest Pryal does an excellent job of explaining the distinctions between accommodation and accessibility here. Briefly, accommodation means someone asks for special treatment and is given it (more time to take a test due to a learning disability; stairs and ramps). Accessibility means we make everything accessible so no one has to ask for special treatment (conference materials in large print so no one has to ask for a larger version; ramps). We need to make all of our new spaces completely accessible and redesign our older spaces to make them completely accessible.
Politicians and Media
Some politicians lead by example, others by diatribe. If they can convince people to fear the Other (Jews, Armenians, Mexicans, gays, transgendered) and spend time finding ways to make Them miserable, then the people won’t have time to notice what the politicians are really up to and also they will buy stuff to make themselves feel better. The fact that this practice goes against all values of civil discourse, egalitarian participatory democracy, and Christ’s command to love one another apparently goes unnoticed, steamrollered by the folks pandering to Joseph Goebbels’ adage that a lie repeated enough times comes to sound like truth.
Our ideas about gender are binary (masculine and feminine only) rather than single (there is an “average” human who is halfway between two extremes) or multiple (with 720 billion humans on the planet, there is likely to be many, many ways of doing gender). In a great little recent post, Ann E. Michael pointed out how much humans just loooove simplicity over complexity. I guess that is at the heart of the problem, a kind of intellectual laziness that the promoters of hateful rhetoric take advantage of.
So although bucking gender norms can be fun, it also comes with several issues that we need to keep in mind at the same time.
So I was wandering around Pinterest last week and I saw this illustration and immediately had a visceral reaction to it: Yes! That’s it!
After my self-revelations last fall, I started the new year intending to test out the possibility of bisexuality, but how does one do that? Eventually, I realized that the local Meetup had some groups for lesbians, so I nervously signed up for a few—one at a museum, one at a dance at a local hotel, a concert, a movie, and one at one of the few gay bars in town (apparently). For all of these events, I dressed carefully in my work clothes: French cuff shirt, blazer, earrings and necklace that complement my cufflinks (because duh), boots with two-inch heels because I am not particularly tall in flats… The very first event I went to, a woman said, “Nice outfit,” which was a huge shock; I cannot begin to tell you how much I never, ever hear that.
Most of the LGBT women I know I met at either seminary or church, and priests do tend to dress a bit conservatively (luckily a black shirt with a white collar goes with everything, dear). But at every event I went to it was pretty much 96% women you would pass on the street and not be able to tell whether they were gay or straight from any stereotypical markers; 2% women in menswear; and 2% women in plaid flannel.
What did I expect? That I was a Clydesdale and the bar would be filled with zebras who would sense my deception immediately? That the room would be filled with quarterhorses and I, a giraffe bicycling my way into the mix, would smack my neck on the rainbow, the gate also become the gatekeeper?
SPOILER ALERT: That didn’t happen. (Big surprise, right?)
At one lesbian happy hour meetup, I was talking to an older women—short grey hair, dress, good jewelry: the kind of woman I would expect to be a dean at one of the schools I work at—about how surprised she was that it was my first time at that bar; presumably when there are only two or three gay bars in town, one naturally assumes that everyone who is there has been there before. I explained that I had just recently realized I was bisexual. She said (more or less), “Seriously? I totally thought you were a lesbian.”
Reader, I thanked her. Contextually, it was a huge compliment, while at the same time explaining why I haven’t had any dates with guys for the past eleven years.
Somewhere in heaven, God and Joan of Arc are sharing a huge laugh at my expense.
Also, apparently, there’s nobody here but us horses.
People often talk about the voice of a writer, and to some extent I think that can be problematic. Saying that a writer has one voice to use for all projects and genres is misleading. Look at Meryl Streep. Does she have a single voice? No. Instead she modulates her voice for every role she takes, making her one of the most flexible actors in film. On the other hand, one’s speaking voice is, in effect, oneself. People who know you will recognize your voice the moment you say “Hello” on the phone
For the musically inclined, this is even more true. If you hear one of Barbra Streisand’s long-held notes, even if you didn’t hear the way she pronounces whole words, you would know that it was her. This is one of the reasons I named this blog after the film and musical Victor/Victoria. In the film, when Julie Andrews was forty-seven, she had a five-octave voice, which is not a common phenomenon even among professional singers. In the musical, when Andrews was sixty, she had four octaves, also very impressive for a singer at that age.
The plot is simple: “A penniless soprano, named Victoria, colludes with a struggling gay impresario to disguise herself as a man named Victor, who entertains as a female impersonator known as ‘Victoria’ – and as a result becomes the toast of Paris. Complications arise when a Chicago mobster sees the act and finds himself attracted to the star” (“Victor/Victoria.”) So you can see why Andrews’ incredible voice is central to the plotline.
I did not give much thought to the movie when I saw it, as I was still in high school “singing low” and not really giving much thought to what that meant for me. In church at my confirmation, a classmate turned to me and said, “Sing like a girl!” as if that was a matter of choice. Later, in college, when the Christian Fellowship group split to sing men/women for different stanzas or harmony, I always sang with the men because I could do that cleanly and both loud/soft, whereas I did not have a whole lot of control over the small higher part of my voice. If people thought it odd, they didn’t say anything. Years later in church choir, I sang tenor. People looked at me a little bit sideways, and our choir director often found himself saying, “Women, do such and such. Men—er—Low voices, do the other thing.”
At this point I was in my thirties and I wanted to improve my voice so I could sound a bit more like the other singers in the choir. Luckily, I met a teacher named Kamal Scott. When I told him that I was a tenor, he sounded thrilled and told me that women who can sing that low can usually also sing equally high, eventually. After four years with him, I proved him right. So I could sing pretty much anything as a tenor, and a lot of things as a second soprano, but when I tried to sing in the middle of my voice, the alto part, I often sounded like a twelve-year-old boy on a bad day.
I spent ten years between voice teachers, but when I found my new teacher, I actually found someone who could smoothen out the crack in between my head voice and chest voice and teach me how to sound like a single human being. Around this time, I was learning about queer theology and gender identity/performance, and at some point I found the DVD of the only filmed performance of the Broadway version of Victor/Victoria, which they made for broadcasting in Japan, so I had a chance to compare the film and musical versions.
I got so excited that I bought a small version of the Broadway poster and put it up on a wall in my bedroom. I remember thinking, primarily in regard to my own voice, that this would remind me that we get to choose who we are, by choosing how to use what we are given. I still love the low part of my voice best, because when I sing low, I can feel the vibrations all throughout my body. When I sing high I can only feel a bit in my head and face; it’s not nearly as much fun. But I still get to choose where I want to sing, as at Christmas when I went to church with my dad. Singing “Angels We Have Heard on High” to a loudly played organ, I chose tenor. Singing “Silent Night” to a piano, I chose soprano. In a way I am both those things. It’s the best of both worlds.
“Victor/Victoria (musical).” Wikipedia. 27 Feb. 2016. Web. 7 Mar. 2016.
No, alas, I am not talking about our dreadful election year. I am speaking of myself. I was on the train this morning and I saw a tall, thin young man with a beard and hair down past his shoulders. I immediately thought that if I saw him from behind I would assume he was a woman–the reverse of what happens to me at least once every week or two. I wondered what the appeal of long hair was. Part of this is because I had long hair for a bout a year or two and it was a Total Pain to take care of and you shed everywhere. I thought he would look better with a shorter haircut.
All of these thoughts probably took no more than a minute. Then I caught myself.
Argh! Argh! Argh!
So apparently, although I say I like androgyny, what I really like is for everyone to look masculine? How torqued is that? Does this mean I am walking around mindlessly privileging the masculine over the feminine? Bad feminist! Go stand in the corner!