Recently I was talking to someone I respect a great deal, and she said something I've often thought as well: many people are more uncomfortable with gender nonconformity than with homosexuality. Of course, the two often go hand in hand. But let's assume, for a moment, that we can disaggregate them.
In my work circles, which mostly comprise upper-middle-class NPR listeners, few people care if your partner is male or female. Same-sex partnership is still noteworthy, interesting, and a titillating gossip source to some people, but for the most part, it's not a big issue. Homos abound at high levels in my profession, and most are pretty open. But I have trouble coming up with examples of high-powered women in my profession who wear mostly men's clothing. If you're a woman giving a conference talk, it's not that big a deal to mention your same-sex partner. It is a big deal to wear a necktie. No one else does it, and you're likely to be seen as "making a statement."
For me, this begs two questions: (1) Why?; (2) What implications does this have for my own self-presentation? Today, I'll write about the former.
Here's my guess: looking gender-conforming still adheres to people's ideas and assumptions about gender--the idea that men "are" and "look" a certain way, and that women "are" and "look" a different way. If we define homosexuality narrowly (as I think most people do, particularly non-queers), it only challenges one aspect of gender typicality: whom you sleep with.
It's as if are only two kinds of ice cream, and ice cream always comes in double scoops: one vanilla, one chocolate. This is what most people always order, then later they learn that some people order two scoops of vanilla or two scoops of chocolate. "Fine," they think. "Some people like two scoops of the same thing. But there are still just two kinds of ice cream."
In contrast, if someone orders vanilla with chocolate swirls and says, "It's still vanilla--it just has chocolate swirls in it," (or if, God forbid, they order strawberry) this challenges people's fundamental ideas about the kinds of ice cream that exist.
In this way, gender nonconformists mess with people's categories. A woman in a tie, when only men are wearing ties, is like chocolate chip ice cream. "What IS that?" people think. "No flavor I've ever seen." This is probably why, as Kristen Schilt writes in One of the Guys, when people go from identifying as butch women to identifying as trans men, they become more accepted in the workplace. As butch women, people viewed them as gender atypical. When they become trans men, people can say, "Oh, I kind of understand--you were really chocolate all along!"
As more states adopt legal protections based on sexual orientation, I think gender conformity will be one of the next frontiers. This is closely tied--though not identical--to the fight for trans rights, providing another reason to help fight for the rights of all other queers, not just your personal subset.
For now, I'll leave the conversation there. What do you think, dear readers? In your everyday work lives, what's people's reaction to sexual orientation versus gender nonconformity?
I'm lucky enough to have a fabulous relationship with my mom. We don't always perfectly understand each other, but we know each other better than almost anyone else knows us. And I really wish I could be celebrating Mothers' Day with her today (albeit one of those arbitrary holidays that we celebrate largely because Hallmark tells us to--but that doesn't change the fact that it's a day we all think about moms).
Anyway, in honor of Mothers' Day, I thought I'd combine Butch Wonders themes with mothering and pose the following questions to readers:
The other day, I had to go get some blood drawn. Because of the bizarre way my medical provider structures itself, the immunology clinic is in the children's wing. As a result, the latest chapter in my "why-do-I-get-mono-so-often" detective mystery takes place amidst Disney characters, cartoon trains, and primary colors. It's far cheerier than adult hospital, plus you get to choose a sticker before you leave.
Anyway, after the phlebotimist works his or her magic, they usually press a little square of gauze against the place where the needle went in and tell you to hold it there for a minute. Then they wrap it with that self-adhesive rubbery wrap stuff. But since the office is so child-friendly, instead of having plain old boring beige gauze, they have waaay cooler ones. Check out the types below:
Specifically, my office had the hearts, the dinosaurs, and the race cars (pink, green, and blue).
So my own, personal, bearded, honey-haired, thirty-something whippersnapper of a phlebotomist has finished the draw, and I'm dutifully holding the gauze, and next thing I know, he's lassoing my elbow with the pink one. "Why did you--" I sputtered. Then I smiled and chuckled. "Oh, I see," I say. "Girls get the hearts and boys get the racecars?"
...To which he replied, without irony, "Yep." Not being able to let it go, I said, "Wait, really? Blue for boys and pink for girls and green if you run out of either?" "Yeah," he said again, at this point seeming a little puzzled at my inability to grasp the concept of gendered self-adhesive medical wrap.
"Well, if you would have asked, I'd have preferred the race cars, or even better, the dinosaurs," I said. I grinned, hoping to convey that I didn't actually give a hoot what was on my arm at the moment, but that he might want to ask kids their preferences. "It's just like when I was a kid," I continued. "They gave me the pink, but I wanted the green or the blue."
At this point, he gave me a look that--albeit not the least bit mean--made it clear he had more useful places to be, told me to have a great day, and headed out of the room. I didn't stop him, but I hope that next time he phlebotomizes a wee one, he thinks twice before slapping on a gender-normative wrap. Is one wrap a big deal in the context of things? Of course not. But these little signals add up. They are the stuff of society, and they are the stuff of gender normativity. They are the way, brick by brick, we come to build the beliefs we hold about the way men and women "are."
Yeah, I'm butch enough to sport pink hearts around my left elbow. But just the same, I made sure to conspicuously choose a big ol' Spiderman sticker on the way out.
A friend of mine went to a presentation by the fabulous Janet Mock recently, and took this photo. Part of the presentation talked about how non-trans* people be allies to trans* folks. She fleshed these points out a lot more at the presentation, but I want to share her list and add my own thoughts as well [my additions are in brackets]. I hope that trans* readers will comment!
10 Things You Can Do Now [to be an effective ally to trans* people]:
What do you think of this list? What would you add?
One of my favorite newish bloggers, A Lesbian in Pensacola, contacted me and said she'd like to post on BW about suitable butch beach gear. I agreed; it's hard to get more beach-experty than Pensacola, after all! Here she is:
Memorial Day Weekend is almost here, and tens of thousands of queers will head down to Pensacola Beach for a massive party. Whether Pensacola is your destination or you choose another beautiful beach this summer, a few essentials will keep you happy and healthy while enjoying your vacation.
The first rule of beachy butchness: nobody likes the boiled lobster look. Wear sunscreen (regardless of your natural skin color)! The beach is a lot more fun if you can go back the next day instead of lying in bed with ice packs and Ibuprofen.
[BW note: Not all tankinis suck. See?]
If you're a softer butch, your style options have expanded in the past few years. Tankinis that used to consist of generic-looking shorts and squared off tank tops now run the gamut of triathlon-ready to super femme. Athleta offers tons of sizes, and while a lot of them might be too femme for some, I love the running-ready variety. The tops fit like sports bras, and solid colors abound. [BW note: what do you wear under that for a bra? 'Cuz my girls aren't gonna be tamed by that tankini alone.] What we call the "classic Pensacola dyke" look is easily achieved with a women's bra-style top and men's boardshorts.
[BW note: I have this one.]
Rashguards will keep your skin burn-free and scrape-free. If you’ll be surfing, snorkeling, or on a boat, a good rashguard will be your friend. Rashguards are also a stylish way to cover your upper half, if you’re not excited about any of the bathing suit tops.
[BW note: Non-pastel colors!]
For butches who hate wearing women's swimsuit bottoms, the ever-present boardshorts are still ragingly popular. Women's boardshorts are often short, fitted, and involve pink. But there's been a lot of color and style progress recently, though most men's boardshorts will do just fine, as long as they're not so long as to inhibit your knees when you're playing in the water. It's maddening to try to stand on a surfboard and get stuck in a squat because your knees are locked in your shorts.
Other beach necessities include:
Safe travels, and see you on the beach!
[BW note: Thanks for those awesome recs, Pensacola Lesbian! You've not only inspired me to consider putting a "beach" section in the Butch Store, but you've made me want to visit Pensacola!]