In the queer community, we talk a lot about "gender dysphoria," often when talking about various trans identities. For example, a pre-op trans man might look at his breasts and think, "I'm a man! These don't belong on me!"
But I've heard the word "dysphoria" used in many other ways, and I've gotten a ton of questions from readers about it: Can a butch feel dysphoria if she's forced to wear a dress? Can a heterosexual person feel dysphoria if she's dating someone of the same sex? Are trans people the only ones who experience dysphoria? Are they the only ones who experience "gender dysphoria?"
The American Heritage dictionary on my shelf at work doesn't even include the word "dysphoria" [what???]. But the dictionary on my computer defines it as: a state of unease of generalized dissatisfaction with life. The opposite of euphoria. I think of "euphoria" as a state of extreme joy. So dysphoria is a state of extreme non-joy? I think the key is "unease." A dysphoric feeling is a feeling that something is not quite right--that it's not aligning how it's "supposed" to.
Gender dysphoria is a more specific. WebMD says that it's a: condition in which a male or female feels a strong identification with the opposite sex. Not conforming to the social features related to one's biological gender is not in itself a disorder. Rather, a person with gender dysphoria experiences great discomfort regarding his or her actual anatomic gender. And while WebMD has its flaws, everything I searched in academic and professional medical journals says about the same thing.
So under that definition, when my butch buddy C (pictured right) donned a gown for the Ada Initiative (the sports bra peeking out is a nice touch, don't you think?), she was experiencing some kind of, like, wardrobe dysphoria--as in, help! this doesn't belong in my closet!--but not actual gender dysphoria? That's how I understand it.
Yet, there's something about her discomfort that is decidedly related to her gender. I mean, I'd experience some kind of fashion-related unease if I was forced to wear Crocs with a suit (or, TBH, Crocs with anything). But it's different kind of "this isn't right on me." And that something has to do with gender presentation.
This makes sense if you don't think of gender as an either-or phenomenon. C associates her lovely purple dress (heehee... I chuckle every time I look at that picture) with femaleness, and identifies herself as female. But as a different kind of female. One who doesn't wear a dress. And while it's certainly not the same as the gender dysphoria a trans person experiences, it has at least a few elements of similarity, doesn't it? Does it make more sense to think of this as a kind of "gender dysphoria" if we think of "butch" as a gender? I feel like doing this still minimizes the distinct gender dysphoria felt by trans individuals, though.
I don't know anything about dysphoria as a medical phenomenon, but I do know something about social psychology, and there's a related phenomenon in social psychology called "cognitive dissonance," which is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by a person who has two contradictory ideas/experiences happening at once. Like, suppose you think littering is morally irresponsible, yet when you ate lunch outside yesterday and your napkin blew away, you didn't go pick it up. This is so hard for the brain to deal with that we invent little ways to make things compatible (e.g., "it's just a napkin," or "there's trash pick-up around here every afternoon"). Is that just dissonance? Or is it also a kind of dysphoria? To me, it doesn't have the "unease" that I associate with dysphoria.
I don't see gender as a "spectrum;" I see it as a field with lots of different spaces in it: overlapping, related to each other, messy, contradictory. Some people might be comfortable standing in only one place on the field. Others might be comfortable in a whole lot of places. If I only like to hang out in the "butch" spot, and I'm wearing a dress, which I see as non-butch, and I feel uncomfortable as a result of this misalignment, what is it, precisely, that I am feeling? I don't think it's gender dysphoria, exactly, but I think it's some very specific type of gender-related discomfort or dissonance. And for me, at least, it's a similar feeling as if someone calls me "sir." I think: nope, you didn't get me right. You're not seeing me as I want to be seen. I want to be seen as female, but as a certain kind of female. A non-"deviant," but specific genre of female--which, sure, incorporates a lot of elements society considers "masculine."
I bet I have a lot of readers of all different identities who want to weigh in on this one. I'll be super interested to read your comments.
Trans issues have popped up on Butch Wonders quite a bit in the past, so when a super-smart English professor I knew came out as trans, I shamelessly pounced on the chance to ask him all kinds of questions about his process and identity.
BW: How long have you "known" that you're trans? What does it mean to know?
Allen: I've known that I was not quite cisgendered for several years, and I've felt trans off and on for several years, but more solidly during the last six months.
BW: Can you give an example of something that makes you feel non-cisgendered? After all, I've always hated and felt totally uncomfortable in "girly" things. It just feels not-me. Is that what you mean by feeling non-cisgendered, or is it different?
Allen: Those feelings of discomfort with "girly things" are part of it for me, but it also includes dysphoric feelings about my body, such as feeling really psychologically uncomfortable with my female chest and even more minor things like my female-looking neck, female hairline, etc. I have also never liked to be called a girl, woman, or even "tomboy," since "tomboy" suggests that one is not a real boy! So all of these things are part of my feelings of not being cisgendered.
BW: I hate the word "tomboy," too. To me, it always suggested that my "boyishness" was a phase I'd grow out of! I resented that, even as a kid, because I knew that there was something in me that other people saw as boyish, and I knew that it wasn't going to change. Okay, so say more about the feelings and knowledge of being trans.
Allen: I use those words--felt/feel trans or male--instead of "know," because to me, the transition process centers on feeling more than knowledge. For me, it's not an issue of "knowing" I'm trans, but one of being ready and willing to feel my feelings.
BW: How do you know you're not just taking advantage of "male privilege," since in most places it's easier to be a gender-conforming male than a non-gender-conforming female?
Allen: Because when I'm allowing myself to feel male and when others view me as and call me male, I just feel happier and feel I'm more able to express myself and let go of hesitation and self-consciousness and depression, even when I'm only in the company of loving, supportive people like my wife and my mom. Male privilege doesn't come into play with such people, yet I am much happier being male even in such small company.
BW: So, with these people like your wife and your mom, what does it mean to be treated "like a man?" Can you give an example?
Allen: That’s a great question. They don't treat me especially differently, actually; I think the main things that make me feel male and make me feel good in such circumstances are that they don’t call me girl terms and that as male I'm able to feel happier inside my own head, which causes interactions to automatically feel better. An example of the first is that my mom has always called my wife and me "the girls," but now she is trying her hardest to not do this. And my wife calls me "hubby" instead of "wife," which is validating.
BW: Do you still ID as butch? Do you ID as a straight man?
Allen: No, I don't identify as butch anymore. To me personally, "butch" implies being something other than a guy, and I feel like a guy. I'd probably just lean towards calling myself a guy, or a trans guy. I like those terms. I'd be more likely to identify as a straight man than as butch, but "straight man" feels a bit confining. I am about 99.8 percent straight, but the associations that go along with that term—e.g., uptight, not queer or trans, "bro"—don't feel so great to me.
BW: What's the other .2%? Attraction to guys (since you're a guy)?
Allen: Well, yes; in my lifetime I've had genuine crushes on two men! But nothing ever happened with that.
BW: It seems like few trans men date butches, though I can think of plenty of trans men who date men (either cisgendered or trans), as well as plenty of trans men who date feminine-presenting women. Why so few butch-trans male couples? Or am I wrong about this?
Allen: Yeah, I can't think of any transmen dating butch women, that I know of. But maybe there are some! I don’t think I have any answers here.
BW: I suspect there are some out there somewhere. (Any BW readers want to chime in?) So as you were dealing with all this gender identity stuff, how did your wife respond?
Allen: We've been together for more than nine years, so I've talked with her about my gender feelings for the entire time I've been exploring my identity. So it is certainly not a surprise to her that I'm trans. She is very supportive and happy for me, which I'm grateful for, and she is excited for my future happiness and our future in a potentially better relationship! After all, if both people in a relationship are able to be fulfilled and comfortable, doesn't the relationship end up better for it?
BW: I would certainly think so!
Allen: Also, she's had relationships in the past with cisgendered men, women, and transmen, so she can certainly be attracted to maleness. While she feels disappointed about not being able to refer to her "wife" and thus be recognized by others as queer, and while she's sometimes nervous about how my personality may change on T (I don't think it'll change radically), she is supportive and hopeful.
BW: How are you going to decide whether to get surgeries? Is that a hard decision?
Allen: It's an easy decision to get top surgery, which I'm getting on August 5! Or rather, the decision is easy at this point, after I've debated, analyzed, and overthought about transitioning for at least eight years! I decided to get top surgery because I am mentally uncomfortable about my chest every single day of every month and year.
BW: Uncomfortable how?
Allen: The look and feel of my chest bothers me intensely. I feel a deep, intense, and excited longing to have a male chest. To me, it sounds better than any Christmas present I could imagine! As for lower surgery, I'm not even thinking about that right now. I have always thought I will not get lower surgery, due to the cost, pain, risk, and my current lack of desire for it (partly due to the less than perfect results of FTM lower surgeries). But we'll see how my feelings develop over the years.
BW: Are you worried about any changes in your social life?
Allen: I'm worried about cisgender guys saying sexist things while hanging out with me (which I've not yet experienced but have heard a lot about from other transguys). I think that would be depressing, and it could be challenging for me to challenge them and "call them on it," but I would do my best, since anyone who spouts sexist ideas or attitudes should be called on it.
BW: Any medical worries?
Allen: Medically, I'm most worried about increased risk of heart disease and cancer of female reproductive organs. However, these are not gigantic risks, because I read a scientific study on somewhat long-term HRT in trans people which suggested that FTM heart disease risk is not really higher than that of cisgender men, and I have a healthy lifestyle. And like many transmen, I plan to have surgery to take out my ovaries and uterus in several years, if I still feel like I want and need to be on T long-term. This prevents cancers of those organs and also reduces internal hormone "battles."
BW: You've referred in the past to having "access to the male parts" of yourself. Which are male non-physical parts, and which are female? And doesn’t almost any answer assume that women "are" a certain way and men "are" a certain, different way?
Allen: This is a very complicated question to answer. I'm not sure it can really be explained. The short version is that my deepest spirit feels male.
BW: I think I understand that. Because even though I have a ton in common with lots of trans men, reject many socially "feminine" things, etc., men remain "other" to me. I guess a lot of women remain "other" too. But I have no desire, for example, to exist in all-male social spaces as a man. I don't know if I ID strongly with one gender or the other, really. But being called "she" is much more comfortable to me than "he." My own deepest spirit feels female, I suppose, though in a different way from stereotypical femaleness. I am very aware, on a basic level, of feeling "other."
Allen: I'm not sure that I feel much of a female part of my inner being. To quantify it, I feel like 80% of myself feels male, and the other 20% might be genderless. Obviously there are many stereotypical activities, mannerisms, etc. that could be labeled as female or feminine, like certain ways that I sometimes sit on a couch, for example. Or being emotional. These things don't feel very female to me, when I do them; they just feel human. So I won't even get into any such stereotypes any further right here.
BW: Are you afraid of getting a hairy chest? I totally would be.
Allen: Haha. No. I think that a hairy chest would feel foreign to me at first, but then, it would occur very gradually. Especially after I get top surgery, I think a hairy chest would be OK. Sometimes it seems weird to me that I am currently relatively hairless (since I've only just recently started T), so perhaps more body hair would actually feel less weird.
BW: You've said that you prefer to be treated as male. In social situations, does being "treated male" mean being treated with more respect? If men and women were treated identically in social situations, do you still think you'd want to be male?
Allen: Yes, I would still feel male and want to be male regardless of social equality issues, since I feel much better, happier, and more like myself as male even in private social situations, even in groups of women. Especially in groups of women.
BW: Like when, for example?
Allen: A few years ago, I was part of a lesbian book group that met monthly. I always felt a little "off" or like a misfit in this group, and I always felt angsty when I would prepare to go to the group: I'd have this urge to dress not just in a T-shirt, which is what I wear on 100% of my days off, but something more decidedly masculine like a button-up shirt. I really chafed against blending in with the other women. They were very friendly and cool people, but still. I felt frustrated when I would sit with them in the book group.
BW: That is so interesting! I'm guessing that plenty of them were butch or masculine-identified women. But you still felt a desire to define yourself oppositionally to the others in the group.
Allen: I felt that in portraying myself as a woman (since the group was only for women), I was not revealing my real self and was thus invisible. This is a horrible, depressing feeling that I think no one should have to experience. So now, presenting as male in social or work situations, I feel happy and visible, and instead of the dulling and quieting feeling of invisibility, which just made me feel like not talking a whole lot, I feel a positive energy that inspires me to talk more, put myself out there more, and let others get to know me more.
BW: Are you afraid of not being treated or seen as "one of the butches?" (This comes from your earlier statement that you don’t ID as butch—I’m not suggesting that trans men can’t be butch.)
Allen: No, I’m not afraid of not being seen or treated as "one of the butches." I don't identify as butch and am extremely far from wanting to identify as a woman, so I would feel more validated and comfortable if I were not viewed as a butch woman. I actually don't think things will change much for me in this regard, as I have never felt like "one of the butches." I've never had any close butch friends and have never been part of a butch group of friends. This is kind of sad, since I wanted this for many years. But I found that butch women who wanted to be friends with me were almost nonexistent, and many butches were in cliques that I couldn't manage to work my way into.
BW: You're awesome! I want to be your butch friend! I have a few close butch friends, but never a group of butch friends. In part, I've felt like butches en masse can sometimes be a little "bro"-ish. (I'm not saying this is how butches are, just describing my own experience.) Particularly since I don't date femmes, I tend to feel like a bit of an outsider.
Allen: I can relate to that; I have also felt that groups of butches were like that! I've already made a number of FTM friends and am surprised at how much we relate and how easy I find it to talk with them and how much I DO want to be one of them. I guess that's a sign that I'm doing the right thing in transitioning! Most of the transguys I've met are less "bro" and more "regular guys" and seem to have less of a "macho" front. I don't know if this is just reflective of the types of guys who choose to go to the FTM support group where I've met friends, or what!
BW: That's super interesting. I've never been around big groups of FTMs, but have been in mixed butch/FTM groups, which to me didn't feel significantly different from all-butch groups. But in any case, it sounds like you have an awesome support group! How are your female-ID'd butch friends reacting? My background for asking is this: I had a close friend transition, and although I was super proud of him, it was weird being seen in public with him as a man and a woman, rather than as two gender nonconforming women. We had been existing in the world in a similar way (as people who "didn't belong"), then all of a sudden, he was seen as a "regular" person—just a normal dude. But I was still a gender nonconforming "other;" he fit in and I didn't! Does this make any sense?
Allen: Yes, that does make sense. Well, as I said, I have never had any close butch friends, none that I hang out with regularly. But the ones I know, like on Facebook, have been very supportive of me, as far as I can tell. I value that a lot. Yes, I do get to fit in—at a stranger's first glance, anyway—more than a visibly genderqueer person or butch woman would. Actually, for many years now, strangers in public have tended to perceive me as male about 90% of the time, judging by the frequency at which I was "sir-ed" and so forth. So I think strangers often view(ed) me as a "regular guy," even when I was pre-T, so this will not be much of a change, actually.
Allen: One example that comes to mind is when I was walking to the BART train after attending the Trans March in San Francisco last week. There were two couples ahead of me, further down the block, who had a "dykey" appearance. A couple of homeless guys called out some mildly insulting remark about "lesbians" to them, which I thought was awful and scary. The men hardly looked at me. Really the only thought I had here was that I felt sorry for those folks ahead of me and glad that I could blend in.
BW: That reminds me of a time my butch-appearing partner and I were walking back from dinner with a friend and got yelled at by some guy who called us "batty men" (an offensive slang term for gay men). I wanted to tell him, "You’re mean--and wrong!" It was odd to be gay-bashed incorrectly. But I did think about how encounters like this would be easier if I/we looked like a more conventional couple.
Allen: Yeah, it just happens to be that I feel most myself when I appear to be kind of a conventional dude. By chance. So I can sometimes avoid people viewing me as unusual. But this is a side effect of my transition and my clothing choices, not a reason for them.
BW: Do you expect that being a man will affect your career as a professor positively or negatively?
Allen: I don't expect it to affect my career much either way. The hiring process at state-funded colleges, the only places I want to work, is very regularized and doesn’t allow (in theory) for any discrimination or personal preferences of the hiring committees. However, many English departments are predominantly female these days, so, ironically, I could potentially add some diversity by being male!
BW: Okay, one more question: Is it the case that you were always "really" male, or that you have decided that you would be more comfortable "becoming" male?
Allen: I feel mostly male on the inside—in my mind, heart, and spirit—so I am already male, rather than becoming male, in those ways. I am becoming male on the outside, and I'm thus giving more life and sustenance to my mind, heart, and spirit, which are in the process of becoming less hidden and quiet and more alive and visible and strong.
BW: Good for you! I think it's awesome that you have the courage to be seen the way you want to be seen, and to live life as your true, authentic self. Thank you for taking the time to chat, particularly about something so important and personal.
Last year, Australia made it legal for people to register their gender as "nonspecific"--that is, neither male nor female. Other countries, including New Zealand and Nepal, have similar laws. I support this, because I think people should be able to "identify" however they want, or to not "identify" as anything at all.
My concern isn't with the third gender movement itself, but with how people understand it, and how they understand gender as a result. Articles like this one from Sunday's NY Times adopt language that, despite their apparent inclusiveness, actually reiterate the gender divide. In part, the article details the gender-related travails of Norrie May-Welby, an Australian who was designated male at birth, but by age four, "was drawn to the world of girls, playing with dolls..." Later in life, Norrie underwent gender reassignment surgery and identified as female. Although this development was gratifying, she found she did not want to "dissociate [her]self from aspects... simply because they were labeled masculine" (she now IDs as gender nonspecific, though she's fine with female or nonspecific pronouns).
I have zero problem with Norrie's personal decisions or (quite courageous) journey. My problem is in the way this story is told, and in what this telling means. The story, and others like it, suggest that Norrie's doing "girl things" as a kid was a clue to her female-ness, but that her refusal to let go of "masculine" things later meant she wasn't "fully female," or that part of her was "truly male."
In other words, much of the "third gender" discussion equates "masculine" things with maleness, and "feminine" things with femaleness. It reiterates the gender binary by trying to oppose it. That is, when you say that a third gender exists because some people like "boy stuff" and "girl stuff," you're still adopting the idea that "girl stuff" and "boy stuff" exist as categories. And I don't think they should; I think it's stupid for the categories to exist at all.
If you want your gender to be butch or nonspecific or agender or neutrois or anything else, I think that's awesome and that you should go for it. But I also think it's important to fight against the idea that people are necessarily something besides male or female simply because they don't fit into society's ideas of typical masculinity or typical femininity.
This is a guest post by a good friend of mine. It deals with a question I've often received, but can't write about from personal experience: top surgery for non-FTM folks. Intrigued? Read on...
Top Surgery for Genderqueer, Gender Neutral, FAAB, or Otherwise Non-FTM-Identifying People
The decision to get top surgery—via a bilateral double mastectomy—did not come easy. I spent years agonizing over the fact that I had (quite large) breasts. I dumped heaps of cash into sports bras and binders, in search of the perfect containment vessel to make them less obtrusive. I spent years wishing boobs were detachable (like Wanda Sykes’ detachable v-jay), so I could keep them in a dust covered box in the back of my closet.
Why all this suffering and agony over a pair of breasts? Why, as an ardent feminist, could I not learn to love and appreciate that part of my body? Well, for starters:
You know when you’re out shopping and you see the male mannequins in the windows, looking all dapper in their vests and button down shirts, and you think, that’s my style? So you step into the store (in all your butchy genderiness), and try some on. The shirt won’t button around your breasts, the vest hugs your boobs all wrong, and the fit across the shoulders is too broad (and too narrow around the hips).
So for me, there was a disconnect between how I saw myself in the mannequin’s classy getup, and how the clothing fit my body. But fashion design is only part of the problem, since lots of cool designers are remedying this. It was also about how feminizing my boobs were—I’m blessed with fairly narrow hips that actually allow men’s pants to fit, and the curves of my boob-heavy upper body were psychologically unsettling. (Pro-tip: Post-surgery, shopping for tops in the boys’ section is where it’s at!)
It’s a psychology I still can’t exactly articulate, even after many therapy sessions (one of the hoops to leap through en route to surgery approval). But basically, as I grew older and explored more of the world, I met all sorts of queers who broadened my horizons and made me aware of this thing called “top surgery.” Wait... you mean they ARE detachable?
It was a big decision—especially since I’d never had surgery. That was the scariest part—letting someone cut me open, remove a bunch of tissue, and sew me back up. But the fantastic images running through my mind of having a flat chest, of throwing out the constricting undergarments forever, and of flexing visible pec muscles far outweighed my fears of surgery.
Still, there were lots of other factors to consider. First, I do not identify as a man, and have no intention of transitioning. Big psychological fear: my gender presentation already confuses people; will top surgery cause greater confusion? I’m okay with confusing people, but sometimes confusing people makes them oddly violent, and some people like to hurt people who don’t fit their idealized gender norms. I was, frankly, afraid of increased gender violence and social taunting. How would I negotiate public restrooms when I could no longer point to my boobs to ease the concern of the woman giving me sideways glances through the mirror? What about locker rooms or dressing rooms? Would I be mistaken for a teenage boy even more than I already am? Note: Again, I don’t mind the “sirs,” but when people think you’re a teenage boy, they don’t treat you like a capable adult. (But one perk is getting the giveaway toys and prizes for children 16 and under at festivals and special events!)
Well, here’s what I learned: People determine gender in sooooo many more ways than a glance at your chest. In fact, I am still mostly read as female and mistaken for male with about the same frequency as I was before surgery. Most people read me as female as soon as they see my face or hear my voice. They may silently wonder where my titties are hiding, but nobody has said anything about it.
In the three months since my surgery, I could not be happier with how I feel in my body, how my clothing fits, and how my chest looks.
Understandably, you might also be concerned about scarring your perfect body. I am doing lots of scar treatment to try to reduce and minimize my scars, though scarring was, to me, a small price to pay for living the rest of my life comfortably boob-free. Maybe surprisingly, I have actually grown fond of my scars; they’ve come to seem like a natural part of my body’s landscape, and my body seems more perfect with the scars than with boobs.
Another concern is dating. Who would want to date you if you hack off your tits? (Well, I’m actually a bit of a misanthrope, so dating is the least of my concerns, but I can certainly understand how scary that can be to find a person who will accept you and your boobless body.) Guess what? There are people out there who will love you just as you are (with or without boobs). And if they don’t, you probably don’t want to date that person anyway.
One big fear that persists is how medical professionals would treat me post-op. Sure, I’ve navigated doctors’ gender weirdness with my hairier-than-your-dad’s legs and armpits. But fear of seeking out medical treatment is multiplied when you’re living in a surgically modified, non-gender-normative body.
Recently, I found myself in need of medical treatment (unrelated to my surgery), but I hesitated. What if the doctors and nurses were jerks to me and didn’t treat me well? Eventually, a loved one forced me into the car and drove me to the ER. After a moment’s hesitation, I told the first technician who was rigging me up to a machine that I’d had a double mastectomy so he wouldn’t be shocked when he had to stick some tabs on my chest. It didn’t faze him a bit, and we talked about gender and gayness and queerness and how much he enjoys boobs and sex with his girlfriend, all while the machine measured the electrical activity of my heart.
When I put it out there and seemed comfortable explaining that I did it for gendery-type reasons, every doctor and nurse and tech I interacted with was pleasant and understanding. Will this always be true? Maybe not, but hey, you get better at navigating this over time, and in the end, as long as you can get treatment, it’s a small price to pay for the comfort of everyday life without boobs.
This is all to say: for people who do not identify as FTM and want top surgery, you’re not alone. You may think it’s not an option for you, because of social pressure or because of the mistaken belief that you have to be FTM to get top surgery. But I want to tell you that you can make the choice that is best for you and you can safely navigate this world as a female, androgynous, non-FTM, etc. person without breasts.
Yes, it is a great privilege to have access to top surgery (thank goodness for my progressive insurance plan), and unfortunately plenty of people who need and want it can’t access it. But if you can, and you want to—even if you don’t plan to transition or take hormones—it’s a viable choice.
There’s plenty more information about top surgery (even specifically for non-FTM people) that you can Google, Bing, and Yahoo on the Internets, but I am also in the process of compiling a centralized comprehensive guide to top surgery for non-FTMs. In the meantime, feel free to ask me your questions or voice your concerns by emailing me at: email@example.com.
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?