Monthly Archives: January 2015

The gay thing, patriarchy, womanhood, relating to humans… Sigh

Second post… and not by design, it’s the second post on gender stuff.

For a very long time now, I’ve simply not thought about gender in my life. I’ve been busy thinking about other things: picking a profession, becoming independent, getting stronger as a human being, etc. So I’ve been a human more than I’ve been a woman, a dyke, a fag, or whatever else.

Recently, however, and I’m talking about maybe for about a year now, I started noticing some changes in my social interactions. The first thing I noticed was that men weren’t checking me out anymore. I was so damn happy! When I first noticed the change, I attributed it to getting older. I figured, hey, I’m 25, I’m not a nymph anymore. Good. I’m freeee! Seriously, overnight. The second thing I noticed was that I started getting “sirred” more often. I’ve never minded it, and most of the time it’s no big deal. And then I noticed the third thing: I was now socially picked out as a dyke pretty much wherever I went.

It’s a funny thing to think about how the heck do I know that I was being picked out as a dyke. I think it’s because from an early age I’ve been aware of people looking at dykes as dykes, and when it started happening to me, I recognized the gaze (that’s my best guess for now). How we recognize gazes as particular gazes is an interesting conversation in and of itself but it’ not what I wanna talk about right now. It all starts with the gaze, so I want to talk about the ways in which I’ve benefited from being the dyke and ways I’ve become a target for being the dyke because of that darn gaze.

First things first. The gaze is about embodiment. It’s about being the physical manifestation of a social type. So yes. When my matrona and my babushka genes started kicking in, that started the whole shtick. It’s one thing to be in oxfords, pants, and collar shirt as a 95 pound blonde girl. It’s another thing to be in oxfords, pants, and collar shirt as a 140 pound broad shouldered, stern-faced woman. Then I cut my hair and voila, dyke. Oh, also a brunette now. Not sure what that does.

The physical changes pasted on top of social stereotypes made me realize, very acutely, something that is counter-intuitive to my Irigaray doused brain.  The fact is that regardless of identity, logic, etc, dyke is socially not the same as woman (NOT a dyke vs a woman, but dyke vs woman–categories, not people). Woman is socially straight. I’m not talking about sexual orientation either. I’m talking about the way one is looked at as opposed to the other.

With that comes the good and the ugly. I am never, and I’lll repeat, never, catcalled. I never feel like I might be raped if I walk around at night unaccompanied. I never feel the social pressure of giggling, being delicate, biting my tongue, etc. As a dyke, in that sense, I have more social freedom than a woman. Now there’s also the ugly  thing I tend to forget since my life is so cushy: Dyke is still a fag homo target scum of the earth in a lot of situations.

Without even going to the extreme of death threats and total exclusion from employment or other civic participation (not that that extreme doesn’t exist), I can see ways in which being a dyke puts me in a social pickle. To unpack that pickle, I think I’ll start with the limitations of the stereotype of dyke. It’s really not broad enough to call to mind different social expectations for different social expectations. Woman can be so many things. Dyke can only be one. So even when I find social comfort, which I do, quite often, that comfort is non-transferable to other social situations. I haven’t the slightest clue how to take the dyke at work, dyke at the drinking table with friends, dyke with cats, and transport her into a private interaction with another human being. Stone butch? No thanks.

That’s where I think patriarchy comes to play. The social comfort of dyke is patriarchal. Dyke is almost guy. It’s an old argument and a cliche, but I see no way around it. It’s true. It takes me back to my previous post: dyke in a dress equals total stripping of that social comfort. And that patriarchy makes dyke a monochrome, the way I see it. When I try to take dyke into the chambers of intimacy (emotional, physical), I find that it has no reach there. Dyke in those quarters is woman. And woman with woman in patriarchy equals abuse. The relationship is everywhere in literature: the trope of women hating each other in big family epics, the witches in the Disney movies, etc.

So to be comfortable in private with another woman I have to find a way around that? In the words of Peggy’s mom from Mad Men: “Are you lonely? Get a cat. 12 years later that cat dies. You get another cat. Do that one more time, and then you’re done.”

But, but!!! Ai ai. Fica pra outro dia.

Sounding Smart, Wearing a Dress, and a Third Item for Grammar

The idea that trying to sound smart gets in the way of actual intelligent thinking is as old as… I have no idea. I do’t need to be smart here. But it’s true. Most of the time, even when I am writing something I feel legitimately ready to talk about, the dominant thought in my mind is to sound smart with each and every sentence. More than once, I’ve found myself proofreading by running my eyes over each sentence and going, “Thought makes sense, drives the argument forward, sounds smart, NEXT!”

The problem with the whole sounding smart thing is that, at least in my case, it’s not an afterthought. It is part of the second-by-second act of writing. I have no idea how to detach it from the other decisions I’m making. If I start trying not to try to sound smart, I’m naked. I don’t think it’s because all I’m doing is trying to sound smart. It’s more like sounding smart holds everything together.

So I ask myself: Naked? Is that the feeling? Or is it more like a feeling of wearing clothes that make you feel completely unlike yourself? I don’t mean wearing a color that doesn’t go with your eyes or even wearing a costume. I’m talking about the feeling you get when you are in a social situation that is familiar to you with clothes that are unfamiliar to you.

Hmm…Dress?

Yes. Trying to try not to sound smart is like doing my job, driving my car, grocery shopping, drinking in a dress. I mean it. Just picturing it, I get the sense that everything I am would fall apart.

Now, I’m not talking about trying a dress in front of the mirror when you’re alone and making funny poses at the mirror. I’also not talking about wearing it ironically. I’m talking about just being another woman in the store, at work, etc, in a dress. I don’t think I could even order a coffee.

And as a matter of fact, I’ve been asked to do it. Someone whose being smart I respect a lot said, “You should do it. Wear a dress to work. See how you feel. The vulnerability. It will force you to…” The memory cuts there. Freud? Shush.

Am I gonna do it? I don’t know. Am I gonna try to try not to sound smart? Well.. This is my trying it on and making faces at the mirror.