As I drove across the Everglades on Saturday evening, I listened to Adam Ant sing "Goody Two Shoes." No, I hadn't found some wonderful 80's radio station out in the swamp. It's part of my data stick of music that's mostly 80's music. Later, as I drove into the Ft. Lauderdale metro area, Prince came on the radio.
I'd already been thinking about gender and how we present, and this music took me back to my high school and college days in the early 80's. I remember how shocking it was to so many when males started to pierce their ears. Perhaps it was similar to boys in the 60's sporting long hair ("Past the collar!" gasp! "Flowing down the back!" Super gasp!).
Punk rockers in my high school in Knoxville, Tennessee went even further, wearing eyeliner and lipstick. Were they modeling what they saw in the pop music of the time? It's hard to imagine that was the motivation. Wearing make-up was a way to show rebellion.
As I made my way through the AWP convention, I thought about gender and how we present/perform gender. I realized that I've never been around so many people who I'd describe as gender ambiguous. I wouldn't label them as transgender--I can't, since I only saw them in passing. I can't say that someone feels trapped in the wrong body, just because of clothes or a hairstyle--or because of a complete lack of secondary characteristics that would tie them to a gender.
Yes, I saw many slender people who had no facial hair, no breasts, no muscular definition. But that might just be because they're young. It might be because their body will always be slender in ways I might once have identified as female.
I also saw many people who are playing with gender elements. Some were clearly performing. The tall, muscular man I saw in 5 inch silver heels with David Bowie Ziggie Stardust make up on his face and shimmery short clothes--does he wear that outfit every day to work?
I also saw a man who was clearly male: somewhere in midlife, with a silver ponytail, a leather cowboy hat, and leather vest. Yet he wore a denim skirt, a straight skirt that ended just above the knee, like the ones I wore in high school. Perhaps he moves through his days, mixing and matching elements from fashion based on what he feels like wearing.
Most of the midlife and older women that I saw are no longer performing gender, if ever we did. Most of us wear comfortable shoes and clothes. I was seeing more silver and gray hair than I usually do in the wider world. But many of us had really interesting jewelry--from the artsy chunky jewelry to wispy strands.
I saw lots of unnatural hair color too: bright green and purple and pink. But only younger attendees sported those colors. Students can get away with all sorts of experimentation. I would be sent home. Similarly, if I wore the green or black lipstick that I saw on some males, I would be asked to present myself more professionally.
I have done a lot of reading--A LOT of reading--on gender, on how we live our genders, and how we might change our genders. I've read a lot about gender and socialization and the biology of it all. I haven't read as much about all of these issues and the aging body--I wonder if anyone has done this work. I wonder how transgendered bodies age. I wonder about menopause--would a person who started out as a man experience this in a vastly different way than someone like me, a person who has always been a biological woman, but in a much sturdier body than my society tells me is appropriate for my gender--and how are these experiences different from those experienced in a more femme body?
And then there's the issue of disability, which takes us to a very different place.
I wish I had more time to consider these issues, and perhaps, even to do this work. But I must get ready for the work that I am called to do. We have a Spring Meet and Greet Open House this week. The students at my school are unlikely to be wrestling with issues of gender. They are too busy trying to claw their way to some sort of working class/middle class existence with a degree that might get them entry level work in a medical field.
I wonder if anyone has studied class issues as they intersect with transgender issues. Probably. Later, when I have more time, I'll investigate. Today, I'll buy flowers and snacks for the Open House.
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