Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Bulldagger, the Bustier and the "Baby"

When people first asked me about my "pronoun preference" about a year ago, I didn’t know what to say. For me--and I think this is at least partly generational--female pronouns weren’t especially offensive. After all, I recognize that I am biologically female, and since I call my (spayed) female dog "she," the pronoun must not be all that loaded.

I tried to explain to my sensitive employers that the issue for me is not pronouns, but nouns and assumptions. I wasn’t very good at explaining it, and ultimately decided to go with "he," hoping it would serve as a constant reminder to people that they shouldn’t assume that I feel women things, or am interested in women’s activities, or have what they assume are universal women’s experiences.

Of course, there are still people who slip up. Looking right at me—let’s just say that I get called sir fairly regularly and haven’t purchased anything in a women’s department in over 10 years—people will actually say things like "Your mom taught you how to knit, right?" When I look at them like the angry bulldagger that I am in that moment, they will even insist, "Oh, come on! At some point in your life you’ve knitted!" They’re sure they’re right and I’m just trying to be something (a man) that I’m not (because I do have the booblets).

Once, a coworker was telling me about a good coffee shop. She leaned in and said conspiratorially, "and, there’s a great little bustier store right next door." (I’ve never been entirely sure if she was implying that I would buy a bustier for myself or for someone else.)

When this happens, I feel my phantom penis cinch up back to my belly button. It’s also like I’ve found myself with a huge—huge—chunk of spinach in my teeth. Like, oh my god, maybe I’m not a man after all. It’s not like I secretly do want to buy a bustier (for myself, anyway) nor am I afraid that my closeted love for the color pink will be revealed. Somehow masculinity, I think because we privilege it so much, is inherently competitive, inherently something you find yourself trying to do better.

Of course, I also get really irritated with the person who’s made the weird feminizing assumption about me. Sometimes more than others. There’s a kind of hierarchy of who deserves an ass-whipping and who doesn’t. I think the "bustier" girl gets a low score. She didn’t explicitly insult me, certainly not on purpose. The knitting offender gets a higher score, and probably a chastising remark. The winner is a 5’5" guy with tribal tattoos from the gym (I know, I should’ve holla’d back!). When I asked him to hurry up on one of the two benches he was alternately using, he said patronizingly, "We’re doing supersets, baby." Here, the "baby," mixed in with some high-tech gym vocabulary, was intended to scare biological females away.

Alas, because I didn't even fully process the baby right away and was more focused on the bench than anything else, I didn't give the jerk the lesson he deserved. I said only, "I don't care what you're doing. We're both here to work out, and we have to share the equipment…and don't call me baby, that's just rude!"

Immediately after the incident, the supply of come-backs that queers develop over years and rarely ever use came flooding in. (The best ones: "You could call my girlfriend baby if you could even imagine someone so hot!" and "Your girlfriend calls me baby when I'm fucking her with my 10-inch cock, you midget!") Seems the hierarchy is a little complex to be utilized on the go.

But I did manage to resolve the mystery, at least partly, of why people say such apparently nonsensical things to a tranny dyke. The tribal-tattooed midget jerk obviously had a pat answer that he would use with any biological female challenging his right not to share equipment. Which made me realize that the "bustier" comment was also probably an autopilot remark. A neuron fired in my coworker's brain that said "biological female" and then out popped "bustier." Our cultural thinking about gender is that tangled up with our a priori need to determine whether people are male or female. Wouldn't it be better if we thought about people like dogs—I mean, who really cares what their sex/gender is?


Emma said...

Who cares? People that aren't comfortable with their internal cues about presenting to the world, whether that be because of self-hate, cultural stereotypes/norms, or (lack-of) family acceptance. And they're exactly the same people that care what your sex/gender is...funny isn't it?

The Ghostis said...

I'll play the "straight woman from Iowa" again with this comment and feign like the point of the post slid right over the top of my head. But maybe the bustier girl's comment had nothing to do with you at all and she was just talking about herself and her not-so-secret desire to buy a bustier. Self-centeredness often gets in the way of conversations, and I am speaking from personal experience.

I agree that masculinity is a constant competition. Anyone who feels they have it need to prove it via a set of complex human displays (like the guy asserting his masculine "right" to usurp the gym equipment from anyone with whom he felt he could compete). While it is possible to assert that one is always trying to one-up the next guy when it comes to masculinity, it is not that much different with femininity. Women are held up to impossible ideals of what it means to be a woman while also being forced to contend with the fact that masculinity is held in the highest esteem in our culture. We are pressed to embody a bunch of conflicting traits and behaviors in the various facets of our lives. We aren't taken seriously if we are too laden with the trappings of femininity (certain beauty standards, passivity) and we are criticized for lack of femininity if we bend too far in the other direction. Our culture sets women up to have gender trouble because we are expected to be so many things at one time. Women use these contradictions against one another in their competition to prove their ability to be the uber-woman. If I had been the one using the gym equipment instead of you and that guy who tried to kick you off the machine had been a woman, she might not have said anything, but she may have given me that look that said the female equivalent of the insulting use of the word "baby," and if she was woman enough, she might have succeeded in shriveling my self esteem enough to send me back to the treadmill.

Thirza said...

I know how you feel, it seems straight female friends of mine say some of the most appallingly ignorant things to me. I am such a bulldagger and feel trans, and yet if I casually mention something about my experience as a butch woman they jump all over me and tell me I'm girly and too pretty to be butch and even that my tattoos are feminine (they're totally non-gender specific tattoos). It's embarrassing, even though it's them making an ass out of themselves.