Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Murphy's Law

If you're trying to pass as a man, people will call you ma'am. In my case, sometimes it's "sir" [long pause as eyes roam frantically around my body, looking for a clue; relieved, catch on the booblets], then, with self-satisfaction, "excuse me, I'm sorry, ma'am!" [because clearly any biological woman would be offended to have someone mistake hir for a man, even if s/he'd been shopping in the men's department for 15 years]). It's funny because I don't recall anyone ever looking at my booblets before I started trying to pass.

Special note to fags: stop calling butches ladies. It's annoying, and we're a lot stronger than you.

When I break down and go into the women's room (usually at the airport), some woman-passing-as-a-transvestite will shriek and pronounce that I'm in the wrong restroom. (I'm embarrassed to admit it, but someone once told me to tell my mother I was too old to be in the ladies' room. But that was years ago.)

Restrooms are the only trans topic anyone could call overdone, so I won't dwell there for long. But I do have a few quick complaints about the men's room. No one likes to be presumed guilty until proven innocent—of crapping. Oh, and guys, did you know women's rooms sometimes have fancy fountains and stuff? That's because they're not always filthy.

But back to Murphy's Law. When you identify as butch, somebody will say "you're not that butch." Let's call this butch denial, which is a lot like climate change denial—it's not that hot! Denial in both cases is an attempt to remain on the firm ground of the status quo, without having to change the way you think or act. (Pretty much just to be mean, I'm linking to Senator James Inhofe's [PDF] magnum opus of climate change denial. And to Mother Jones' proof that ExxonMobile funds the scientists Inhofe cites.)

To get butch deniers to admit that it's possible to be genuinely masculine in a female body, you'd have to be a catastrophe of butchness—6'5" with a body builder's physique and mean to boot: Hothead Paisan on meth and testosterone. But at that point, it's no longer a question of masculinity in a female body; the body has been brought in to line. And, what's more, this Incredible Hulk/Hothead Paisan hybrid would be such a laughable stereotype that the deniers wouldn't have to take hir seriously. So no need to change one's thinking--or lack thereof--about gender after all. Phew.

As for femmes, Murphy's Law says that no matter how many times they come out to straight people, said people will "forget" that they are, in fact, lesbians. Now, lady-lovin' butches and trannies might not forget repeatedly, but we've been known to assume the worst (heterosexuality) until told otherwise. Sorry ladies.

And now, for two "user-driven content" opportunities (it's the interweb, after all!): femmes, post comments with your experiences with Murphy's Law of Gender and Sexuality. And, butches/transmen, in the spirit of Holla Back, send me pictures of the women-passing-as-transvestites, Midwestern butch straight ladies, and others who have challenged your right to be in the women's room. Or wiener dudes who've challenged your right to be in the men's room. (Let's face it, at this point, you all have my email address!)


lorelli said...

As a femme who has never been anything but, even when I was just a coyly questioning college girl, or the big ole queer that I am today, I think I've had it pretty easy. When I was a newly frosted bi-girl, I used to like that I could pass in both the straight and the queer worlds. I felt a little like I had to speak two language sometimes and not tell the secrets of one to the other, but no one ever told me I wasn't girl enough. But as I've come into my queerosity as such, I feel like I have to have little "coming outs" more and more often. People often default to hetero on first gaze. When I am talking to that cute butch or trans guy somewhere I have to casually mention my ex-girlfriend or talk about the really queer thing I did last night. Just so they know that I'm not on the straight and narrow. But really that's small potatoes. I have never been called out in a restroom, never told my boots aren't jack enough. No one questions my boobs, I have them, I like them and I hope others enjoy them too. I'm happy and secure with my femmie self, but I know my self-acceptance hasn't come at quite the same high price that others have had to pay.

Cubicle Across said...

Yeah, I hate it when guys call me a lady. I respond, "Who are YOU calling a lady?"

Anonymous said...

I have enjoyed reading your blog. It would be great if I could say something informed and decisive on the subject of this post, but the concept of gender is just too complicated to elicit any definite statements from me at this particular moment. This statement in and of itself reveals so much about which gender stereotype fall under, but this doesn't meant that I am pulled by the many contradictions implicit in being female, and if I am forced to place myself in an even smaller box, femme.

I'll keep on reading...

Hypatia said...

I grew up too much of a hippie to ever manage high femme (my mom was a feminist who never shaved, we had no tv, and I've never learned how to use makeup other than lipstick) and yet too femme to ever really be butch. My previous relationship was with a butch woman, and I loved playing femme with her. I was living in Paris, so I did my best approximation (sans high heels) of the Paris femme (which meant bicycling in dresses and skirts, because I will not give up my bike). It was lovely. I loved femming it up for her, and felt really committed both personally and politically to a feminist femme identity.
Now I'm with a younger woman who is really tough, but also definitely femme, and while I by no means think that all relationships must have a butch femme dynamic (and in most respects ours does not) I really like butching it up for her. I chop the firewood, make the fires, carry heavy things, open bottles, fix broken household odds and ends. And I love to dress up in a tux and take her out.
So I've concluded that if I have any gender identity, it's kiki, a word that you may recognize from that book/oral history about lesbians in Buffalo/the midwest? (Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold? something like that) or from Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers. Anyway, it's an old derogatory term for someone who switches from butch to femme or femme to butch. It's a word, and a concept, that I'd like to see re-claimed. I love gender performance, and I love to be able to wake up one day and wear a vintage dress, wake up on days I have to teach and wear a grad school uniform, wake up another day and wear a button down or a tie.
Of course, it's a privilege to be able to pass as straight when it's necessary or convenient (though a pain to have to constantly defend your queerness and dedication to queerness as a political idenity. And have to ask girls out because they assume you're straight and won't ask you). And of course this fluidity is based in my strong identification as a woman: by no means does everyone (or should everyone) experience gender expression as fluid in this sense. But I want to put in a plug for kiki.

Thanks too for your thoughts about class and butch dressing. It's a point I've definitely considered. I joined a queer advisory board at my university a few years ago, and the first day I looked around the table, dismayed by how male/gay boy dominated the room was. As I took a second look, however, I stopped at one boy, who was the only guy with facial hair in the room, and had a much more working class aesthetic than any of the other gay men on this Ivy league committee. Sure enough, he (now a good friend) was a trannydyke. He is in fact often read as a gay boy, but it was interesting to me that the way he stuck out was because of this difference of aesthetic (one that might not hold as much at a different kind of institution, where the gay male aesthetic was butcher).