Sunday, August 17, 2008

oh you binary things

“I say a boring word like woman takes all the fun out of being a girl.” –Foxglove, “Death: The Time of Your Life”

Granted Neil Gaiman wrote that line, and he is definitely a guy, a straight white British guy for goodness’s sake, but I’ve been trying to think of where I read it for months now, every time I see these humorless ‘radical feminist’ arguments for some sort of vanilla world where there are no gender signifiers—which, by the way, are totally Western gender signifiers like lipstick and high heels that they’re always fighting, and not any sort of universal perception of women as weak and in need of protection constantly.

I mean, the idea that to “smash the gender binary” we have to all dress in some sort of clothing that provides no hint of the pleasing curves of our bodies, that doesn’t in any way decorate the bodies we were born with—some sort of religious asceticism that says we can’t mess with the bodies God (the Goddess, in those conversations, and often a specific Goddess that, well, wouldn’t even know what to do with those Western gender signifiers if she ran across them, but sure knows what to do with people who don’t take her seriously) gave us… Yeah.

That’s just the outward coating anyway. The lipstick, the clothes, the hair, it’s just the wrapping, and not the problem. The problem is that with the external perception “Woman” comes all sorts of other perceptions about what that woman is like, what she can and can’t do, and whether or not she’ll fuck you, quite often.

And those ideas come whether or not I’m wearing makeup, when I’m in a man’s top and vest or in a dress and heels, when my hair is short or long.

The idea, especially, that gender is a construct, a choice, a game (an idea I like, personally, a Game of You like Neil said, again, because I’m just on that kind of trip right now), would seem to preclude some sort of need to protect Biological Woman from invasion.

If you want to break down the idea that certain traits come with certain genders, why do you always want to embrace the male signifiers? To me, sometimes, I see the idea of not shaving, of not wearing skirts, as just an embrace of the things that have always been coded male and powerful, rather than any sort of re-empowering those things coded feminine, and so how does that help us any?

These thoughts, of course, have been prompted by another round of what Queen Emily called the Trans Wars. To me, well, it seems pretty damn obvious that when you’re terribly concerned about the biology of the people who call themselves women, you’re probably the one actually upholding, reifying, policing gender binaries.

I mean, I look at it two ways: One is that it ain’t my life, ain’t my gender, so who the hell am I to tell someone that how they feel is wrong, that who they are is wrong? Basic empathy for human beings can get you so much further sometimes than reading books.

And two is that if you’ve got to be an asshole and try to theorize about people’s lives, well, this still doesn’t make any sense. How is the idea that your gender doesn’t necessarily match your body anything but a plus for people who want to get rid of the gender binary? How is the thought that we aren’t trapped by our biology anything but a cheering one for feminism?

Is your oppression so important to you that you have to police it too? Is your feeling of victimhood such an important identity that you have to protect it from outsiders? Or is it just that if you set up impossible goals, you can safely assume we'll never actually reach that happy vanilla genderless utopia where we all wear what, togas? and no one has kinky sex, or any sex at all really because that might imply gender roles or objectification, oh my? And that way you just get to complain away, continue feeling like a victim, and tell anyone who doesn't feel like a victim, or who feels like the wrong kind of victim, that they're wrong?

I don’t feel like we’re getting anywhere by sitting in a corner whimpering about how beaten down we are. I feel like we get somewhere when we fight back. Or sometimes when we get together and laugh, have a drink, and realize that life can still be good. Thinking about how I’ve been fucked over never made me feel strong, but putting on sparkly makeup and dancing on a bar sure has. Yeah, poor deluded me, performing for the patriarchy, right?

See, Foxglove, who said that quote, above? She’s a lesbian. And a rock star. And yes, a character on a page and in Neil Gaiman’s head (and drawn so pretty by Chris Bachalo). Clear-eyed gaze and all. So who’s she performing for when she puts on her tight skirt?

Maybe she’s just doing what makes her happy. So was Wanda, back in A Game of You, when she left behind Alvin and moved to New York. And even though when she died her family tried to force her back into being Alvin, well, Barbie (oh, Barbie you supreme tool of oppression, blonde busty doll) scrawled her real name in hot pink lipstick on her grave.

I’m not trans. And I'm straight. I like men (quite often too much). And even my gender performance is drag. After years of jeans and T-shirts suddenly I wear red lip gloss every day and dresses and skirts, dresses and skirts, and I like it that way. It’s my armor and war paint and the noise that high heels make is much more satisfying to my ears these days.

And I was treated like a stupid little girl and had more assumptions made about my competence, skill, and sexual availability when I wore jeans and no makeup and worked on bicycles all day.

Policing our presentation doesn’t help. You really want to smash the binary? Fight the idea that how we look has anything at all to do with how smart we are, how competent we are, how strong we are. Fight the idea that women can only get anywhere by being just like men.

I’ve got another quote for you, this one snagged off the Twitter of a friend of mine.

“Sexiness and professionalism are both drag. The problems arise when people confuse them for honest attributes.” –Molly Crabapple

Oh, and Lisa, as usual, has much, much more.

(Cross-posted, of course)