Archive for the Gender Category

Unpacking Psychological Shit

Posted in Feminism, Gender, Romance, Sexuality on January 28, 2009 by alterisego

Tonight I finished this book called Middlesex. I don’t really want to take the time to summarize it, but very briefly the central plot point is that the main character is intersexed: genetically male, but with hormonal imbalances that made his genitalia appear female, and so he was raised as a girl until he was a teenager. It’s a great novel—not life-changing or anything, but a great novel. But in the midst of that, it’s cast me into self-doubt. It’s made me wonder what and who the fuck I am.

Obviously my genitalia are as normal as any girl’s, except for the fact that I’ve never taken a good look at them and don’t care to, nor have I ever been successful at masturbation. I’ve never inserted anything into my vagina, be it a tampon or fingers or the other things one puts in vaginas. I’ve never been able to have the least female and feminine success with what goes on down there. What’s more, it all disgusts me. I don’t want to touch my genitals because they’re gross. Revolting. Something I just want to hide away and not think about.

And so I get on in a state of prepubescent androgyny. I don’t hide my breasts or my hips. I don’t pursue hormones or surgery. I don’t try to live as a man. But I try to defeminize myself, and to desexualize myself. Somehow it’s safer to avoid any clothing that one finds in the girls’ section, and to wear the most conservative and least sexy of all women’s underwear, which is where I can’t hide. My underwear bespeaks old lady, or Christian homeschooled girl, because I don’t have to worry—and also hope—that no one will ever see me in it. The first thing I do in the morning is have a shower and dress. The last thing I do at night is put on pyjamas and get into bed, pulling the covers up over my head.

But I can’t explain why this is. I don’t understand what makes me hate so much my body and my life as a girl, as a woman. I can’t explain what makes me shrink away from the epithet of “woman,” the worry that now that I am so nearly 19 that I may call myself so, now that I am physiologically adult, I have to be a “woman.” I’m okay with being an “adult”—with doing my taxes, with working to pay for anything that isn’t tuition, room, and board, with making my own life choices. But being a “woman”? Being an individual who bleeds every month, who has to take pills in order to keep it in check, and to not become pregnant? Who has to worry about becoming pregnant? Who has to fight every day against the preconceptions and the barriers that a name and a birth certificate and the genitals behind them bestow upon her? Who is a “her,” undeniably, and who hates all that this entails.

I had this conversation with my mom last night, and she asked me why I was letting someone else define “woman” for me. Though she acknowledged that it was understandable why I felt this way, because you guys may deny it, but my mom and my dad and my sister and I have had many conversations about the culture of masculinity at my high school, and how damaging it is to those who try to beat it. Many of my female classmates tried to beat it by being attractive and appealing. And I tried to beat it by becoming androgynous and dirty-minded, by trying to beat them all, the smart and popular boys that is, at their own game. But it never worked, because I am a woman. I was never captain of my quizbowl team, which was all I dreamed for high school, and every match senior year I came home crying because my coach still liked the (male) captain better. Because I am a woman, I cried.

It’s this I hate, this gender essentialism that pervades my life. And I try to get past, and explain, and overcome, the deep abiding resentment that boils within me, the anger of high school and at high school, the tears rushing burning to my eyes right now as I think about how marginalized, how isolated, how other I felt. And I think that is part of it, how I turned away from dresses and dolls and imaginary games, to become, or attempt to become, collegiate androgyny of time immemorial. I channel a different time, when gender-bending was de rigeur, and I sit on my couch now in retro jeans, corduroy button-down, and this tweed blazer I love so much, gazing up at Allen Ginsberg on my opposite wall and thinking of the image I try to cultivate.

The friends I’ve made here remind me of this line-straddling, and make me consider what I might have been if it weren’t for my middle school, my high school, and what it all did to me as I tried not to be plowed under. The person I like the most here in college—I wouldn’t go so far as to say “best friend,” but certainly one of my favorite people—is a man who’s the kind of nerd I always was, before. Back when I wore long dresses or sometimes a Thomas Jefferson costume. He is the first person since my beloved seventh grade teacher to know about the Jacobite rebellions, to rekindle my love of the Royal Navy, to talk to me about fantasy books starring woodland creatures, to sit down with me and play Age of Empires on his MacBook. And he isn’t a man’s man; he’s gay in an Oscar Wilde way, all channeled into his intellectualism and his posturing, the way he drinks tea in his sweater vest, the way he sits with his leg folded under him and declaims, in his Oxford accent, about Victorian essayists. I don’t have to run to keep up with him in the masculinity race; I don’t have to be competitive except when playing Risk, and that’s a competition I take joy in. He’s brilliant, probably smarter than me, and yet he doesn’t beat me down. His friends don’t ignore me. Because here in the world of university, there are people to whom gender essentialism isn’t everything. I’ve found my belonging among the gay men and their allies, for some reason, and it ceases to matter constantly that I’m left behind for having breasts and a vagina. I could wear a tie or a dress; they don’t bat an eyelid. They’re used to things either way.

But if they’re not gender-essentialist, I am, or else I wouldn’t balk so at “woman.” Which is of course a bad thing to be, a very silly thing to be when you identify as feminist, when you identify as queer, and when you’re conversant in the language of theory that comes with that. I’m a tool of the patriarchy, then; I’m letting the patriarchal society define my gender and its roles. I’m letting it tell me that I’m not a good enough woman, that I therefore must be Other. Which isn’t a feminist thing to do. Which is a dangerous, wrong, and politically incorrect thing to do. To call myself not-woman makes me feel guilty, a traitor to my gonads.

But on the other hand, I think, a certain brand of feminism can no more tell me what to call myself than it can order me that my rape fantasies and my submission are anti-feminist, that I’m a tool of the patriarchy in that respect. We know that’s not true. We’ve been through that before. So need we worry about the woman, either?

I do, though, you see, because I worry how artificial it is, how much of it is a pure posture, a reaction to years of my life as a subject of sexism (and I know that sexism’s there. That’s one thing I’m sure about). And I also worry because I know that’s not the only reason. That there’s more, deeper, that I can’t divine, to the horror I feel, the bile that rises in my throat, when I try to touch myself, and the shame I feel of my body. I don’t know altogether what’s causing that, and for someone like me who is used to figuring things out, that’s a scary thought.

What started me panicking last night, and what led to a two-hour conversation with my mom, is that I worry what all this means is that I will be perpetually alone, perpetually Other, perpetually incapable of having a meaningful relationship. I remain jealous of my sister, now on her fifth (if I’m counting correctly) boyfriend, wondering what’s wrong with me, what’s so dead inside. And I worry this will just continue, that I will become not just 19 next week, but then I will become 29, 39, 49, 59… and it will continue, and I will die in an apartment all alone, all unloved, because I don’t know where the part of me is that can open up and can not be scared of and ashamed of myself. I feel as if there’s something so wrong and so empty and so missing inside of me, and I don’t know where to look for it.

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From the Headers That Amuse Me department

Posted in Gender, Kink, Real Life on January 26, 2009 by alterisego

From a mildly uninformed Salon article: “Author Daniel Bergner talks about extreme erotic behavior and why we have more in common with sadists and fetishists than we might like to believe.”

I don’t suppose it’s occurred to Author Daniel Bergner that some of “us” might be “sadists” and “fetishists”? Nah, probably not.

Also, reading Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex has thrown me into the biggest confusion over my gender identity that I’ve experienced in a very long while… but I think I want to think it out before I write about it. It would be nice if I felt comfortable enough with the shrink to talk about these things with him.

In which California really hits home

Posted in Current Events, Gender, Orientation, Real Life, Sexuality on December 18, 2008 by alterisego

Although I’ve of course been outraged about the passage of California’s Proposition 8 since November 4, Saturday was the first day that I realized the decision could affect me personally. I’m from California originally, and I was home visiting and talking to a friend about how the woman I was sitting next to on a plane for almost five hours thought, even as we landed, that I was male. She had asked me what I do, I said I was in college, she asked me my major, I said I’m undecided but I’m leaning towards sociology, and she said (rather strangely, actually), “That’s great! You can come home every day and tell your wife about all the interesting people you’ve met!”

Of course, this woman had failed to grasp the basic concept of sociology, but many people don’t know what it is; what I told my friend was that it puzzled me that she had sat next to me for five hours and she’d still come out with the oh-so-gendered “your wife.” My friend joked, “Well, you know, maybe she did mean ‘your wife.'” I shook my head. “Not in this state,” I said. “Not in this fucking state.”

And that was the point when I realized that Prop. 8 isn’t just about all the gay moms and dads out there, or even young couples who are still ten years older than me. It became clear to me that when I decided to take this fight seriously, I’m fighting for my own self-preservation just as much as that of a random jumble of letters (L, G, B, T, etc.) that somehow come together to signify a disenfranchised community.

I’m fighting for the right for a woman to say that to me on the plane, see what I am, and still mean “your wife.”

A thought

Posted in Gender, Kink, Real Life on November 11, 2008 by alterisego

At school, I saw a flyer advertising auditions for The Vagina Monologues. “I should audition,” I thought, channelling all that feminist goodness that caused me to read the damn play in the first place.

Then I remembered that I revile my vagina so much that I’m scared to touch it. “Maybe someone else would be better at this,” I thought.

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Thoughts on identifying as genderqueer

Posted in Feminism, Gender, Orientation, Sexuality on October 17, 2008 by alterisego

I’ve been toying with this one for a while. I’ve never really felt totally on board with the “genderqueer” label—my Facebook says I’m “gender-nonconforming.” I identify with physical femininity and the submissiveness with which it is stereotypically associated, with having breasts and hips, and often in fantasy-land with the notion of being penetrated. But socially, I cringe at the limitations of this identity. I want the advantages of a penis: to be able to pee standing up, to jerk off like a guy. I want to be able to move with that oh-so-masculine physical assurance, to sit down with my legs spread and selfishly take up a whole couch or car backseat. Every once in a while I’m seized with this burning desire to grab some fantasy woman and fuck her with the aforementioned fantasy penis. And sometimes I think I try to rationalize the two by being a dyke, by socially combining brashness and shyness, by looking at women but not entirely being comfortable in their company, by dressing in androgyny on a daily basis but never bothering to entirely hide the curves of my body.

I wish I could press a button and go back and forth, endlessly flipping: straight woman to gay woman to straight man. I wish that in an instant I could blink my eyes and have a penis I could aim at a urinal, then blink them again and have tits that fill out a low-cut shirt. (Notice that my own innate reproductive anatomy is absent from this discussion. I don’t like vulva, vagina, clit, etc., I don’t like how I’m scared of them and revile them. If they’re present in the hypothetical blinking, it’s only as an unfortunate side effect of the feminine mindset, which is only ever desirable for entirely different reasons.)

Since I’ve been at college, I’ve met people who feel a little like this, or so they tell me. They talk about having different facets of their identities that manifest as masculine or feminine—I know one person who has a masculine and a feminine spelling of eir name, and who asks that we use pronouns like “eir” to refer to, well, eir (apparently the genitive and accusative have the same form in this declension?). It’s led me to think that there might be some rationale, some sanity, to this identity mumbo-jumbo. These people I’ve met identify as genderqueer—maybe I could too.

After all, isn’t “genderqueer” the accepted label for anyone who feels that their gender is fluid, who doesn’t fit into binary, who doesn’t feel like their biology but doesn’t want to transition? But at the same time, I think this is down to some personal fucked-upedness on my part—I don’t feel sane enough about it, reasonable enough, to claim it as an identity. And on a broader level, I can’t decide whether I even want a gender identity, really. I don’t know what I feel like I need to explain or justify. I look and act the way I do; anyone can see that and take from it what they will. All, I think, that anyone needs to know is that I’m open to advances from both men and women (though as you might be able to guess from the tripartite identity discussed above, “bisexual” doesn’t quite cut it). But then I also am inclined to think that all this tripartitude isn’t legit if I can’t classify and explain it. It’s as if in order to be alternately pleased when someone calls me “sir,” fear the women’s restroom, and wear a dress and shave my legs for prom, I need a good reason. And then, on the other hand, I wonder why I need to justify myself to anyone.

College is for this cogitating. I don’t feel like it’s something I can tell my mother, or the psychologist/counselor guy I’m now seeing, or the director of the LGBT Center, or the master of my college (whom I would otherwise confide in). It’s too weird, too experimental—and also too vested in my gender-essentialist D/s desires (assonance/consonance, yes?). In a weird way, it seems like I only want to revolt against gender in order to confirm every stereotype about it, and that’s not PC at all.

I know this will take years, and that even then it’s not going to be easy to describe my entire psychological self-portrait with a single label. But in the interim I need something to put on my Facebook profile.

Gender Identity

Posted in Gender, Kink, Sexuality on August 31, 2008 by alterisego

I’ve really started to hate being a woman. Socially and psychologically, it doesn’t bother me as much: my personality has never been especially “feminine,” my presentation stopped being so long ago (except on special occasions), and we’re beyond the age when it’s a struggle to have friends of both sexes. In a desexualized social context, I can act like a man, as long as my peers accept that I’m doing so—and the peers who I’ve gotten to know in this part of my life got used to it; I assume that my peers in the next part of my life will do the same. But I run up against this brick wall in physical matters; I’m growing to hate more and more having a female body. I feel as if I’m limited in what I can do by things like the way my hormones fuck with me. I’m sure men have their own problems with hormones (for seriousness’s sake, I’m using “men” and “women” instead of “guys” and “girls”), but it’s just hell for me. I feel manipulated, like I don’t own my body and my emotions. Once a month I spend two days so depressed that it’s almost difficult for me to function normally, I get so cramped that I can’t move, and I bleed for a week. Some of that’s starting to be helped by the Pill, but of course that brings with it its own problems, fucking with my hormones even more. I’m beginning to identify how I feel about my cunt as revulsion. It grosses me out, and that’s why I don’t want to masturbate. I don’t want to touch it—though I don’t feel that way when I see pictures of other women’s pussies. I fantasize about having a dick so that I could jack off.

I’m also feeling less happy with my tits; I admittedly have something of a boob fetish, which is why I’m quite happy to show them off when I wear women’s clothes—I fantasize about people playing with mine just as much as I fantasize about playing with other people’s. But I’m less and less inclined to resign myself to wearing women’s clothes normally—prom is one thing, but if I’m going for a job interview, a skirt and blouse isn’t who I am. And when I wear men’s clothes (like every day), having tits is just ridiculous. You know how disgusting man boobs look? Ten times worse for me when I wear a sweater that’s supposed to fit snugly, or even certain t-shirts. I hate going into every department store in the city and still not owning a pair of pants that fit well, too, because of my hips. And well, yeah, it’s nice to think about someone playing with my boobs, but somehow that falls by the wayside when none of your clothes fit. Aside from a few exceptions, like when I have a crush on a guy, I want to for all intents and purposes “be” a guy in public—it’s stressful to simultaneously be a girl in private, and under the clothes.

In fantasy-land, too, I’m not sure what’s what anymore. I’ve discussed before the extent to which my D/s fantasies are highly gender-specific (dominant male/submissive female), a fact which has given me no small concern about feminism and political correctness, but for the present we’ll just take it as a given that this is what turns me on. When I first “came out,” I identified myself as submissive. I don’t recall exactly what led me to that conclusion, but I recall being very sure. And now I’m reconsidering a bit. I think the logic in my head goes something like, “I want to imagine women dominated and humiliated, and I am a woman, therefore I would like same to be done to me.” Not terrible logic, perhaps, but also perhaps not entirely accurate. There’s more switchiness to this than I’d thought, and I think it depends on what gender identity I’m feeling at that particular moment. My sexual tendency (and so non-PC it’s not funny, but) is to see the entire world in terms of M/f. When I feel like a woman, naked body and all, I want to be fucked, I want to be dominated, etc. By a man. When I am acting in a way I associate with the masculine, it usually means lusting after a woman—and then, sometimes (but not always), I want to do the same to her. This actually makes a lot of logical sense in terms of being a sexual psyche, and I bet it’s relatively common—but it’s incredibly mind-blowing to me, and kind of confusing. I feel as if I don’t know who I am.

This person I knew back in middle school is trans (though when I knew her, she didn’t know it), and I got to know him again last year, when he was still going by female pronouns and his female name, but thinking about changing. He’s just started college, and in doing so he’s started going by his male name and using male pronouns. It’s not like I’ve never heard of a trans person before—I mean, there’s Max on The L Word, after all—but being friends with him and then seeing him get a more masculine haircut, changing his name on his Facebook, etc., has really hit me over the head with how little attachment there has to be between who one is and what one’s body says one is. Textbook gender dysphoria, of course. I don’t think I’m trans—I’ve been so sure for so long that I’m not, but then I thought that about the submissiveness too. I don’t think I would want to transition now, but if I could somehow make it so that I had a Y chromosome from the beginning of my life, I think I would probably do that. Sometimes I do feel like a woman, sexually and emotionally, but yet it’s remarkable that despite all that estrogen pumping through my body (how interesting that my daily dose of estrogen seems to have only made the gender dysphoria worse), my prevailing longing is to just be “one of the guys.”

I’ve never been very confused about my sexual identity, really, not the way some queer kids are. But fuck, I am now.

My naked body

Posted in Gender, Sexuality on August 13, 2008 by alterisego

I’ve been alone in my house for the past week, an experience that’s new to me—and believe me, I’ve taken advantage of it. But all week, I’ve been working up the courage to do one simple thing that I imagine other people do on a fairly regular basis: I wanted to take advantage of the safety of my assured privacy to see what my vulva looks like. I tried this once before, in an awkward squatting position in front of my full-length mirror, and it didn’t bring me any closer to finding my clitoris (the object of the mission) than I was before. I was turned off by my “lady parts”—they seemed so foreign, so unlike the rest of me. I guess most of all, I associate cunts with porn, or at least that which is adult-themed. And I may be legal, but I sure don’t think of myself as adult.

So after seven or eight days, I reassured myself that there was nothing wrong—and a lot good—with getting a sense of what I look like between my legs, and so when I undressed for the night, instead of scrambling immediately into the t-shirt and shorts I wear to bed, I sat down on the edge of my bed, leaned back on my elbows, and spread my legs. It was a different woman staring back at me—and that was the point, really: I hadn’t struck the pose intentionally, but the open legs, the pornographically inviting oval surrounded by hair, and the roundness, the adultness, of my hips and breasts, took me by surprise. My braided leather choker, one of the few pieces of jewelry I always wear, had fallen close against my neck, reminiscent of a collar, which only served to heighten the illusion of sexualization and “other.” I hadn’t meant for that to happen. So I folded up my legs and went to the computer to write about it, without taking a good look at my cunt at all.

I was concerned that such a detailed description of my naked body might unreasonably titillate the reader, and that’s certainly not my intention or my wish (though I point out that this is a sexblog, and in such a forum the narration of nakedness seems to be reasonably acceptable). I just want to underscore the contrast I feel, when I sit down to look at my body. Most of the time it’s just there: when I’m in the shower, or getting dressed, it’s with a mechanical, almost clinical detachment that I handle my various body parts. My usual aim in my clothing choices is to hide my body, with a definite subconscious notion, I think, of desexualizing myself in the constant attempt to blend in with the guys I try to associate with. When I occasionally wear a bathing suit or a dressy shirt or dress that shows a little cleavage, I will keep glancing down. “Is that me?” I wonder. “I have breasts?”

So what am I doing, flopped on my bed in a pose that reminds me of the half-dozen naked women I click through in a day, allowing myself a little gasp before I banish the window in embarrassment?