Thursday, November 11, 2010

Somebody Call the Gender Police!

[Cross-posted at Our Big Gayborhood]

Perhaps you've heard of blogger Nerdy Apple Bottom's post about her young, adorable son's decision to dress as a female cartoon character for Halloween. She recounts her experience upon dropping him off at school in costume:

"Two mothers went wide-eyed and made faces as if they smelled decomp. And I realize that my son is seeing the same thing I am. So I say, 'Doesn’t he look great?' And Mom A says in disgust, 'Did he ask to be that?!' I say that he sure did as Halloween is the time of year that you can be whatever it is that you want to be. They continue with their nosy, probing questions as to how that was an option and didn’t I try to talk him out of it. Mom B mostly just stood there in shock and dismay...

[I]t also was heartbreaking to me that my sweet, kind-hearted five year old was right to be worried. He knew that there were people like A, B, and C. And he, at 5, was concerned about how they would perceive him and what would happen to him."

Many LGBT bloggers have picked up on this story, lauding the mother for her support of a son who might grow up to be gay. The son very well may grow up to be gay, and it is wonderful that the mother says she would continue to love him anyway. At the same time, I don't think it should be glossed over that this is less a "gay" issue and more a gender nonconformity issue. The horrified mothers were perhaps somewhat concerned that the child might be gay, but I would argue that they were far more concerned about the fact that he was a boy! Wearing a dress! Acting like a girl!

I write often about the intersections between LGBT advocacy, feminism, and gender policing precisely because, as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, many of us go against society's mandate that our sexual and romantic partners must be of the (misnamed) "opposite" sex. Liberation from the gender police means liberation for LGBT people. Yet, whatever our sexual orientation, every culture has written and unwritten rules regarding appropriate behavior for male and female beings meaning gender policing affects all people, gay, straight, bisexual, and asexual.

Dresses and the color pink are, for instance, arbitrarily assigned to the female sex in the US, while suits and the color blue are assigned to the male sex. On an emotional level, men in the US are often conditioned to believe that expressing any emotion other than anger is un-manly, while women are conditioned to believe that they are allowed to express any emotion but anger. Countless examples exist, and vary incredibly by culture.

So, my question for commenters today is, how has societal gender policing (or the threat of it) stopped you from doing something that you have wanted to do in your life?

My personal example may appear somewhat backwards. I am cisgender woman and a lesbian who is somewhat androgynous. Although I am often told that I "look straight," I have never been invested in appearing all that feminine. I don't wear make-up, dresses, or heels and I don't carry a purse, all common markers of "female" in US culture.

And yet, despite my loathing of wearing dresses and everything "pink," I have always wanted to take ballet lessons. I think it is a beautiful art form and I long to try it. I still occasionally look up adult beginner classes and contemplate signing up.

However, I invariably decide against it when I see that the required clothing for women is usually tights and a leotard, two items of clothing I could not identify less with. Even in the few classes I have found that don't require such attire, I fear that I will show up as the lone woman wearing shorts or sweatpants and, consequently, will be ridiculed for not conforming to the Rules Governing the Proper Attire of Lady Ballet Dancers. I fear that the other women will mock me for looking too athletic- that they will call me too "manly" behind my back.

Feel free to share your experiences.

No comments: