Binge Watching Heteronormativity

I am not a huge fan of movies and even less of a fan of television. Therefore, it is rather odd that I have recently found myself watching an obscene amount of really bad, really heteronormative media.

What is going on?

On November 8th, when this country elected Trumpy Wumpy to the office of President, I fell into a deep and somewhat debilitating despair. I cried for two solid days and started looking at immigration websites for countries which I thought might accept me as a resident on day three. As someone who normally stands at the front lines of every fight for social justice, this time I just felt defeated. I have no more fight in me (or so I thought).

A week after the election, feeling like a shell of a person, I sat on my couch and stared at the fire. Then a thought popped into my head, “I need to watch something hetero.” I sat a bit longer, trying to come up with the most heteronormative movie ever made when the title, Father of the Bride flashed into my head. I gleefully found it streaming online and immediately watched the entire outrageously heteronormative film. Then I found Father of the Bride II and watched that on the same day. Admittedly, I growled at the actors, pointing out the not-so-subtle instructions on how to be a man or a woman…

Man: Bumbling, unobservant, goofy, tyrannical, possessive of the the females in his life, wealthy, out of touch, playful, juvenile

Woman: Pretty, intelligent (for a girl), nurturing, wiser than man, soft, wants nothing more than romantic love, stylish, mature

I won’t go into the overt racist and homophobic stereotypes that appear in the films, but know that they are there.

Over the course of the following several weeks I watched (this is highly embarrassing):

Gilmore Girls
Little Women
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

At some point in this train wreck of a past time, I realized that I was engaged in an activity from my younger years- binge watching heteronormativity in the hopes that intense study of the phenomenon would allow me to accurately perform it.

I am reminded of all the years I spent trying to be a girl, pouring over fashion magazines and watching What Not To Wear to gain a better understanding of how I should perform my gender. I have not engaged in this activity for a decade, but it showed up in November after we elected Cheeto-head.

Why?

I am still uncovering the motivation for this recent hetero binge fest, but I suspect it has something to do with fear. I am an out queer/trans person. I write about the experience of being a queer/trans person. My doctoral research centers around the experiences of queer/trans people. My survival instinct likely kicked into overdrive and said, “Hold the phone! If you want to live you better learn how to perform their shit and assimilate into their world. Otherwise they are going to kill you.”

I had a dream last night that I grew my very short hair out into long, luscious locks. I wasn’t quite sure how it had happened, but people kept complimenting me on my beautiful, feminine hair. My only response was, “I feel like a drag queen.” I did not like the hair, but I noticed how nicely I assimilated into the dream society. This is not so far removed from my actual experience. When I shave my head, most people raise their eyebrows and say, “why did you do that?” When it starts to grow out I hear, “Your hair is starting to look nice again. I’m glad it’s growing out some.” If I ever wear anything that remotely looks like girl clothes, I am complimented. “You look so pretty in that.” “You look very nice today.” But when I wear my normal men’s clothes, no one says anything.

It’s interesting how people use compliments to let you know how well you are performing gender or not. The subtext of their words are:

“When you do things that push the boundaries of gender, you make me uncomfortable and I hate you for it.”

“When you assimilate in a way that makes sense to me, I feel better and therefore like you more.”

How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days shattered something in me. Even straight people must be offended by this! It was so overtly misogynistic, both men and women appeared ridiculous. Maybe it is supposed to be satire and I just didn’t get it which is quite probable. It did have a serious moment were the audience is supposed to “ooh” and “ahh” at the slender lead actress in her swanky yellow gown. I wonder what would have happened if they sent her to the party dressed as a Dapper Dan in bow tie, vest, and hat? And the lead actor could have worn the beautiful yellow gown (I’m sure he would have looked marvelous in it).

Shit. There I go again with my inability to assimilate. This period of binge watching has ended. As much as I might think I want to give up my queer identity in order to be accepted by the masses, I know I won’t. Living a lie won’t help me or anyone else. If I’m killed for being queer, so be it. I won’t be the first person. Plus, who knows if Mike Pence will get his bigoted little hands on our rights, or if there are enough people who don’t hate us to stop him and Trumpy Wumpy’s team of racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic cronies. And finally, if I go into hiding, then I’m not standing in solidarity with my fellow queers and we all need each other as we head into a period of time that we may refer to as “The Dark Years.” Or maybe just “The Years of Cheeto” which at least makes me smile.

No Room for Me, the Non Binary

There are some people and organizations who overtly exclude others: most religions, elite universities, right-wing conservatives (not all, but some), left-wing liberals (not all, but some), school curricula, the media…OK, there is a lot of overt exclusion in the world, but it is truly wondrous how exclusive the world can be without particularly trying. There are several bathrooms at my place of work. The two on my floor are gender inclusive (thank you!). They each contain a toilet and a sink, neither of which care about the gender of the person using them. Then there are the bathrooms in the rest of the building which are for “men” or “women.” I wonder if people think I don’t deserve to pee. More likely, they don’t think of me at all.

Gender_Neutral_Bathroom_graphic

This is not a difficult concept

Continuing education and professional development are a part of my chosen career so I often find myself in trainings and at conferences or workshops. These experiences often ask people to divide into groups of “women” and “men,” or have intake questionnaires that want to know my gender: Man or Woman? Or request that groups have an equal number of women and men etc… etc…. When I point out that I am neither a man nor a woman there is generally a question from the facilitator along the lines of, “Well, how would you divide the room then?”

Uh, by experience, interest, area of expertise, modality, musical tastes… ad infinitum?

We are entrenched in the concept of excluding each other; it is an insidious and harmful practice and shows up everywhere.

Some of the time I can brush it off by saying, “The world just sucks. This is how it is. Whatevs.”

Other times I feel crushed by the weight of normativity and want to crawl in a hole, never to emerge.

The latest example of exclusivity came in the form of a meditation retreat. The last four months of my life have taken me into a dismal abyss of fiery agony. I have experienced death, divorce, moving, theft, and loss that hurts so badly I sometimes wonder if my heart has just up and left my body because it can’t take the pain.

Such is life.

So I move through my journey of healing, searching for ways to make sense of what has happened and looking for places of growth. Healing is facilitated by dance, art, music, meditation, time in the wild, spiritual practice, and some serious therapy. Even though I have strong resources in the healing realm, I am always on the lookout for new experiences that might benefit my personal and professional identities and the notion of a meditation retreat floated into my consciousness a few days ago. I am not a fan of talking, but I imagine two weeks of silence with hours and hours of meditation each day would challenge even the most taciturn of people.  So I started to look up retreats in my state for the coming autumn season and discovered… they are quite gendered. Women sleep in one dorm, men sleep in another; there are separate waitlists for women and men, and one has to register as one of those two binary categories.

Sigh.

My initial response was: OK, well, I guess I can just be a woman for a few weeks.

My next response was: I DON’T WANNA BE A WOMAN even for a few weeks.

My third response was: Maybe I can be a man…

My fourth response was: I’m not a man and they likely won’t let me pretend to be one even though they will let me pretend to be a woman.

My final response was: Poo on you meditation retreat. I don’t need your stupid silence and vegan meals and transcendent experience anyway.

I recognize the rather toddler-esque quality of the final response, but sometimes one needs to let one’s inner toddler have a temper tantrum.

I will find a way to participate in a silent meditation retreat or else I will create one for myself. The purpose of this post is to highlight the never-ending barrage of micro-aggressions that one experiences as a non-binary person. I’m not interested in sympathy or pity; my experience as an NB is quite cushy due to my class, race, body, education, and ethnic privilege. It still hurts, but I can move through the world with relative ease even if my NB self is repeatedly excluded.

exclusion-e1383054794270

Wouldn’t it be nice if we considered ALL people when creating groups, social systems, curriculum, families, pop songs, television shows, architecture, medical care, or when we elected politicians?

INCLUSION is better than EXCLUSION

 

The Flow of Gender Fluidity

It is with a sheepish expression that I return to this blog, one year after my last post. It seemed that in April of 2015 I suddenly ran out of things to say (or that’s what I told myself). In actuality, the subject about which I write started to pierce my shield and my words hit my own heart and mind, causing extreme amounts of discomfort. It was easy to write about gender from my closet, but when I realized I needed to fully come out of that confined space and own my own non-binary gender identity, I found I couldn’t pontificate on the subject any further. So I took 12 months to let people in my life know that I’m not actually a woman and waited to see what the impact of this revelation would be. Here are some of the reactions I have heard from various peoples:

“Makes sense.”

“Are you sure?”

“I don’t know what you mean, but I know I love you.”

“This seems like it’s just another one of your phases.”

“Are you sure this isn’t just related to your body image issues?”

“That identity isn’t real to me.”

“Your pronouns are grammatically incorrect.”

“You just look too much like a woman to be trans.”

It was a long year. I didn’t really think about the discrimination and hate I would inevitably face as an OUT trans person, I just knew I couldn’t pretend to be a cis woman any longer. At first I thought I might be agender. Then I tried out gender queer. Then I switched to pan-gender. For a couple of months I identified as apangenderqueerfluid (that was fun to explain to people), but after all of these explorations I finally realized that I am GENDER FLUID and how on earth did it take me so long to see that?

I am aware that I have lived a thousand lives in my twenties and thirties. My friend who questioned whether or not this was “just another one of my phases” had good reason. I have embodied everything from baby dyke to raver girl to Hollywood starlet to tomboy… to whatever I am now. As I reflected on my life and all of these identities it suddenly made so much sense that my entire being is fluid (not just my gender!). My sexuality has been fluid, my career path has been fluid, my spirituality has been fluid, of course my gender is fluid…I’m a fluid package! I am learning to embrace and love this aspect of my identity, though it is challenging to be such a watery creature in a world that really loves stability.

Several people have asked if I want surgery or hormones and I have been thinking about it. Having a lower voice would be super rad and I suspect that a lot of my past body hate is correlated with my gender questions, but I also recognize that having a fluid identity makes permanent changes more scary. I’m not able to move towards something stable that will feel better than where I’m at now. If I have surgery or take hormones, what happens in five years when I’m feeling uber feminine again? I can already feel myself flowing in a new direction these days; there is a back-and-forth and up-and-down and skirting of masculine, feminine, gender queer, and all sorts of configurations of those things.

I don’t really expect non-fluid people to remotely understand that concept… it’s hard to understand from inside the flow! All I know is that my identity flows; it is a dance. It’s a dance with myself, with my environment, within relationships, and within spirit. I flow like a stream or a current of air and even I’m not sure where I will end up. There is nothing wrong with this. It has taken three decades, but I know now that the flow is OK.

Is There A Right Way To Misbehave?

I sometimes think the whole world is stuck in that old nursery school rhyme:

What are little boys made of?

Ships and snails and puppy dog tails.

That’s what little boys are made of.

What are little girls made of?

Sugar and spice and everything nice.

That’s what little girls are made of.

BLECH!

From the moment we are assigned a gender at birth, we are shoved into this rhyme. Even if our parents acknowledge that they have independent puppy dog girls and sweet little boys, something in our socialization process requires that most of us hang out somewhere inside the box of this nursery rhyme. And God help you if you try to break out.

Besides, queer*trans* people aren’t even mentioned! Where is our rhyme?

What are little queers made of?

Cells and hearts and really pretty parts

That’s what little queers are made of.

What are little queers made of?

Stress and strife and fighting for life

That’s what little queers are made of.

Heh heh. If only that nursery rhyme had been whispered into our ears as infants. We would have been empowered AND prepared.

But I’m guessing that rhyme won’t go viral, so here we are, “freaks” born into a world that only sees a narrow, binary concept of gender and sex. And even though those of us living in progressive parts of the United States are feeling less oppressed than previous generations, we still have to fight for space; fight to be seen.

I don’t think straight people understand the depth of invisibility that comes with being queer*. I am misgendered every single day. I am generally assumed to be straight (though how anyone looks at me and sees heterosexual is beyond me).

I have to speak up, speak out, get on my soap box, be loud, yell and wave my arms, write blogs, publish articles, shave my head, refuse to back down, stand my ground, fight for my community, fight for employment, fight for legal rights, march in a parade, and carry a metaphorical sword JUST TO BE SEEN in the smallest way.

And then, when I have finally yelled and jumped up and down and waved my arms and pointed to injustice enough times for the heteronormative world to take notice, I hear “Wow, you’re awfully aggressive. What happened to the nice, sweet girl we used to know?”

I will tell you. She’s gone.

I am no longer nice, sweet, and compliant. Nice, Sweet, Compliant Me was violated over and over and over. Nice, Sweet, Compliant Me took care of everyone else instead of fighting for what I knew was right. I stand my ground. I stand up for what I believe in and I fight for social justice.

Why is it that people love the saying, “well-behaved women rarely make history,” but when they actually encounter a woman who is not well-behaved, they attack her? Do we only love and accept women who misbehave in the proper way? I’m not interested in what is proper. I am interested in what is right.

So there.

Stop the hate.