ahunter3 (ahunter3) wrote,

Signalling and Signification

Let me describe a couple people from one of the support groups.

Kim wears dresses and skirts and puts on cosmetics just because he likes doing so. "Nothing should be regarded as gender atypical, really. That's my attitude".

Sky wears a skirt and puts on makeup precisely because it is gender atypical. Sky is nonbinary and wants to convey being more femme. So they're using this to send a visual signal. "Well, also, I feel more feminine when I'm dressed that way, so it's for me, too".

So last week someone posted a meme about how young male children should be supported if they want to wear a ballet tutu and carry a doll. Sky put a like on it and a reply saying we need to cheer when we see that. Kim said something similar and I gave it a thumbs up myself.

But inside my head I was thinking about saying to Sky: "But you do realize that if a ballet tutu is no longer off-limits or risque for males to wear, it loses some of its strength as a gender signal, right?"

Let's be blunt: the provocative nature of anything you own, its power as something that you wear that previously only some other gender ever wore, that impact all goes to hell once it is established that boys and girls alike can wear these things.

Putting on a pair of blue jeans when you're a female person doesn't establish you as a drag king and won't signal that you're butch. It could have a century ago, but now wearing pants doesn't carry a gender message.

If you need to be offset from the cisgender world, your ability to do so on the basis of what you wear is limited to the rigidities of the mainstream world. Think about it.

I am not quite like Sky but I'm not exactly like Kim either. I did start wearing skirts to send a social signal. Since early childhood, other people had outed me to myself and to their friends, pointing out that I was like a girl, that I wasn't normal for a boy, that I wasn't a real man. And it had been held out to me that I would never have a girlfriend or be sexually active with women because of this. They acted like they'd found my hidden secret, my great shame. So putting on the skirt was a way of saying "I'm not in hiding, I know who I am and I'm proud of it".

I do also wear them because they're more comfortable in the hot sticky summer weather and I like the way I look in them because I have great legs.

My friend and colleague Naki Ray, an intersex activist, is constantly reminding people "Please, stop conflating sex with gender or sex traits with gender identity!" It's an important distinction for me, too. There's definitely a difference, for me, between being perceived as femme and being perceived as female. Whereas Sky wants to go forth into the world being neither regarded as male nor as female, I am definitely male. It was my personality characteristics and my behaviors and my whole way of being in the world that caused the other kids to regard me as being like a girl. But they would not have had reason to single me out and harass me for being like a girl if I had not been male. That is who I am and that is who I get to be proud of being, a male person who is like this, who is in the world this way and not the masculine boyish way expected of me.

Kim would be happy to wake up in a world where there is absolutely nothing remaining that signals gender to anyone. Where gender is dead. Where there isn't a single notion about what male people do or wear or act like, as opposed to how female people do those things, or intersex folks for that matter. It would be a world where there are no nonbinary people. No butch people. No femme people. No boys, no girls, no men, no women. There might still be classifications by sex -- people might notice whether you have a conventional male body structure or a classic female body structure or something else. This might seem regressive to trans people who have fought hard to split identity away from what you've got inside your underpants, but remember, people would not associate it with anything else, either. This would be a society that would not regard you any differently no matter what your sexual morphology. Kim would regard this as the ideal world.

Would I? It's complicated. My identity is embedded in my history. I didn't grow up in that kind of world. Our internal identities take the form "I am the person who...", don't they? Well, I am the person who was seen as a male who acted and behaved and apparently thought like one of the girls. I like to think I am doing things that move us towards Kim's ideal world, but if you plucked me up and dropped me into it tomorrow morning? No one in such a world would understand easily what I had been up against during my lifetime. Not that many people grasp that in today's world, to be fair -- you seen any movies lately or read any good novels featuring femmy males who fall in love with the female heroes of the storyline and don't masculinize themselves to become heterosexually viable?


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Do you counsel young people trying to sort out their gender identity? You should read my book! It's going to add a new entry to your map of possibilities when you interact with your clients!

My book, GenderQueer: A Story From a Different Closet, has been published by Sunstone Press. It is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in paperback and ebook, and as ebook only from Apple, Kobo, and directly from Sunstone Press themselves.

My second book, That Guy in Our Women's Studies Class, is also being published by Sunstone Press. It's a sequel to GenderQueer Stay tuned for further details.

Links to published reviews and comments are listed on my Home Page


This DreamWidth blog is echoed on LiveJournal and WordPress. Please friend/link me from any of those environments on which you have an account.


Index of all Blog Posts
comment count unavailable comments at Dreamwidth -- https://ahunter3.dreamwidth.org/76570.html#comments
Tags: agender, androgyny, cisgender, roles & rules, sex v gender, sexual orientation, transgender

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