Originally posted on Media Diversified:
Carolyn Wysinger takes us on a journey into the corporate workplace, where as the ‘first boi in’ her inventive transgression of gender dress codes also…
This is Casey Legler, famous for modeling men’s clothes. She identifies as butch, woman, queer, gay. An article written by her was published yesterday in the Guardian. About gender, being different, non-conforming. A bit complicated language sometimes, but I like very much what she says ( especially about the history of fierceness and her references to other fierce women). I totally agree with her that the whole gender discussion is too narrow minded. Created and sustained by the capitalist western world. That the most important thing to show is that being different, being the other is not something to be ashamed of, that non-conforming is something to be proud of.
And of course I love that she identifies as a butch…
“I am a model. I model men’s clothes. The biological roulette made me female. I was the first woman to be signed to the men’s board at Ford Models.
I was invited earlier this week to speak at a conference for business executives at a “trend school” – the topic: gender. I declined – not for lack of desire to share my experience, strength and hope in some helpful way. But I was rather offended by the notion of being so removed from reality as to require a school for trends, and repulsed at the blatant attempt to co-opt and commodify culture for business profit over participation and engagement with it. I also knew that there would be no room for me to break the news: this is not about gender.
So, corpor“ate America, this article is for you.
The contemporary cultural landscape supports a larger interpretation than the one we currently have, of female-masculinity and masculine-femininity. To believe otherwise is to be deceived by a myopic view which is influenced by capitalist gain and profit.
The first thing I want to get out of the way is to ask you to look at this list: Gertrude Stein, Greta Garbo, Jenny Shimizu, Tilda Swinton, Jack Halberstam, Stella Tennant, Judith Butler, Erika Linder … it goes on. If you do not know who everyone on the list is, go look them up, your life will be larger for it. You should, after that, realise that this is not a question of “trend”. There is a historical tradition you should know about and it is certainly not about gender. It is about being fierce.
The cultural context further supports this wider angled discourse on the acceptance of difference (or lack thereof) beyond the specifics of female-masculinity and masculine-feminity and posits the isolated focus on gender as incorrect. Russia, Edith Windsor and Bethann Hardison are three examples – the first being a terrifying contemporary example of institutionalised homophobia and homogeneity; the second, our own attempt here in the US to de-institutionalise homophobia via gay marriage; and the last being a fashion legend calling into question the enduring racism within fashion. The fashion industry is on its way to being the better for it.
We are only too familiar with the mainstream’s difficulty in celebrating difference (when it’s not being entirely destructive to it). Corporations and the traditional media have not yet learned how to resolve this: in the public discourse the celebration is often sanitised and white-washed (sometimes literally) for profit – and by this I do mean corporate profit.
And why should you care about this? Because we have in our societies children and teenagers and we are responsible for their wellbeing. This is on us. And why do I specifically care about this? Why am I bothering to write this? Because I’m gay. I’m butch. I’m a woman. I’m queer. I’m 36. I’m 6ft 2in. And caring for “otherness” matters to me. Gay youth is still terrorised for being different in some parts of the world – Russia is a horrifying example of this. But look, too, at what still happens here in the US. Children are made to feel shame, they are made to feel ugly, they are ostracised and bullied, or worse – and here in New York I see them on the streets – 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQI identified.
If images of me out there in the world make it that much easier for another kid, and the kids around them or their parents, to get on with the more important business of figuring out who they are and how they can uniquely contribute to the stream of life, then my job is done. The clincher: while unique in my contribution, I am not alone in expanding the landscape – Brittney Griner, JD Samson, Venus X, A$AP Rocky, OFWGKTA – are all examples of non-conformity and also of excellence.
This is about making space, making room and making things better. To limit this conversation to the (albeit salacious) red herring of gender is dangerous, careless and nothing short of ignorant – it takes for granted the intelligence and wellbeing of our communities (offering only an uneducated, uninteresting and sensationalist conversation to boot). It shames those who are gender-conformative and perpetuates a construct of homogeneity and belonging that is nothing short of destructive for our youth. It offers a false sense of privilege and ignorance to those who “fit” the norm (or trend) while potentially destroying those who don’t and ignoring those who are able to survive outside of it.
I will not let this become just the other side to the same coin of oppression, a false emancipation at the cost of others.
This is too important and deserves closer examination and care. Lives depend on it.”
I watched Venus boyz tonight, (yes, finally!) a documentary from Gabriel Baur about dragkings, dragqueens, genderqueers, their personal stories, their lives, their struggles in the binary system. I dragged with my friends some years ago in Berlin (that’s my picture) and in London. Not performing, just dressing up, putting the hair on (it took hours) and going out with my friends. I liked it very much, but it didn’t make me feel that different inside, it felt quite natural for me. In Venus Boyz Del LaGrace Vulcano says dressing up as a woman makes her feel more like a drag then being a drag king, I can relate to that totally.
Being a drag king did change something though, because I realized I felt very attracted to other drag kings. This attraction to female masculinity was new to me, since I thought I was only attracted to femmes. I think I changed since the first time I dragged, even though it’s only 4 years ago, I’m much more aware of my own desires and more grounded in my identity as a butch. I love to watch these dragkings and queens,who refuse to fit in a certain gender box and who have to walk their own road to find the best way to feel good with themselves. My heart goes out to them, because I know it’s a hard road for all those who don’t want to fit in the system.
The Huffington post has great articles about gender and LGBTQ stuff. This one from Maureen Johnson explains how it works with books and gender.
I am a Young Adult author. And I am female. I spend a lot of time around people who talk about books. These people include: other authors, publishers, librarians, booksellers, and loads and loads and loads of readers. I talk to hundreds of people a day online. I meet people at book signings and conventions and all sorts of events, and I hear what they have to say about all kinds of books. And I’ve noticed a lot of things about how people talk about books.
When I hear people talk about “trashy” books, 95% of the time, they are talking about books written by women. When I see or hear the terms “light,” “fluffy,” “breezy,” or “beach read”… 95% of the time, they are talking about books written by women. Many times I hear people talking about books they have not read — books they’ve seen or heard about. I hear their predictions about those books. And then I hear people slapping labels on books they haven’t read, making predictions. Again, I hear the same things. “Oh, that’s just some romance.” “I’ll read that when I just want something brainless.”
The books in question? You guessed it. Written by women. And some of those books, I’ll note to myself, are fairly hardcore and literary, and I’ll try to explain that. “Oh?” people will say. “Really? I thought it was just some chick lit book.”
Have I heard people pass comparable judgments on books written by men? Yes and no. You tend not to hear “light,” “fluffy,” “breezy,” or “beach read.” It tends to be more straightforward–that they liked it, didn’t like it, hadn’t read it, might read it. There are fewer assumptions made. Somehow, we have put books into gender categories.
“But!” many people say in one collective voice, “Books don’t have genders! Books are just books!”
“No!” some other people say. “There are girl books and boy books and man books and ‘chick lit.’ It is known.”
“I don’t care,” say some other people. Probably most of the people. Because a lot of people don’t read much or see why any of this affects their lives. But I believe it does affect us all, very much so, because these are all subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) value judgments on what kind of narratives matter.
“But!” some of those people who are still paying attention cry. “Boys don’t like to/can’t read about girls!”
“&^%$@,” say I.
Of course they can, and stop making their choices for them or telling them what they do or don’t want to do. This may be a big part of the problem.
When we’re kids, we learn what good books and bad books are because someone tells us. They tell us in classes, though the selection of the books that are considered worthy of study. When I was growing up, to have a semester, or even a year, of literature classes featuring all male authors was simply taking English class. Taking a semester-long (I never saw a year’s worth) class featuring only female writers was the highly specialized stuff of the Women’s Studies department, or a high-level elective in the English department, one that often counted toward core classes in the social sciences. (Because it wasn’t just literature — it was a specialized demographic.) I never took one.
My college reading was 90% male. I would have said 95% male, but I had to read the Bible and many ancient myths, and to be fair, we don’t know who wrote those (but it was probably men). In high school, I took four years of English, including advanced classes. I can only remember reading two works by women in all of high school, and they were both poems. One was by Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672) and the other by Emily Dickinson (1830-1886). And I went to an all-girls school, where catering to the reading tastes and styles of boys wasn’t even an issue.
Do you know how much I read about aging men and their penises and their lust for younger women and their hatred of their castrating wives? I read enough stories about male writing professors having midlife crises and lusting after young students to last me seven lifetimes. Can you imagine the reverse? Can you imagine classes in which guys read nothing but Germaine Greer, Eve Ensler, and Caryl Churchill? Can you imagine whole semesters of reading about vaginas? Again, I mean outside of a specialized class in women’s literature or anything about the human reproductive system. I seriously doubt you can.
For much of history, women read the works of men. Every once in a while we see a woman cracking through, maybe changing her name, maybe hiding her work, or maybe breaking through the strength of her genius or good luck or both. Then we see a huge break in the early 20th century, a flux of brilliant women. Women start to climb into the bestseller charts, but not so much into the reading lists.
The automatic response from many will be that for school people read a survey of literature from the ages, which, as we know, was predominately male… and current literature is still worming its way in, because things often need to develop a patina before people register them as Quality and Important… so obviously you’re going to find a lot of men in there. But that really doesn’t explain the last hundred years, which, considering that the concept of the novel itself is only 3-400 years old — with much of the body of work being written in the last 200 years.
So, we’re thinking about boys and girls and what they read. The assumption, as I understand it, is that females are flexible and accepting creatures who can read absolutely anything. We’re like acrobats. We can tie our legs over our heads. Bring it on. There is nothing we cannot handle.
Boys, on the other hand, are much more delicately balanced. To ask them to read “girl” stories (whatever those might be) will cause the whole venture to fall apart. They are finely tuned, like Formula One cars, which require preheated fluids and warmed tires in order to operate — as opposed to girls, who are like pickup trucks or big, family-style SUVs. We can go anywhere, through anything, on any old literary fuel you put in us.
Largely because we have little choice in the matter.
When I was in college, I remember hearing the story of Dorothy Parker typing out the words, “Please god, let me write like a man.” Even if I didn’t know my own reading bias, I understood at once, instinctively. It was the way to legitimacy. Men wrote of Big Things that Mattered. Sure, some of them were endlessly introspective. Yes, the big things that mattered were often penises. Also, sex. Also sex with penises. Also, girls, and how difficult and incomprehensible and unattainable we are for some sex with penises. It was like the penis was literally the magical eleventh finger that allowed you to write, and if I could just GROW ONE SOMEHOW, or imagine it into being, I would gain the abilities I so desired.
Sometimes, it was actually that literal. No, really.
This does not, not even for one second, diminish the greatness of the male writers I love. All I would ask you to consider is the fact that as a female writer, I was raised on a steady and unvaried diet of male writers. I read about impotence before I knew what menopause was. I saw the inner workings of boys’ schools/camps and their misery. Even when I read about women, I read it from a male hand. Occasionally I read about boys from a female hand (The Outsiders being a prime example).
I was frequently appalled by the details of the gross boys when I was younger, but I made it through. I was frankly baffled by the various injuries to the male organ I read about, but I grew to understand over time. I did grow bored of the portrayals of women in the books. They had nothing to offer me in terms of case studies to emulate. (For example, my choices in my favorite novel, The Great Gatsby, were the cartoonish Daisy, the dangerous driver Jordan, and the red-lipped and dispensable mistress Myrtle. And in my beloved Hemingway, I mostly got women who drained the main character’s talent. There was a glimpse of hope in the character of Brett, but only in that she was just as nuts as the rest of the characters.) The narrators I loved, the heroes I admired… all men.
And let me make this clear as well: I am not a super-flexible superbeing. I was a fairly average teenager, pretty lazy. I preferred analyzing music lyrics and talking on the phone to almost all other activities. I did love to read, but I was more obsessive than voracious, reading the same books over and over. I read male books because they were put in front of me from the time I could read. These were the readings materials I — and every girl I went to school with — was marched through.
But I think it is a mistake to think that we stop being told what good and bad books are at the school level. It continues every day. You are informed about a book’s perceived quality through a number of ways. One of those ways is the cover. The cover may be the biggest message-bearer. Other messages include: blurbs (who they are from), comparisons, review coverage, store placement, and categorization.
And the simple fact of the matter is, if you are a female author, you are much more likely to get the package that suggests the book is of a lower perceived quality. Because it’s “girly,” which is somehow inherently different and easier on the palate. A man and a woman can write books about the same subject matter, at the same level of quality, and that woman is simple more likely to get the soft-sell cover with the warm glow and the feeling of smooth jazz blowing off of it. If we sell more — and we often don’t — it is simply because we produce candy, and who doesn’t like candy? We’re the high fructose corn syrup of literature, even when our products are the same. It’s okay to sell the girls as long as we have some men to provide protein.
Maybe this idea that there are “girl books” and “boy books” and “chick lit” and “whatever is the guy equivalent of chick lit”* gives credit to absolutely no one, especially not the boys who will happily read stories by women, about women. As a lover of books and someone who supports readers and writers of both sexes, I would love a world in which books are freed from some of these constraints. Maybe we should do boys the favor we girls received — a reading diet featuring books by and about the opposite sex. Clearly, it must work.
One way we can do that quite easily is by looking at the covers. We’re told not to judge books by them, but… EVERYBODY DOES. That is what they are for. They are the packages that get your attention, that give you messages about what to expect.
Which is why yesterday, I proposed a little experiment on Twitter. I asked people to take a well-known book, then to imagine the author of that book was of the opposite gender, or was genderqueer, and imagine what that cover might look like. Because we have these expectations in our heads already.
There were hundreds of replies within 24 hours, you can view the results here.
Here in my little city our local gay&lesbian organisation organizes a movie night once a month. The best way to realize you are living in a heteronormative society is that almost no movies with a lesbian/gay/trans/bi- sexual content are ever shown on ‘normal’ television or in a bigger movie theater. There are beautiful queer movies being made, and yes, also very bad ones. To be honest: I prefer a bad lesbian movie over an average Hollywood movie with the same stereotypical s*** every day. I do however realize not only ‘our’ movies are being ignored, most alternative, independent movies (whether with heterosexual or gay/lesbian content) are only shown in little art cinema’s. ( I’m lucky to live in a city big enough to have one)
The Dutch made documentary,’ I am a woman now’, has been shown on alternative film festivals and is really worth watching. Starting in 1956, people who wanted to have a sex change operation could go to gynecologist Georges Burou in Casablanca – without having to undergo any psychological assessment. Filmmaker Michiel van Erp asks some of these pioneers, all old women now, if the choice that they made back then has changed their lives as they had hoped. How did the outside world react to this first generation of transsexuals? He visits significant places and people with these and other ladies, and they reflect on their eventful lives with the help of old photographs and home videos. (IDFA, A’dam, doc.festival)
What really got my attention in this documentary and what I, as a butch and as a person trying to transgress genders, found quite funny, was the way these women looked at womanhood. They mentioned more then once their desire to become a ‘real’ woman (what is that?!) , their idea what a man and a woman should be were very stereotypical. I realized these are elderly women, grown up in a different time then ours, with different gender norms and gender roles. I mean, advertisements like these were normal in the fifties…
So, even though I had to frown now and then, it’s an wonderful, deeply respectful insight into the world of these women.
I’m always happy to find and read stuff on the internet that makes me feel less alone. I mean, alone, in the way that you can sometimes believe you’re the only one in your whole town who gets upset about certain things. Like blatant sexist advertisement shown on big billboards at the busstop or overhearing a mom saying to her little boy that he can’t choose that because it’s a girls toy or seeing the awkwardness in the eyes of some women when I enter the ladies bath- or changingroom in my gym.
Reading similar stories of different people from all over the world has empowered me. Take the example of the changingroom, or the bathroom. I encountered so many times funny looks and remarks about me being in the wrong place, that I seriously started thinking about maybe wearing clothes that would make me look a bit more ‘feminine’. You know, maybe not my dark blue wolen men’s jacket, but something a bit less androgynous. I thought about that for a bit (1 minute) and then I threw the idea overboard. I got angry with myself even thinking about it. It took me at least 20 years to be proud of who I am and now I would change myself because of other peoples narrow mindedness? What the hell am I doing! Still frustrated I searched on the internet to get more inspiration about how to deal with this ‘the wrong bathroom’ scenario. And discovered that I was certainly not the only one encountering the gender police on a daily basis. That was a relief. As it always is when you find out you’re not alone… Weird in a way, knowing there are billions of people of the planet, and still being suprised. It made me feel better, a bit, because I still don’t like going into a changing room (preferably I go with my girl) and I still have to swallow before going into a ladies bathroom, especially on airports, they’re the worst kind. I honestly feel relieved when I discover there’s a bathroom meant for people with a disablility and I can go in there.
Gender policing is an awful thing. It hurts people. It hurts me. It makes people into someone they don’t want to be. It makes girls afraid they will be laughed at when they cut their hair short. It makes men afraid to admit they like ballet or romantic movies. Genderroles are being maintained by the genderpolice and we are, all of us, the genderpolice ourselves. Even I have to watch myself. Although being very aware of gendernorms and genderroles and genderexpactions, always fighing against them, refusing to fit in a box and on purpose confusing people with my ‘genderperformance’, I also grew up in this society and am not free of blame either. But to quote Leslie Feinberg’, I know for certain that “More exists among human beings than can be answered by the simplistic question I’m hit with every day of my life: “Are you a man or a woman?”