Posts Tagged ‘theory’

Gendered Sources of Physical Power: Beauty vs Strength

February 15, 2009  |  essays  |  12 Comments

I don’t know exactly where I first heard it, but somewhere I read once: men want to feel powerful, and women want to feel beautiful.

Now: calm your “oh my god social construction of genderrrrr!” self and let’s start with some further clarification. Women feeling beautiful, in this expression, is also actually a source of power; and men feeling powerful, here, actually means “feeling physically strong.” At least mostly. Agreed?

So really, it’s saying that men want to feel strong, and women want to feel beautiful. These are two – of many – major sources of power based in the physical body.

I know this is a cliche. I probably read it in the context of gender deconstruction and the socialization process of gender. I know this goes along with conventional, normative, often damaging gender role assumptions that value men for their physical strength and women for their physical beauty.

And as much as I am aware that those concepts are socially constructed, I also have seen the ways that they are played out and real for many, many people. So maybe we’ve internalized the values of the culture. This is one of the problems with social constructionism in general – if something is created socially, then in theory it can be uncreated socially, right? But just because something is done socially – rather than biologically, say – doesn’t make it any less real or “authentic” or deeply ingrained in many of us.

And this gendered source of physical power is amplified, I think, in butch/femme culture, where we go inside these roles with purpose to explode them, exploring the socialization and de-essentializing traits said to be inherent in biology. Is it as easy as explaining that we are continuing to internalize the compulsory mutually exclusive gender paradigm? I don’t know, maybe. Certainly that probably accounts for (to pick a completely arbitrary number) 45% of it. But there is something else in there, something deep-seated underneath in me that swoons and grows and stretches its wings and feels so greatly alive when she whispers, “you are so strong, so strong” like she did last night.

And I remembered all the times I gazed in awe at her beauty (every time I see her) and remember the ways she swoons to be seen, femme and whole and holy, and I wondered if I should be saying more about strength and less about her physical attractiveness. Am I just buying into what the culture tells us we should be or say or value?

[ Yet - oh I do tell her I value her other qualities (don't I? Yes). The depth of her calm understanding and respect feels like such a gift each time I encounter it. I fear it could so easily go the other way, yet she has the connection to the world at her core which means she values others' experiences. And she's strong enough in herself to know that my feelings are not about her, and to accept that with grace and clarity. And then there's her wonderful good moods, her energy, her interest in keeping the spark lit behind her eyes. Her deep ability to feel, to observe, to respond. Her analytic skills, and how she can dissect things into pieces (while still respecting the whole!) and look at how it all fits together. There is much more to her than her beauty, heaven knows I know this. ]

And yet: in the deeply intimate moments, this is what comes out of my mouth: pretty girl, pretty girl. you are so gorgeous. I love the curves of you – here, and here. your skin glows so beautiful in the morning light.

And in that moment last night, when she commented on my strength, my heart swelled and burst like a wave cresting, and the inner cavern of my chest was smooth as a sandy beach, just for a minute, perfectly even, soft, made up of a thousand tiny grains, the breakdown of everywhere I’ve ever been.

I don’t know why it matters so much that I am seen as strong. But it does, it does.

Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom & Autonomy #15

January 27, 2009  |  essays  |  11 Comments

Welcome to the 15th Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom & Autonomy! I'm your host, Monsieur du Sexsmith, as we wander around the sex, feminist, queer, and gender blogospheres to bring you some amazing reading, writing, introspection, self-reflection, and inspiration on the subjects of sexual freedom and sexual autonomy.

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Call for Contributions: Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom & Autonomy

January 12, 2009  |  essays  |  11 Comments

The Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom and Autonomy, edition #14 is up at Silent Porn Star, and Sugarbutch is hosting the next Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom and Autonomy, edition #15, here. That means, I am on the lookout for links about sexual freedom and autonomy. Email them to me to submit your site to the upcoming Carnival, which will be posted - here! - on Monday, January 26th. That gives you almost TWO WEEKS! to write something. Get crackin'!

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Marriage is so gay*

October 24, 2008  |  essays  |  6 Comments

Last week, I dreamt of my future wife.

That’s a strange thing to write down and admit, actually, especially publically; but I thought exactly that when I woke: that was my future wife. I still know exactly how she tasted, smelled, how her waist felt in my arms.

I’m not sure how I feel about marriage, really. My mom has always said I should wait until I’m 30 to get married, and thinks too many people get married too young. I don’t really think the government should have anything to do with my personal relationships, and I don’t think the government should value certain kinds of relationships over others – one man + one woman? What about a triad, a lesbian couple, co-habiting straight men? Who cares how people make a household work, as long as they do?

But: I do believe in commitment, in stating publically that you love someone, in gathering friends & family in a ceremony that celebrates and affirms the difficulty, the support, the community around a relationship.

Since I came to be aware of the inequalities of queer relationships in the eyes of the law in, oh, I don’t know, high school? middle school?, it has just been a given that I couldn’t “actually” get married.

“Whatever,” I told myself. “Like I would get married anyway. Like I want The Church + The State involved in My Relationship.”

And the activist circles I ran in were skeptical of marriage as The Gay Rights Issue: “There is so much to be done!” we argued. “Marriage is such an issue of privilege. What about hate crime legislation, discrimination policies for the workplace, queer homeless youth, AIDS, suicide rates, the drinking/drug problems in the queer communities? What about foster kids and adoption and simply BEING KILLED because of gender and sexual orientation? What about cissexism and trans advocacy?”

Unfortunately, the momentum of queer activism isn’t necessarily in the radical queer youth & college students – it’s with the money. And mostly-white mostly-middle-class homos have already decided what The Gay Issue is: marriage.

It’s a symbol, really: not just a symbol for normalcy, but a symbol for a relationship. And that’s what is at the heart of this movement, the heart of the difference in sexual orientation: the right and ability to choose whom we love, with whom we partner.

While my personal beliefs are still a bit more radical than that, I’ve studied the history of social change enough to know that chnage happens gradually, in pockets, a little bit at a time. I also feel like gay marriage activism is a limited scope – like aiming for the mountaintop instead of the sky – because it still defines marriage as two people, right, we’re still talking about working within the monogamy system here. So while many of our poly friends are going “rah rah gay marriage! And PS, what about us?” the gay marriage activits are kind of saying, “Shhh, we can’t talk about your issues right now.”

But then again, it’s easier to go little-by-little than to overhaul the whole system. It’s a classic social change model conflict – after observing a system of oppression, do we a) work from within it to attempt to change it, or b) throw it out completely and start over? My radicalism wants marriage to be thrown out. I mean really, what good is it? But I feel the same way about other institutions that seem to matter to some feminist theorists and reclaimists, such as Christianity. I don’t personally have any investment in the system of Christianity, so I can’t imagine going inside of it to fix and change the oppression and hierarchical marginalizing structures that are in place – but others do have that investment, and are doing the work to include women in clergy, to research the history of more women saints, of queer history in the church, etc. Lesbian and feminist priests and nuns and churchgoers – what they find in the practice must be worth the work of reclaiming and rebuilding, for them.

Actually, I can draw a parallel here: for me, it is language. I am a poet at heart and never cannot be. People ask me why I use language they deem offensive – dyke, fag, pussy, cunt, slut, butch, femme, queer – and I try to explain it is because I love these words. As if they were delicate glass boxes filled with mud, I pick them up from being buried in the compost heap and wash them, dig the dirt from their creases, make their silver shine, make them see-through again. I am invested in the system of language, even though within it -built into the very makeup – is a hierarchy that says certain people are better, best.

Which brings me to my next point: words. Of course “marriage” is not the same thing as “civil union” or “domestic partnership” – the words are different. “Beautiful” is not the same thing as “cute” or “gorgeous” or “attractive” or “stunning” or “elegant” or “handsome,” right? Those all have slightly different connotations, even if their definitions are overlapping and very similar.

I am a poet. I’ve worked hard to say that sentence. I eat words for breakfast and fall asleep with book after book open on my pillow. I theorize language and meaning and definitions and semantics, revive words that are suffering, influse love and equality and value where I can.

It doesn’t matter how many rights there are in a “civil union” or “domestic partnership,” they will never be marriage, because they are not the same word.

Period.

Mark Twain wrote, “The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

It is the difference between fire, and a firefly.

Words are not some static, fixed thing. They are living, they have lives and evolutions, they are manifestations of the culture from where they come, in which they are used. We can change them. They do change and evolve and grow to suit the needs of culture – they reflect a culture, but they also shape a culture. A new concept, term, or phrase can define a movement, a change, activism.

Researching all this information about the state of gay marriage in my country recently has really got me thinking about my own future. I don’t come from a very traditional family, I’ve never thought I would have a very traditional wedding – bridesmaids, groomsmen, white dress, any of that. I’ve received some amazing, beautiful, moving photographs from queers over the last few days, and I find a part of me is craving to have some beautiful party, some celebration, where my love and I can costume up and wear cool clothes and be surrounded by our friends looking dashing.

So I have some ideas forming about what I’d do for my own ceremony. No real dealbreakers, just ideas that I like. Although I am really attached to the idea that our first dance would be choreographed – let’s hope my future wife knows how to swing. (Let’s also hope next time I’ll dream her phone number or URL, so I’ll figure out how to contact her.)


* I hate this common use of “gay” and not infrequently call people on it when I hear them say it. But the tension in this sentence – calling marriage “gay” – cracks me up. Kind of like the bumper sticker I saw at Little Sister’s Bookstore in Vancouver, BC many years ago, which read, “Straight people are so gay.” Hah!

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On Pronouns, Mine

September 16, 2008  |  essays  |  10 Comments

I’ve had almost half a dozen people ask me in the past few weeks about my pronoun of choice, so here’s the deal.

When referring to me as Sinclair Sexsmith, I go by the masculine honorific – by Mr. Sexsmith. That, I do feel strongly about. Pronouns have generally then followed, so I am often referred to as “he” and “him.” That’s fine, and I think the masculine character that I have cultivated here as my alter-ego fits quite well with masculine pronouns. I didn’t expect it to happen and I didn’t quite plan it, and I don’t know if I ever would have asked for my friends or lovers to play with male pronouns in my personal life, and I very much like it, more than I thought I would.

But, female pronouns in referring to me as Sinclair are also totally fine. In fact, in some ways, I like that some people refer to me with male pronouns and some with female pronouns, because I firmly am occupying both spaces. In some ways I like the gender neutral pronoun options like ze and hir (pronounced “here”). The Gender Intelligence Agency introduced the pronouns pe (pronounced “pay” not “pee”) and per, short for person, which I quite like but which is proving incredibly awkward in speech. Maybe I’ll try to write a story with them in it sometime, just to try it out, get more used to it.

Problem with pe and per is that it doesn’t have a third possessive adjective version of the pronoun – the “his/her/its” version. I guess that would be per, again? To borrow wikipedia’s structure, it looks like:

Pe laughed.
I called per.
Per eyes gleamed.
That is pers.
Pe likes perself.

Yeah, I like the philosophy behind that. But looking at the fifteen different gender-neutral pronouns that wikipedia lists as potential options, I hesitate to think that we need more of them. I guess we keep making them because the others don’t quite work, yeah? I kinda wish there was more consensus, but some part of that has to come about organically, about what gets put into use in daily life for a significant piece of a community.

In my offline life, I do not go by male pronouns, at all. As things go on, that is becoming more strange, actually – my sister referred to me recently as her sister, and I thought, oh yeah, I’m a sister to someone. I’m a daughter. Someday I’ll be an aunt, a mother. I think lesbian dad is rubbing off on me that way, in that I don’t know if I’ll ever be “mama.”

I do go by sir, sometimes boy, and other masculine words like that in a sexualized context … but there really aren’t very many of those words for butch tops in bed. But that’s a slightly different post.

So yeah, did I make that clear? Either pronoun of the main two pronouns are fine, neither of them fit exactly – but please do use the masculine honorific (and thanks to jesse james for finding that word for me).

in praise of femmes: the architecture of identity

September 5, 2008  |  essays  |  22 Comments

This is what I learned at the Femme Conference.

Oh, the Femme Conference. I have so much to say about what happened there, both personally and in relation to this gender work. Oh yeah, and I have some hot stories to tell y’all, too.

First: THANK YOU, everyone who donated money to help me attend. I was able to go because of this website. I may not have gone otherwise because I really can’t afford to travel. Thank you.

The theme of the conference was The Architecture of Femme, and as such many of the panels explored the construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction of femme identity. As my background is in social theory and social constructionism, I tend to come from the place that says femme is constructed primarily physically, on the body, that all gender is performative. This means through symbols of femininity – shaving, long hair, skirts/dresses, heels, jewelry, makeup, etc.

One of the major themes I’ve come across in running Sugarbutch is femmes who feel invisible – that they are not read as queer because lesbians are not feminine, femininity is a constructed gender role within the heteronormative paradigm, and the perceived notion that a femme is really either bi or straight.

This misconception has to do with physical symbols of gender, and required alignment of sexual orientation and gender.

The first keynote speaker at the conference, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, said: femmes are not invisible, you don’t know how to look.

And this is point number one that I want to make. I’ll pause here to let that sink in for you.

Femmes are not invisible, the lesbian community just doesn’t know how to look.

That deeply resonated with me. I feel I’ve been trying to say that to femme friends and lovers for some time now – “well, I found you, didn’t I? Do you not go to the clubs, do you not get dates? Of course you’re queer.”

I know it’s not this simple, really – I know there is much difficulty when someone is not recognized by their own community because they are being true to their own sense of gender. That’s not an easy contrast to reconcile, and I don’t move through the world that way so I can’t really speak to the daily experience of what that’s like.

Before the conference, I started a conversation about femme eye candy – remember this? I’ll get back to that in another post more fully, but the relevance is that Muse & I were discussing requesting photos along with some text about how the femme in the photo queers femininity – how her femme-ness is coming through in any particular way that indicates that she’s femme, not straight.

[TO BE CLEAR: this is NOT be about proving queerness whatsoever. I am working on the details of how to write this up, and will explore this much more in-depth in another post soon.]

The point is to use the femme eye candy as a visual lexicon of physical symbols, as an attempt to notice any emerging patterns and begin to record the physical markers of femme identity.


DEFINE: Markers: physical details which indicate that the person is using their fashion and style to construct a queer identity. Examples of usage: Femme markers, butch markers, queer markers, hippie markers …


I have some ideas about what these markers might be – vintage and pinup clothes, hyper-femininity, high contrast, for example – and I must thank Sam and Maggie from Toronto who did a wonderful workshop at the conference on the construction of femme identity through fashion and style, where many of my thoughts on this were refined.

The discussion at the workshop quickly went from “what are some of the femme markers” to “what are ways that femmes construct identity besides through physical markers?”

I kept thinking about these things throughout the weekend at the conference: the markers, and the ways femme is constructed besides markers.

Five things stand out greatly from the discussions as ways to construct femme:

  1. In contrast to butch – the classic in some ways, the stereotype in others. We all talk about how butches lend visibility and how different a femme is perceived and treated alone verses with a butch. The conference brought up the issue of femme history, too, and how hard it is to find femmes, and one of the ways to do so is to find the butches’ visible queerness and search for their partners.I think this is an incomplete, problematic, and outdated construction of femme identity generally, but it is relevant historically and it still applies at moments. Plus, for some of us our own sense of identity is so greatly magnified when in contrast to our particular desire orientation – I am not just a butch, for example, but I am a butch who loves, desires, and partners with femmes, and that is also a key component to my identity.
  2. In community – Maggie, the beautiful dancer and wicked smart femme behind the Femme Show (who has a wonderful girlfriend, I was disappointed to hear, as I developed quite the crush on her over the conference) spoke of how when she is in queer spaces, she expects that she should be read as queer. It should just simply be a given. It is not a given that the feminine girl at dyke night is queer, because the lesbian community is still closed off to the ideas that feminine girls are lesbians. I mean, in some ways that is being shattered – maybe that’s one good thing the L-Word has done for the lesbian communities – but in practice, many many queer women still don’t recognize femmes.(I could also speak to how this is probably engrained in butches especially, in butches who are attracted to femininity, from a young age, because we do tend to go for the straight girl or the L.U.G.s and end up getting our hopes up and our hearts broken when she, inevitably, leaves us for a guy, because, well, she’s straight. I still watch butches go through the realization that femmes exist – that femininity exists in a queer context – and wow that sure can be a revolutionary realization. But this is another topic to discuss later, too.)
  3. Through languageSomeone commented to say she has no particular physically queer markers, and in fact she prides herself on that, and would rather constantly construct her queer identity by constantly coming out verbally. But even if a femme does see herself as using many queer fashion and style markers, there is still always an element of constructing identities verbally and through language.This brings up one other idea, which is that I think all of these ways of constructing femme identity happen for everyone, that it isn’t just one or another, that some are stronger for some femmes than others, that there are many different combinations of them that make up each unique femme expression of each person.
  4. Through fashion and style and through markers. There are hundreds – thousands probably – of ways to construct femme through physical feminine presentation. The conference was amazing that way, to see as many different representations of femme as there were femmes in attendance. I loved seeing the similarities, the differences. There was such an amazing array from the fanciest drag-queen femme to the pencil-skirt-and-glasses femme to the pinup girl femme to the punk rock femme to the tomboy femme to the sundress-and-cardigan femme.And the SHOES! Oh good lord, I could write an entire post on the shoes at the femme conference. (Swoon.)Honestly, I never cared for fashion until I began discovering, uncovering, and creating conscious and intentional butch/femme gender understandings. I wish I had a better grasp on fashion and the history of fashion sometimes, some folks were saying very interesting things about the evolution of women’s clothing options during the conference.
  5. Through theory – feminist theory, gender theory, power theory, BDSM and kink theory, postmodern theory, historical contextual theory. The intellectualizing of my own gender has been a key component to constructing my own gender identity, and this resonated strongly at the conference.

I’m going to have to work on the butch version of this idea, the ways butch identity is constructed, though I imagine it is in many ways similar: in contrast to femmes, in community, through language, through markers, through theory. But perhaps there’s more to add, perhaps butch and femme are constructed differently? Ill keep thinking on that; please do add your two cents if you’ve got ideas on this topic.

Two specific questions for you, at the end of this looooong summary of what I learned at the Femme Conference about the architecture of femme:

  • What are some other tools with which you construct your identity, femme or otherwise?
  • And what do your markers look like?

queer bodies in psychotherapy conference

September 4, 2008  |  miscellany  |  No Comments

QUEER BODIES IN PSYCHOTHERAPY CONFERENCE
www.ciis.edu/publicprograms for more information.

Queer Bodies in Psychotherapy calls attention to queer sexualities, identities, and practices that are inadequately addressed in both psychodynamic and somatic psychologies.

The Queer Bodies in Psychotherapy Conference is an opportunity for LGBTQI and straight therapists, queer theorists, somatic therapists and practitioners, members of various queer communities, scholars, activists, and educators to surface questions, develop theories, share case examples, and explore best practices in this emerging field. The Somatic Psychology Department at CIIS and The Center for the Study of the Body in Psychotherapy are organizing this conference as part of our ongoing commitment to exploring issues of embodied difference, marginalization, and the sociocultural understandings of somatic formation.

DETAILS

October 17 – 19, 2008
Hotel Whitcomb
1231 Market Street, San Francisco, CA

$225 for full weekend
$25 for Tim Miller Event (if not attending conference)

FEATURING

Tim Miller
Jewelle Gomez

Alzak Amlani, PhD
Matthew Bronson, PhD
Richard Buggs, PhD
Randy Connor, PhD
William F. Cornell, MA, TSTA
Dossie Easton, MFT
Karen Erlichman, MSS, LCSW
Zachariah Finley, MA, MFTI
Connie Hills, PhD
SJ Kahn, MFT
Kristin Kali, LM, CPM
Betsy Kassoff, PhD
Keiko Lane, MA, MFT
Janet Linder, LCSW
Connors McConville, MDiv, MA, MFTI
Elena Moser, LCSW
Rev. Trinity A. Ordona, PhD
Vernon A. Rosario, PhD, MD
Shoshana Simons, PhD
Steven Tierney, MA, EdD
Dylan Vade, PhD, JD
Center For Nonviolent Education and Parenting

COSPONSORS

Community United Against Violence
Jewish Mosaic: The National Center for
Gender and Sexual Diversity
Maia Midwifery and Preconception Services
New Leaf: Services For Our Community
Pacific Center
The Psychotherapy Institute
Visual Aid
Women’s Therapy Center

Visit us on the Web!
Go to www.ciis.edu/publicprograms or call (415) 575-6175 to register

masculinity depictions in Disney films

September 2, 2008  |  essays  |  7 Comments

I ran across this short film about depictions of masculinity in Disney films recently and was interested and impressed. Of course there are all sorts of problematic things happening with gender roles in popular media, and Disney films have no shortage of criticism written about them in general, but most often I see those critiques from the perspective of femininity and women, less so with the emphasis on masculinity and men.

I’m glad this work is becoming more commonplace, we really need more revisioning and reclamation of masculinity in our culture.

Gender 101 article

August 8, 2008  |  essays  |  9 Comments

It took a long (loooong) time, but I finally finished writing an article on Gender 101 for Eden Fantasys.

From the beginning I knew I could do it. I knew I had the information in me. But I had such a hard time organizing it, writing it down, figuring out what to omit and what to include. I got carried away. I went off on tangents that lasted for thousands of words, and were ultimately irrelevant. It took a lot of revision, a lot of thinking, a lot of conversations with all sorts of people – my mom and the Muse and Jesse James and Essin’ Em and my writing group all come to mind – before I figured out how to really refine my focus.

Problem was, I’m not talking about gender roles or heterosexism. I’m talking about variations within the gender galaxy, about the many, many finer points of gender identity and presentation.

The benefit to the huge struggle it took to get through writing this article is that now I have a much better idea about where to start, what to cover, and how to write gender 101, and I hope to do more of that in the future.

This is how it starts:

What the heck is all this gender stuff about?

Men and women, right? Boys and girls, males and females? But is there more to it than that? How does it work? If we talk about gender, are we talking about “The Gays,” like men who are effeminate, women who are masculine?

Why yes, there is that … oh, but there’s so much more. I’m here to give you a brief tutorial on what gender is, and provide an introduction to the studies of gender.

- read it all over at Eden, Gender 101

I’d love your feedback, and if you love the article and think Eden should do more things like this, please do let them know. I may write for them again in the future.

creating conscious gender

July 18, 2008  |  essays  |  8 Comments

Seems like I kinda stepped in it with this entire intentional gender thing! Lots of comments and emails about that one.

(Almost as bad as I stepped in it when I suggested something like “I noticed your gender from across the room” as a pickup line. Yes, it sounds ridiculous. But there’s just no other way to say that without a) objectifying, and potentially offending or b) assuming a person’s gender and potentially offending. Though perhaps that’s speaking more to my underlying Issue of not wanting to offend people than it is speaking to getting someone’s attention by using gender as a flirtation device. Maybe the more appropriate line for most folks is just, “hey, I think you’re hot.”)

I think the mention of “unconscious” vs “conscious” gender are more accurate descriptors than “intentional” vs “natural” gender. I’ve already mentioned this, but: modern gender theory does not believe gender is “natural” at all, it says gender is socially constructed. It can be constructed consciously, or it can be constructed unconsciously.

But there are ways that I can be more conscious about the ways I carry myself. There are ways that I can study and understand how gender works in this highly, highly gendered society, and figure out and choose the ways I operate within it.

So, here’s a bit of a story about what that process looked like for me:

I was raised in a very feminist household. The rejection of traditional gender roles was instilled in me from very young, by my mother especially, who didn’t take my father’s name, never shaves, never wears makeup or dresses or skirts or heels, was primarily the one to mow the lawn and help me with my math homework, etc.

Though this was deep within my family values, I was particularly susceptible to cultural standards as a teenager (I think we all are, and I have some ideas about why I was in particular, but I won’t go into that here), and I ended up fairly gender-conformist, nearly married – to a cisgendered guy – for five years. I think I had to prove that for me, the model of grown-up relationships really wouldn’t work, that all that society says is actually untrue. Of course, for some people it works just fine to be female-bodied, feminine, and attracted to men – clearly, not so much for me. I think it was precisely because I suspected that this wasn’t true that I had to really prove it for myself.

I’m also firmly based in second wave feminism insofar as I believe every person’s unique life experience is valid and important. I believe each of us is already an expert on our own gender, our own lives. I believe we all have valuable, thoughtful things to add to the conversation of gender (or sexuality, or relationships) regardless of our supposed credentials or expertise or level of study.

That’s the thing about gender – we all have it, we all live in a particularly gendered society, we all have been raised with its influence.

Consciousness-raising groups (in my understanding) started for because there was no formal study of women or the female experience. (I can’t really even imagine a culture that assumed that women’s experiences were included in the male norm, a culture that had no feminist cannon, such a lack of sources to study and know and experience. Thanks, foremothers, for women studies, for feminist studies, for all the work you did!)

So C-R groups created their own sources, using the experiences of the women in the group themselves, treating each like a text, a source, from which they could learn, from which understanding could arise and blossom and grow.

This is how I see this writing project, this community, and all of you who participate and who engage with me – as part of a large consciousness-raising group, where we are all sharing ideas, resources, and experiences to gain greater understanding of our selves, our communities, and the world as a whole.

This too is where my love for narrative fiction overlaps, where reading someone else’s story enhances my understanding of the world, where I feel less separate and more connected and, ultimately, where every story has value, especially the voices to marginalized communities, experiences, bodies, and lives.

So: growing up in a feminist household with rejection of gender roles, then going out into the world and living in a hetero relationship where we were playing out very stereotypical gender roles, then coming out as queer – all this lead me to start studying feminist, queer, and gender theory, seeking out language, concepts, and similar stories to help me explain my own experiences. And within gender theory and studies, I finally found places to get some of my questions – gender roles, gender compulsivity, gender norms, gender within relationships, the intersection of sex & gender – articulated, and then answered.

Such as:

What is gender?
How does it work?
Why are we confined to a binary? Why don’t we have three or eight or fifteen genders?
How does the sex/gender binary function?
What purpose does it serve?
Who benefits? Why, how?
How does it get enforced?
How has it changed over the years?
How is it connected with race, class, sexuality, nationality, religion, etc etc?

And once I started getting ideas about how to answer these questions, I started asking more personal questions of myself, and where I fit in to this huge, permeating, practically invisible system of hierarchy, power, and value.

Such as:

How do I feel comfortable?
What makes me feel powerful?
How do I want my hair?
What looks good on my particular body?
What fits with the way I carry myself, how I treat others, how I see myself?
What type of gender am I attracted to?
How does this relate to my sexuality?

I was simultaneously starting to come into my own as butch, partly because of the lesbian initiation process of rejecting femininity and cutting off your hair (which worked for me, though certainly doesn’t work for all lesbians who go through this), and partly because I started immediately liking femmes who dated butches and who recognized a sort of masculine ‘energy’ in me.

Actually claiming the label and identity category of butch was a more difficult quest for me, one I’ve written about a few times, specifically in terms of masculine posturing and rejecting – as a feminist and lesbian – the things that I see are so problematic with compulsory masculinity in both cisgendered men and in masculine-identified women. (More on that another time.)

Regardless of my questions and hesitations about butch/femme roles and labels, the process was definitely underway. And as it has unfolded deeper and deeper, in more and more aspects of my life, I have found such a home in it, in ways that have been seriously transformative to the ways that I operate in the world.

The basic feminist principles of inherent equality, the wide range of human experience, and celebrating the self as it is are applicable to many, many aspects of gender exploration. But I’ve found that these principles aren’t quite so active in most of the lesbian communities. Yes, there are people doing this work, but we are not the majority – compulsory gender in lesbian communities is usually a sort of gender rejection, an androgyny.

And that works for many people – which is excellent! I will always say you should go with what feels good to you, what makes you feel sexy, powerful, beautiful. For many of us, it is not androgyny that makes us feel good about ourselves, it’s another type of gender expression. There’s a huge gender galaxy out there, a huge range of expression and celebration, and so much to play with.

I don’t pretend that I have all the answers to questions or issues on gender. I have concepts, ideas, and resources, and I have reached some understandings, about both the world and system at large (macro) and my own personal place within it (micro).

I also don’t think my answers will necessarily be your answers.

I encourage you to find your own answers. To ask these questions, to decide consciously where you want to be within this pervasive system.

There have been many of you who have emailed me or commented about my recent writings about conscious vs unconscious gender, and here’s the part where I start to actually take an opinion on this: I think it’s very important to discover, stumble upon, find, or create a conscious gender. Doesn’t matter how you come to it, really, but it does matter to me that we do.

What that conscious gender might look like, of course, is highly varied – perhaps all it’ll take is a moment’s consideration, and a recognition that yeah, I’m where I want to be, that’s enough for me. Maybe it’ll take years of deep exploration and personal omphaloskepsis and meditation and therapy. Maybe it’ll take reading lots of books about the subject, or lots of blogs. Maybe not.

I don’t pretend to know what that process looks like for everybody, all I know is how it looks for me – and how important it has been for me to go through that process, which is, obviously, why I am encouraging it in others.

Look, I know not everybody has the interest in this that I do. And I don’t think everyone needs to start a blog (that becomes their part-time job) and dedicate a big portion of your free time to studying how gender works and what it means to you personally, but I really do think we would begin to move forward if we have some small moments of awareness about gender, about compulsive behavior and categories, about discriminating against butches or femmes or trans folks or androgyny.

When we understand (at least a little) how the system works so that we can begin to see how we fit inside it, and we can be empowered to make the choices that are in our own best interests, rather than in the best interests of those for whom this system is designed to benefit.

But it’s not just that. It’s also because when everybody does better, then everybody does better. It’s also because sometimes I’m lonely out here doing gendered work with a small handful of community. It’s also because, though some small circles of consciousness-raising activists are happening, most gender is still compulsory and not letting up anytime soon. It’s because this binary compulsory gendered system hurts us. It’s because trans and gay kids are getting beat up and murdered. It’s because boys who wear dresses are shamed. It’s because tomboys who want to run around shirtless are shamed. It’s because women are not safe walking alone on the streets of Manhattan at night. It’s because I am not safe walking alone on the streets of Manhattan at night. And we should be able to be safe, I want us to be safe, all of us.

And plus? Underneath some of the hard work here, it’s really fun. It’s dress-up, it’s activism, it’s subversion, it’s sexy. It’s a deep celebration of you, of me, of our interaction with the world, and with each other.