identity politics

When “Gender Expression” Means “Masculine”

So you’ve heard about Babeland’s new “Gender Expression” category, which I for one thing is awesome. But I want to call your attention to a couple comments on that post, because I think it’s important, and it crossed my mind as well:

Perry wrote:

Not to be rubbish, but shouldn’t it be called “female-assigned or potentially mtf-post-op-folks-i-suppose expression” instead?

And Krista from Babeland responded:

It is our intention to make this category a place to find products for expressing any and all gender possibilities. We welcome suggestions of other products that you think might fall into this category. I hope that helps. Feel free to contact us with any other questions.

To which perry replied:

thanks for your comment, Krista. I don’t really have any suggestions per se, I’ve just been noticing that often when female-assigned queers talk about “genderqueer” and “transgender” they often seem to be talking about female-assigned folks who express a certain masculinity via clothes, hair, and yes, toys. I rarely meet male-assigned folks id’ing as genderqueer. 20-30 something college educated white female assigned people who have sex with the same seem to be “the” face of trans/gender and genderqueer movements in a way (if you look at profiles on genderfork and on lots of tumblrs you’ll see what i mean), and i think it’s important to make other identities visible. Thanks for selling great stuff babeland, this is not a dig at you.

And I really see perry’s point here. I don’t really mean to drag Babeland into this, because really this is just something to point to indicative of a larger issue, and, well, I like to link to the gender expression category, which is why I’m using this conversation as an example.

Thanks, by the way, to perry and to Krista for this conversation. I don’t have a lot to add, but I want to highlight this issue because I’ve thought about it frequently myself, and I’m interested what we can do about it. I guess this is the part where I ask for your opinions on the subject. Thoughts?

I do want to say, in Babeland’s defense and in defense of many other sex toy stores which have “gender expression” type of categories, that I think there are just a lot fewer sex products for trans men and masculine of center folks than there are for trans women. Maybe I’m wrong about that and I just don’t know as much about it—correct me if I’m wrong—but my understanding is that a lot of the products for (feminine) trans women are things found in traditional feminine departments, like bras and lingerie. I suppose there could be binding underwear or stuffed bras? I don’t know much about those products, and I certainly don’t see a lot of that—hey Babeland, maybe you should look into those.

I have met some men who identify as genderqueer, though not many. I’ve often mused about this subject, mostly in terms of the myriad words we have for masculine of center identities, and how frequently it seems that people who identify as genderqueer or androgynous are people who were assigned female at birth, who would not express traditionally feminine markers like make-up and dresses—folks who “express a certain masculinity via clothes, hair, and yes, toys,” as perry put it.

I think there might be some misandry in that, to be honest. Or, at the very least, some feminist and queer skepticism about masculinity and maleness in general. And probably some internalized misogyny, as a commenter pointed out.

Let me state for the record that I think people should identify however they feel most comfortable, and I’m not trying to change that, for anybody. But I have noticed it as a trend and I’m curious how we, as people who are doing work on expanding gender categories, can support the widening of these identities, and to continue to build movements that include ALL gender identities and expressions, and not just masculine of center queer folks assigned female at birth.

So, what other products should Babeland add to their gender expression category that are not aimed at masculine of center folks? Any ideas for what they can add to their category?

Published by Sinclair Sexsmith

Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them) is "the best-known butch erotica writer whose kinky, groundbreaking stories have turned on countless queers" (AfterEllen), who "is in all the books, wins all the awards, speaks at all the panels and readings, knows all the stuff, and writes for all the places" (Autostraddle). ​Their short story collection, Sweet & Rough: Queer Kink Erotica, was a 2016 finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and they are the current editor of the Best Lesbian Erotica series. They identify as a white non-binary butch dominant, a survivor, and an introvert, and they live outside Seattle as an uninvited settler on traditional, ancestral, & unceded Snoqualmie land.

7 thoughts on “When “Gender Expression” Means “Masculine””

  1. Alo says:

    Wait, misandry or internalized misogyny? Because I’ve wondered about latter even in my own motivations, and tried to eradicate it as much as possible.

  2. Blake says:

    That’s interesting, because most of the people I’ve met who ID as genderqueer or bigendered around Boston are people who were assigned male at birth. There are some trans* men I’ve met, and some butch lesbians, but mostly they are unlikely to venture into explicitly trans* spaces.

    I had noticed Babeland’s “gender expression” category seemed pretty cock-centric. Gender isn’t just about genitalia; I could certainly see kink-heels, cockrings designed for smaller cocks, tuck-centered toys (I know people who use harnesses for this, but I don’t know if anyone has done a commercial version.)

    In general, though, there seem to be fewer nice sex toys for people without vaginas. Possibly because the stigma is still a lot higher for anything that might be used by a straight man.

  3. aLex says:

    What strikes me about this is not the sales issue, but the assumption that being MOC and female-assigned one would automatically identify as queer or gender-fluid in some form. Although I deeply appreciate and respect all genders, I personally get sick of this being a “standard.” On the rare occasion I run into other trans men the assumption is that I am queer or gender-fluid and then I’m not cool because I actually just identify as a guy (I don’t even identify as trans these days, other than as a descriptive label regarding my junk).

    I feel like other transmasculine/MOC folk assuming that I have this gender rainbow flag and that I should want to wear high heels and top one day and then bind and bottom the next is insulting, in so far as it basically is saying me just being a guy isn’t good enough. I don’t feel like I’ve become this invested into it to be “kind of like a guy”… or be a tomboy, or be butch.

    I’m not saying everyone should agree with me on this, but I suppose you get where I’m going with it.

  4. perry says:

    oh wow, this is a great conversation! I’m so glad it involved into this after my rather flippant first comment.

    I want to tell a little story to illustrate what i see as happening more (and I’m excited about it and think this is the way forward).

    I (female assigned, mostly genderqueer/trans identified but not ftm, etc) was on a (amazing) date with a female assigned, alternatively-femme expressing lady, who was asking me about gender and pronouns. I explained a little, but then asked:”and? what about you? what about your gender identity?” and she was surprised I would ask.

    I believe in the social construction of gender,as many of us do. If we believe that gender is socially constructed, it must be socially constructed for everybody. My gender is not more “real” than anyone elses just because it is not normative. It’s not the case of me having a “gender story” and no one else. We all have one.

    I really love how in this point in time new genders are being considered. femme as a gender. straight gender. child gender. I think it’s amazing to break out of the (still confining) boxes of masculine-feminine-combo.

    The moment we consider a trans person or genderqueer or otherwise non-gendernormative expression of gender and label that “gender expression” we are denying the fact that gender is constructed for all humans…my straight femme friend is expressing gender when she has straight sex with her husband. My dyke buddies are expressing gender when they walk away from a fight at the bar. My lover is expressing gender when she fucks me, and I am expressing gender when i let her and love it.

    thank you sinclair for taking this on.

  5. Bhan says:

    Can I ask why internalised misogyny and misandry?

  6. Krista says:

    Hi Sinclair!

    I was just snooping around and I found this great post, which I really appreciate. I think this dialog is important and I like all the different perspectives you are receiving in the post and in the comments. Thank you for starting and keeping the conversation going and I look forward to hearing more feedback from you and your readers.

    It is true that gender is constructed for each of us and I had the pleasure of writing this post over at Moms in Babeland about how we teach gender to our kids:

    I absolutely love that people are thinking critically and realistically about these constructs. I believe the only limits on our beliefs and understanding are the ones we put there. Thank you so much for keeping the ideas coming.

    all the best,

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