I recently caught a notice for auditions for a show whose producers expressed a particular wish to cast actors who were PoC, queer, trans*, or genderqueer. I am definitely not a person of color; my family is almost entirely of Celtic extraction. If I had any less color to me, I'd be clear. I am also definitely not trans-anything. I'm at home in my body; it does cool stuff, even if it does hurt for no reason sometimes, and I can get it to look the way I want it to when I check the mirror.

The rest of it, I really don't know how to answer.

I generally tell people that I'm a straight woman. This is the fastest and easiest way to get across that I am perfectly fine being considered female by the general public, and that the bodies I want to get my grubby little paws on are fundamentally male, if you catch my drift. This is really all the information most people need in order to get the pronouns right and judge whether it's worth the effort to hit on me, and suffices even in circles where sex and gender matters count as casual small talk.

The reality is more complicated. I clean up nice and I like being pretty, but I'm terrible at being a proper girl. I'm not quiet, I'm not demure, I'm not diplomatic, I don't do what I'm told, and I'm rubbish at managing other people's feelings for them. In English I'm just loud, but in languages where the gender of the speaker matters, I skew neutral/tomboy. The male bodies I develop awful brain-killing crushes on belong to either blatantly non-gender-conforming men, or people whose identity and expression are explicitly and intentionally ambiguous. If you're doing a technical academic study, I probably count as neither completely straight nor completely cisgender, but to what extent depends on your markers and the granularity of your scales.

The problem is, when people ask you this stuff they are generally asking in a sociopolitical context, where the question really means, "What communities do you view yourself as a member of?" And I really have no answer to this, because I consider myself part of none of them -- including "straight people" and "women".

I am frankly baffled by the way people continually assume I consider myself first and foremost a member of the Tribe of Women. Mainly this is because I am frankly baffled by a lot of things about this tribe. Group identity, especially in a social context like this, rests largely if not entirely on shared experiences and perceived self-interest. You can generally tell what people consider integral to membership by what feelings and experiences they assume you share, in the absence of any other information. A large chunk of the "woman" ones are completely alien to me: The feeling of being persistently degraded, dismissed, or excluded in schools and workplaces because of your gender; the pressure to do emotional labor for others, to find a permanent romantic partner, to "settle down" and be a mother; the constant nagging to examine the bodies of other women and find your own wanting; the feeling of being under constant, leering threat from people, mainly men, who consider you a sexual object to be used for their own gratification.

Sociopolitically, the Tribe of Women has bonded together not just over the fight to end this kind of systemic oppression, but over the shared pain of having to experience all of that personally. If anyone ever seriously attempted to pull any of that on me, it blew right past me, and then I ignored it and went on to do my own thing anyway. So in this respect, the position I find myself in is more akin to a sincere but non-woman-identified feminist ally. I do not doubt that this all happens, and that this is the experience that a lot of women have with the world. I am 100% against this continuing to happen, and am appalled that people still do it. It sounds terrible. But it sounds terrible is all I can say -- I wrestle with plenty of terrible shit myself, it's just different terrible shit than what that describes.

I am not an insider, and I find it irksome when everyone assumes I am. I imagine it's something like what queer people experience when they hear something annoyingly heteronormative out of the mouth of someone who is otherwise a wonderful supportive friend. You've talked to me for more than five minutes, ffs, I know you know I exist.

[I come down on the side of "I enjoy being female" for pretty much the same reason I come down on the side of "I enjoy being conventionally attractive". It means I can dress however I damn well please, and the self-appointed Fashion Police don't hassle me. On the other hand, this is apparently kind of the opposite of what the Tribe of Women considers the norm, where you're continually harassed and picked apart for not meeting some imaginary ideal, so even my reason for liking my assigned gender doesn't help here.]

Likewise, the mainstream Tribe of Straight People has a persistent idea of what it means to "be a man", and that I, as a woman, will want someone who is definitely, in some way or another, Manly. Not really. Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of gender-asserting behavior: Affirmative, and avoidant. Affirmative is doing something because it's associated with the gender you want, and avoidant is not doing things specifically because they're associated with a gender you don't want. Affirmative stuff is fine with me; you can like frilly dresses because they make you feel feminine, or like rugby because it feels pleasingly masculine, and I am all for you doing you. Once you get into blatant avoidant behavior, I twitch. Especially when it gets to the point of denigrating things that "other kinds" of people do -- men being proud to be ignorant of how fashion works because dudes don't care about clothes, or women who curl their lip at any suggestion that they learn how to change their own oil, because that's what your boyfriend is for. (This is not a gender binary thing either; I am equally put off by someone who is androgynous or agender, and has contempt for any gendered activity.) I realize there are other heterosexually-inclined people who feel the same way I do, but the media representation of the Tribe of Straight People tends to be the ones who shout loudest, e.g., the Religious Right, and Seventeen magazine.

All of that applies generally to the kinds of humans I like being around as friends, but the kinds of humans I feel like hooking up with is a subset of that, so. Hanging around the Tribe of Straight People who care enough to avow Straight-Person Political Interests does not at all help me find my own personal David Bowie to snog repeatedly and wrangle eyeliner with, so I don't. And also, I really don't think my rights as a human are at all contingent on the kinds of humans I feel like hooking up with.

[I can only assume that this is all kind of visible somehow from my behavior, since I've had more than one person tell me they wouldn't have guessed I was "straight". I am usually rather sheepish, if that helps.]

I have managed to escape mostly unscathed on the gender expression front, although that is more or less an accident. It's more acceptable in my culture for girls to be "boyish" than the other way around, and the women involved in my childhood education were of the generation of feminists who were willing to let me be a Brain rather than a Girl. I honestly don't know if I could have gotten them to leave me alone about it if I'd been less obnoxiously smart. I don't think "average" people usually get the option of being considered a self-locomoting collection of IQ points and equations.

Young!Me was very loudly anti-anything-pink-and-girly, mainly because I wanted nothing to do with "being a girl" stuff like twittering-cum-backstabbing and making a fool of yourself for ~boys~ and thinking math and science were hard or icky. As many kids do, I figured it came as a package deal. I didn't really develop any interest in making myself pretty until I was old enough -- and cantankerous enough, and at that point in my life, misanthropic enough -- that nobody would have had enough physical or emotional leverage to make me conform any further than that. I do wonder, with the benefit of hindsight, if that might be part of the reason everyone treated me as permanently socially disabled, rather than figuring out that I was just stuck in a weird, dysfunctional household. If they thought "rubbish at girling" was equivalent to "rubbish at humaning" for someone who was obviously female, they probably thought I was just broken and would never learn how to manage on my own.

I still, if you watch me, am not particularly "girly". I suspect, in fact, that this is a big part of the reason why I don't get as much creepy harassment as you'd expect of someone who wears as many cleavagey spandex outfits as I do. People who do it as a sort of dominance thing tend to be of the mindset that femininity makes for a good target, and there is something about the way I move that makes me look like too much trouble to bother with.

[If you want to know what I look like when I'm stomping around downtown, the best YouTube-accessible example I can think of, amusingly enough, is probably Brian Molko. To my eye, the dominant influence in his body language is neither masculinity nor femininity, but "bookish short kid with big mouth who got tired of being picked on in school" -- which, if you translated it into Latin, would basically be my formal taxonomic classification. He has his moments of cute, like boosting himself backwards onto the apron to get back onto a festival stage, but it's not cute for cute's sake; it's because he's internalized how skirts work, and he realizes that accidentally flashing the whole front row would dilute the impact of doing it on purpose.

If you catch him in civvies in the studio or on his day off, that's even how I dress when I'm not trying. Hat, sunglasses, hoodie or fitted men's dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, bootcut or skinny jeans, Chelsea boots. It looks different on me, obviously; I have more curves, way more hair, and apparently a bigger hat collection, plus my inseam is about six inches too long for my height, so if I lose my feet in my trouser cuffs, it's on purpose. Also, I wear colors. But otherwise, remarkably close. And I walk around with my hands jammed in my pockets, and that same "Autopilot engaged: Thinking" look a lot, too.]

I have no idea what all this makes me demographically, other than 'a bloody awful nuisance who makes forms difficult'. And so I remain unsure whether I'm qualified for positions that ask for specific kinds of outsider weirdos, or to write about matters of gender/sexual sociology from any viewpoint. No matter what tack I take, someone has grounds to say 'you don't qualify as an insider', and no, I really never do -- but I'm not ignorant either, and to consider me ignorable is hypocritical at best.

For this particular audition, at least one of the production team knows me personally, so I suppose I'll just submit my bid and let her figure out what to tell the rest of them. But other than that, I am perennially lost.

Comments