Toe my god

I’m sure you’ve all heard the news by now. There is, in this country, at least one woman who paints her son’s toenails pink (and happens to be the creative director for J Crew and therefore has access to national marketing campaigns). Shocking, right? I know I was completely shocked.

While I tend to belong to the camp that believes that if something is seriously no big deal and doesn’t deserve national media freak out, then giving it even more attention to point out how stupid it is will only make it worse (in other news, why are we still talking about Sarah Palin?), I think this whole situation is hilarious so I’m going to offer some of my own thoughts. Also, some of Jon Stewart’s thoughts.

The “debate” on this has been ridiculous. Many national media figures that have jumped on it have asked, in their “I’m-a-very-serious-and-concerned-reporter” voices, what kind of harm this might be doing to the woman’s son. Because as we are all aware, toenail polish is very dangerous and has been known to infect small children with gender identity crises.

Somehow they make the vast rhetorical leap from talking about a picture in an ad campaign to claiming that J Crew celebrates transgender children, or (gasp) gender bending.

As if transgender children and gender bending shouldn’t be celebrated. The implicit argument here is that parents should enforce rigid gender roles on their children no matter what the child wants, and that if they have gender non-conforming children they shouldn’t love them for who they are.

“It’s an attack on masculinity,” says some guy with “Dr.”  in front of his name who gets paid to commentate on Fox News.

Not the masculinity! Anything but the masculinity! If these sorts of challenges to our rightful system of gender hierarchy continue undisputed, soon all boys will have to wear dresses, women will be able to own property, go to college, have careers, and vote, and gender non-conforming folks will actually be considered to be real people and not less than human! This must end!

In all seriousness, though, the thing that bothers me about this is doesn’t have anything to do with gender. It’s that the mother and son in the ad are “bondvertising,” as Jon Stewart put it. The photo isn’t just an adorable picture of a mother and a son, it’s a clothing ad designed to sell a product, which to me feels super creepy.

In solidarity,

Maggie


stuck between a sandwich and a queer place

I was a bender from the start: letting my female playmates choose their imaginary personas first, knowing very well they would hop on the opportunity to clinch the “the girl”, “the mom”, “the damsel in distress”, just so I could subtly flex my inner masculinity. Somebody had to be “the boy”, it might was well be me: the matchbox master, the playdough prince, I knew how to be a gentleman. And looking into mirrors I saw muscles, brawn, bravery, a little superhero, as opposed to the sheepish demeanor and delicacy that my “sex” expected of me. The Clark Kent behind the Superman was a little girl who, like everyone else, grew up bound and beaten by heteronormativity. Barbies were dusty while Legos were worn, and despite my claustrophobia in the tight gender dichotomy, I pinched nerves to squeeze into the mold everyone was telling me I was supposed to fit.

Gently, I lowered trembling toes into the ice bath of femininity, hoping this would cure the natural cognitive dissonance that precedes self-actualization. And all I got was a cold: confusion and frustration. Yes, my body was female, but it wasn’t “female”. Somehow, femininity was one person: white, tall, and skinny. Any deviation from this strict model could hardly be considered “female”. So She was who I had to be and every form of interaction with the world confirmed this. Femininity was the standard I had to meet, according to the TV, according to the books, according to my peers. I quickly realized I there were things I couldn’t change about myself, physical things, no matter how “white” I acted or how tall I stood. Losing weight, on the other hand, seemed simple enough. Eat less. Exercise. Piece of cake.

As the kid who spent recess talking to trees and spiders and clouds, I was no social butterfly: making friends was a kamikaze mission. With the little self-respect I had on the line, I waxed and waned, peaking out of my shell every once in a while, only to feel like a Martian child. I saw my quirky personality and misshapen body as failed prerequisites to the normal and happy lives my peers leading. I knew they were happy, because my body kept them laughing daily, weekly, yearly. Fitting in meant the acknowledgement of my existence, even if that existence wasn’t one I identified with. I became fixated on Femininity, “being like all the other girls”, as it seemed like the only escape from the taunting, and the concurrent self-hatred.

Beginning in innocence, I took up sports in middle school. It was a great way for me to express my true gender in an acceptable way, and, as a side effect, it was way for someone who was legitimately overweight to exercise. My parents were excited for me to have an opportunity to make friends, but friends weren’t made and, given my obsessive nature, exercising became a perpetual preoccupation; it was “all in the name of the sport”. Any free time I got was dedicated to working out. The minute I got home I would make any excuse to go up to my room to pump out 3 sets of 20 push-ups. I spent the hours leading up to soccer practices sprawled out across my bedroom floor stretching muscles I didn’t know I had. And I would make sure to get to practice early and stay late after to run laps. As soon as I got home I would shower and change, only to sweat all over again. Sets had to be done in odd numbers and reps had to be done in multiples of 5 greater than 10, incomplete sets would have to be redone, and the rules were ridged and infinite. It was insanity. I would work out until I cried, and it was never enough.

Before I got into high school I had moved across the country. Having thought I left my sports and obsessive exercising behind, I felt the need to compensate by controlling my food intake. I had no friends to hold me accountable for what I was doing, and I thought nothing of it. Why would skipping lunch be of any concern? I gave myself excuses to justify my behavior: I had homework to do or I needed to study. It wasn’t all bad though; all the time spent not eating was spent writing. It was as an outlet for my mental misconduct. I would spend a lot of lunch periods alone scribbling burning frustrations, angers, and sadness into overused notebooks. This regurgitation of pure emotion was keeping me grounded as I melted into a deep and long episode of depression. I spent many afternoons and evenings after school sleeping or lying in bed staring at the wall, sometimes missing dinner. I was constantly exhausted, and as it took its toll on my energy levels, I found new methods of manipulation. I would chew entire packs of gum, hoping to curb my hunger. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the main ingredient in that chewing gum was a laxative, and it secretly contributed to my obsession. I would negotiate with myself, punishing myself through self-mutilation and self-destruction whenever I broke my self-imposed discipline. My body was a slave to my mind.

When I finally decided to get back into sports, my obsessive exercising became justified again. In fear of fainting on the track, I would take my 100 calorie pack into the bathroom stall right before practice and eat as quietly as I could. I couldn’t stand to eat in front of people, as if eating was a physical projection of the mental view I had of my own body. My wounded self-image continued to lead me astray, and by the time I graduated I had failed a class, gotten caught smoking at school, experimented with drugs, and was dangerously dependent on alcohol. I had gained and lost weight continuously through high school, and no matter what I looked like or how much I weight I still wasn’t happy. My methods of coping only made matters worse.

What began as quest of self-discovery, ended up as a journey through hell. Gender and self-image became my Goliath, and the controlling nature of my lifestyle gave me comfort, falsely reassuring me that the battle could be won through pure determination. When I knew Femininity had no space for my child-like ambitions and my playground creativity, the starving didn’t stop and my self-love was obsolete. Despite my fair share of warning signs over the years, passing out, throwing up, losing and gaining massive amounts of weight, I was unaware of the severity of these issues up until a few months ago. My image of masculinity never included eating disorders, I just couldn’t see the heteronormative booby-traps that were set out on my exploration of body and gender. In this story, there are no superheroes. Reclaiming my body would be a never-ending war waged between me and myself.


the smallest minority

True story: Waiting for the bus one morning, I overheard a mama talking to her 5 year old daughter:
“There are so many different kinds of people in the world, right baby?”
Chewing a mouthful of cold smore poptarts, she nods.
“There are big people, there are little people, there are mama people, and daddy people, and baby people. There are tall people, who play basketball, and small people… There are black people, and white people, and brown people… What kind of person are you baby?”
Still chewing that mouthful of cold smore poptarts, “A cute person!”
Smiling, mama affirms that baby is indeed a cute person.

I too am a cute person (or so I think), but I am also a short person, a chubby person, a silly person, a female bodied person, a gay person, a genderqueer person, a 19-year-old person, a middle class person, and a first generation Indian American person. It might have taken me a long to realize, but I’m definitely a cute person. In fact, it took me a long time to realize who I am. The more I discovered about myself, the more I felt like I was falling further into the minority rabbit hole. I felt more alien than anything. Did anyone else’s intersectionality, intersect with mine? Or was my unique being going to be isolated, alone, and unappreciated?

Intersectionality is a funny thing. It divides us, drawing lines in the sand of humanity, erecting chasms between you and me. And it unites us. And it leaves us solitary. And it creates solidarity. This double edged sword so integral to our being makes us who we are, as individuals and as a human race. There is pride in being the one and only you, celebration and beauty. But what is a celebration without others to share with?! Isn’t there a sense of excitement in meeting someone who shares an experience with you? In seeing someone like you? In realizing you are not alone in your struggles and achievements? This interpersonal connection, this sense of community, plays a pivotal role in self-appreciation and in self-love. In turn, this creates the foundation for the appreciation and celebration of others too.

The branches of our intersectionality all lead to the same trunk, our being. Each branch affects another and cannot exist alone. My race affects the filter with which I view my sexuality or gender expression or class or age or my physical appearance, abilities/disabilities, or the culture I want to create for myself. Finding a balance between the aspects our lives, the tidbits that makes us who we are, can be difficult without affirmation of our existence. It wasn’t until I met another queer, first generation, Indian American that I was able to see how the mosaic fit together. I was opened to a whole new dimension. Realizing that I wasn’t some kind of mistake or freak or monster let me adjust my filters. Apparently the Indian culture is chock full of instances of homosexuality! Gods that are half male and half female, sex positions for lovers of the same sex, even religiously accepted marriages between women! My culture wasn’t as suffocating as I thought, exploring the intersection of my race and sexuality has given me a new appreciation for my mother culture. I’m not a mythical creature, “queer woman of color”, but I am the child of millions, if not billions, of others just like me. There is so much peace in this enlightenment.

Dedicated to gita mehrotra