Also, congratulations to everyone who is about to graduate!
In love and solidarity (and finals week stress),
Also, congratulations to everyone who is about to graduate!
In love and solidarity (and finals week stress),
Gender and sexuality are staring you square in the face, one finger in the air, and it’s not a thumbs-up. Don’t get me wrong, i mean no disrespect; i just mean to bring to your attention the big queer elephant standing in the middle of the room. Why must our conversations always be drowned out by sounds of grinding teeth? i lost your love in translation and you misplaced my trust. This was a two way street until we drove head first into each other: this is me and i know you can’t understand it right now, but take a deep breath and believe me when i say: this is where i am happy. That’s all it’s about. That’s all it’s ever been about. Happiness.
Long drives made me happy. Sleepy too. Daddy would look into the rearview mirror to see my face, half asleep, lulled into a semiconscious state of bliss by the perpetually morphing landscape that accompanied an evening drive. Smiling he would ask, “Tum kush toh ho na?” gauging his parenting skills, his paternal worth, on a simple question, “You are happy, aren’t you?” i remember long pauses, absolute psychological dissonance, weighing his fatherhood against my chemical imbalances seemed cruel. Having grown up in the age of obedience, i knew what he wanted to hear and the merit my answer held. “Yeah.”
i never understood how you could expect me to be happy, when every canyon on your brow tells me you are not. Would you have answered in the same breath as i, if i had asked you this question? A lie out of good intension? Seemingly innocent, this question pinches nerves. Especially today.
My happiness, despite its absence then, meant something, intangible, but something. And now, in its purest form, my happiness is a “delusion”, a cross-cultural misconception, “unnatural”, and unreal. Unraveling my every itch, i am finally me, and in this place of self-recognition, i feel like living. But in my life, in my reality, you seem to find no pride in my self-discovery, my greatest accomplishment. My parade beacons only to be drained of its hue because your rods and cones have eyes of their own. Where are your questions now, when i am, for once, ready to answer without fear?
And when i did ask you, “Ma, are you happy?” i heard the same ageless pause, felt the same dissonance, and understood your obligatory response, “Of course.” But that smile- that smile said, “Baby, for you i can try.”
a, s, i, wi, we, she, he, they, them, me. sasha for long, and aparajeeta for longer. “Hey you” for short, and a smile for shorter. Growing up, i was never called by my given name, always by sasha. It seemed to fit better than “someone who can’t be defeat,” someone whom i never felt i was. i was too sensitive to declare victory over a life not yet started and too young to accept a gift in namesake, unearned. “sasha” was a name that nicked the heels of a name too long to laugh with and too divine for the monotony that dictated everyday life. “sasha” was not too frilly and not too heavy, the s’s fit my curves and the a’s echoed my art. “sa”-mba my fun, “sh”, i was quiet, but not for long, “a”- bbreviated compassion. sasha’s fluidity ebbed and flowed in sync with my being, supple like gender and free like children. What a coincidence that i would be who i was called.
In school we learned about pronouns: he, she, it, they, them, we. but never in context of choice or identity. Somehow it was a factual truth that John was a “he” and Ashley was a “she”… And “sasha” was just “sasha”. i was always, and still am to many people in our life, a “she”. Dictated by prehistoric grammar laws and narrow-minded orthodoxy, we were shielded from self-declarative free form expressions. i often caught myself oscillating between “she-self” and “he-self”, seeking refuge somewhere between blue and pink. In the confines of my mind, i explored the gender grey shamelessly, interjecting everyday talk with mixed self-references: “i’m a nice guy” and “i’m a Jersey girl” all in the same conversation. As i found solace in these ambiguous mental spaces, and toyed with my gender expression, “sir”s and “he”s became souvenirs, giggles, and smiles and squeals of joy. For me, it seemed like a step closer to the middle path.
My imaginary friend was genderqueer, far before I even knew what that meant. Mai-no: pronounced may-no, literally translated “girl no”. Mai-no transcended pronouns, referred to as “he” on some days, “she” on other days, and “they” every day in between. Gender fucking was their superpower, my favorite thing about them. There was nothing they couldn’t do: keeper of my sentiment and sorter of my Legos, they had no glass gender ceiling that kept them from cars or crayons or anything else.
As i graduated from childhood, Mai-no stuck with me, existing less as an external entity and more as a person i talk to in my head, another part of me. i always tell people, whatever works: he, she, ze, this, that, and the other thing. But i often catch myself referring to myself as “we”, a symbol of the unity, encompassing all of my identities. i don’t expect people to refer to me as “we,” or to understand who “we” is. This said, i recognize that pronouns are used for ourselves too. i could refer to myself as “i”, or “we,” and just as we deconstruct our public pronouns, we must be in touch with our private pronouns.
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 honor of spring break, and because I’m too lazy to write a real post with, like, words and stuff, here are some cool things!
white privilege lolcats (found them here, and there are lots more)
Joan Jett throwing it down on gender expression
Seattle classic, TEAM GINA
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.