Today, It’s my Shirt

In Uncategorized on June 29, 2013 at 6:30 pm

[this was written as a monologue for a benefit show for my dear friend ethan’s top surgery in 2010. there were tons of queer and trans people in the audience, so i was preaching to the choir, and getting a room full of people to laugh and sigh with me was really amazing. ]

I met an artist at pride in san francisco who wanted to take my picture and ask me the question, ‘what makes you a man?’

my answer was : ‘today, its my shirt.’

there are two important points this answer makes: one, that manhood is something I deal with daily, and two, that its something that can be put on and taken off, like a costume. This statement implies that tomorrow, depending on what im wearing, I might not be a man. How exactly does that work, you ask?

Well, the thing is, I could have easily answered: ‘what makes me a man is the fact that you think I am one.’

these responses sound like pretty tenuous ties to an identity, provisional and only partly under my control. Which is mostly true, cuz I gotta tell you, my identity is only partly what i perceive of myself. Its also partly what others perceive me to be. The challenge for those along the transgender spectrum is the disparity between those two perceptions.

Now, I like a challenge, and traveling around all the time, I bump up against all different manifestations of this challenge in cities all around the country.

And some days its gratifying, like last week in san jose, when I got a craigslist ride from a woman who referred to me as ‘he’ to the other female passengers. when they all started talking about how I should attach an iphone to the stereo, the word ‘he’ was used 12 times in a minute. I actually got a little dizzy. By the time we got to LA I was still ‘he’ to my driving friend. And of all the things we talked about in the 8 hour trip, gender wasnt one of them.

And some days its disappointing, like when I see a cute guy behind the ice cream counter in LA and want to flirt with him, get him to smile at me with those pretty eyes, but when he looks my way, he addresses me with the disinterested efficiency of one man at the service of another in a totally hetero, single entendre sort of way. And I play along, cuz Im flattered at being given the opportunity for this kind of interaction. But missing out on that smile makes it not quite worth it.

And some days its disconcerting, like when I was sitting in the observation car of a train headed thru utah and the men sitting near me made some comments about a woman walking by. It wasnt as much what they said, it was how they said it, and with a wink to me, like I was in on the joke. It was my first time really seeing what men are like when no women are around. It made me feel a weird mixture of flattered, intrigued, and a bit sick.

and some days its ridiculous, like when im drinking beers at a white sox game with two of my guy friends from high school, both of whom i hooked up with years ago, and I say, ‘hey, guys, I appreciate you being cool about the pronoun thing.’ and greg says, ‘oh, yeah, we were talking about you yesterday, and andy says to me, ‘so, since youve made out with him, does that make you, like, 1/8th gay?” and I say, ‘ 1/8th gay? Really, guys? Come on. How does that even work? And anyway, the same goes for you, andrew.’ and he says, ‘look, my sisters a lesbian, dont go making me out to be homophobic.’ and greg says, ‘actually man, id say this makes you a bit homophilic.’

And some days its disheartening, like when I was at the grocery store with my mom on the outskirts of chicago and a man in the checkout line behind us openly stared at me the entire time I was loading our food into bags. Like, with his eyes bugging out and his mouth hanging open. He looked ridiculous, I looked like a person helping their retired mother shop for a family dinner. My mom looked mortified. That one was rough.

but all of these days add up to a life of generally wanting to be seen as more masculine than feminine, which is the way I feel most comfortable living. The problem is, its not that any one person is seeing me that way, but that of all the people who flip the gender coin for me in a day, there are more that see me as a man than that see me as a woman. And tho none of them are totally wrong, I really wish more people had a spectrum in their pocket instead of a coin.

I gotta admit tho, right now, what I want most in my daily interactions is to have that unconscious privilege of manhood bestowed upon me. I know that sounds shitty, and when I think about all the implications of it, the patriarchy, sexism, oppression and the like, I want no part of it. but then someone says ‘sir’ and i thrill at the novelty of it and strive to hold on to that bit of manliness for as long as they will let me. Im not trying to deceive anyone, or take advantage of being given said privilege, im just trying to tally up more heads than tails to start tipping the scales towards the identity in me that has been unseen by others for most of my life. And maybe that desire will wear off when it feels more even, and maybe in the future it wont be so difficult to present as a betwixt and between in middle america. But right now it feels really hard to maintain a genderqueer identity when most people I interact with can’t fathom its existence. But again, if my identity is half my presentation and half others interpretation, then all I can do is wear the shirt that fits today and hope you can see how it does.


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