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Gender, and Markers, and– Hmm, I don’t actually have a third item

February 20, 2009

I’m going to tip-toe around here, because largely I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about and sometimes I’m very confused.

Sugarbutch’s post on the ‘markers’ of being femme made my grey matter buzz both because it is an interesting concept to me, and a very foreign one. And not just in a queer arena, just in general. I was the kid in school from first grade on up who always thought that everyone was crazy for trying to express their ‘individuality’ or ‘personality’ through their clothing. Which is not to say, and this may seem contradictory, that I don’t think that how we adorn ourselves expresses our personality and individuality. Many times they do. I’ve just never understood the conscious application of the idea in the modern consumerist culture.

I mean, I personally value not contributing to environmentally damaging processes to clothe myself, so I now either get all my clothes second-hand or make them. Funnily enough, though, most people who actually notice that my clothes are secondhand or handmade don’t immediately guess that I’m expressing that I don’t want to contribute to pollution, climate change, industry, and capitalism. At best they think it’s a ‘style’ thing, and at worst they think I am the height of weirdness (and maybe a communist). Cuz you know, we have stores for that. Why don’t I get a t-shirt with a catchy slogan about helping the environment, cuz that would be WAY cuter. (<– real, almost verbatim conversations. Too many to count).

It’s just, I’m the person who says, “Ooo, extra long piece of cloth! I shall now drape it over myself,” or “Cut off pant legs? Stitch up the bottoms, shoes!” I’ve never understood using clothes to express oneself, particularly. I mean, clothes are clothes. They keep us warm in cold places, cool in hot places, dry in wet places, and covered in stupid places that are afraid of naked people. If we can help it, they can be flattering and/or attractive. Ultimately, though, what clothing is supposed to accomplish as a prosthetic that alters us to fit our environment determines what it looks like. Not some crazy people who happen to have lots of imaginary money and don’t know how to eat fat. Certainly what we find attractive and/or how we adorn ourselves does convey information. It’s been a common way to show identification with one’s culture or origin, and to identify with one’s culture of choice.

Although I literally cannot count the number of times that someone has noticed some article of clothing or jewelry on me and complimented me on it, then asked, “Oh, are you _____?”

“Er, no. I just thought it was pretty.”

I am in no way trying to criticize femmes for expressing their gender through clothes/accessories/style, it’s just that a post on femme markers happened to make me think about something I’d been considering for a while: Adornments used to intentionally convey information. Cuz that sounds both imminently logical AND highly useful.

Similar to femmes being invisible because people assume they’re straight, in kinky spaces most people have assumed I was submissive. Like, I’ve had to repeat myself because people didn’t believe me the first time. On the other side of it, I’m wondering how I’m going to attract kinky people in non-kinky spaces, and if I should resort to flagging. (“Why do you have both black and grey kerchiefs in the woods?” “Oh, er… in case I sneeze… twice…”).

In fact, the biggest red-herring marker I have is whenever I cut my hair short, in which case people assume I’m gay. Which has never made sense to me, and never will. Mistaking me for a sexuality I happen not to be, fine, whatever. Doing so because of my HAIR? Wtf? Then people ask me, “Well if you’re not lesbian, why do you cut your hair so short?”

“Uh, because I like it, and it’s practical. Is that not enough?”

I just realized something when I set this post aside to finish it later. Because of my experience with so many people (of almost every socio-economic standing) spending deplorable amounts of money on clothes in order express their ‘individuality’ and look like everyone else, I have always perceived attempting to express oneself through adornment as largely a very shallow pursuit. My culture of origin’s propensity for stratifying people along socio-economic lines by clothing reinforced this view. But looking at Sugarbutch’s thoughts on adornment and gender, then hopping over to Queer Eye Candy and enjoying all the pretty pictures, it suddenly dawned on me in a way it never has before that expressing oneself through adornment has actual, real meaning for a lot of people, and it isn’t always just shallow, consumerist bullshit. I still don’t quite get it. But I’m seeing valid applications in ways I never have before.

As someone who is primarily cisgendered, and having walked in cisgendered privilege all my life, I feel hesitant saying this, but sometimes the whole gender galaxy thing just confuses the fuck out of me.

Sometimes I get myself so turned around trying to figure out how to lay out post-modern gender-ness, like in a table or something, so I can understand it all. So I finally came to the conclusion that I was going to accept that gender is defined personally and individually, and to take each person’s definitions when having conversations with them. Because elsewise my head would explode.

But I’ve also been thinking a lot about how my cisgendered-ness is affected by my sexuality. (My sexualities? My sexuality as a dominant, as a sadist, as a pansexual who leans toward men. I think I have decided on pansexual. This may change). For me personally, I feel like my gender is influenced by my sexuality, since my sexuality is a part of how I live my life, and my concept of gender is that it is an amalgam of my sex, age, generation, sexuality, lifeway, roles, whether I have children, and my place in community relationships. (I would be really interested to hear lots of other people’s personal definition of gender).

So how do I present as a female, young, adult grandchild, dominant, sadist, pansexual, aspiring primitive, childless, searching for community, person? What are my markers? Age and generation can mostly be inferred by my physical body, and usually so can my sex. That I am becoming wild can be presented by my choice in clothing and adornment, as well as my choice in tools, but this is practical rather than symbolic. That I am childless could be inferred from my body, but less easily, especially if I were an adoptive parent. That I am searching for community could be inferred from various behaviors, but would most likely be understood through a verbal exchange of language.

But how do I present as a dominant, sadist, and pansexual? What are my markers? How do I send out signals? The stereotypical markers of dominant women include many things that I want no part of, and honestly think are bullshit.

Shoes – NO

Fetish wear – NO

Copious amounts of lipstick – NO

Manicures – NO

Severe hairdo – NO

Arrogant attitude – NO

Rudeness – NO (Okay, ‘yes,’ but not as a marker for my sexuality)

Hysterical laughter every time I see rope or clampy things – Well, yes, but that doesn’t always tell people anything useful

Someone else has decided my markers and presentation for me, and I don’t think it was another dominant woman. And given my other presentations and markers, how do I present as a dominant woman in a way that will be understood by kinky people? Because announcing explicitly that I’m a dominant is not always an option everywhere I want to keep having civil conversations.

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