Welcome back. Last week, I talked about gender as a social construct. Today, I’ll be asking what that means to you and your gender, as gender identity is something which I feel is taken for granted – especially if you’ve never had a homosexual day in your life.
The term ‘gender queer’ was invented last year, during pride week, in the ‘Subversive Queer’ workshop. It means: “to deviate from the heteronormative expectations that society imposes on individuals, and identify oneself as subversive, or non-conformist, towards traditional gender role expectations or stereotypes”. Just like in every other area, people like to categorise things – it makes them easier to understand. Anything they can’t define is confusing, scary, or painful. Things that fall outside of their expectations get shunted to the side, ignored, and are treated with suspicion. Gender queer is so revolutionary that it seems the only way we can categorise it is to throw it into the same group as the sexually queer. But, of course, a tomboy can be the most boy-crazy thing you ever did meet, and everyone knows at least one man whose friends are so sure he’s gay…but, for some reason, gets irritated when you keep asking him…and insists on only being attracted to (and sleeping with) women.
For some reason, sexuality and gender go hand in hand.
However, they are not as interrelated as they appear to be. People tend to exhibit mild surprise whenever they see a feminine lesbian. I’m guilty of doing it too, but it’s a pleasant surprise, because they’re so rare and hot. I’ve heard so many reports of the exclamation: “But you’re too pretty to be a lesbian!” This, my friends, comes from both straight and GBLT people. This is how pervasive stereotypes of gender and sexuality are, but I think that many more genders exist than we are willing to admit.
I arrived at this conclusion after a year of spending more time with gay men than I did sleeping, and realising that even though the word “effeminate” is a term often applied to their sexuality, their gender is actually nothing like that of the conventional woman. Nor is it like that of the conventional man. It’s almost as if they have a gender all their own. Hence, I guess the ‘butch’ lesbians would have to have their own gender too – where they have crew cuts and square their shoulders, and don’t mind yelling in public when having a debate. But then, the ‘femme’ lesbians would need their own gender category as well. And so on.
Taking all of this into account, I don’t think gender can be the traditional continuum anymore – it’s far too limiting. I was going to make an attempt at a graph to help me depict a new representation of genderdom, but instead I’ll just direct you to draw it for me: First, get a blank piece of A4 paper. Place it on a flat surface, get a grey felt pen, uncap and rest the tip on the piece of paper. Colour it in until there is no white showing. Yep, it’s one huge grey area. So, keeping all of this in mind, I want you to think: “What does gender mean to me? Do I exhibit it in the clothes I wear? Is it in the way I walk? The way I talk? The way I hold myself? The way I do my hair? It is in the way I think? Or is it what I think about? Is it the way I relate to people – passively, aggressively, or assertively? Am I comfortable in my own gender? Or do I feel pressure to present myself the way that I do?”
Then, I want you to construct your own gender. Be as creative as you like. There is another subversive queer workshop on May 17 (since last year’s was so feckin’ awesome), which deals (among other things) with gender queer and general sexual deviance from a hetero-normative perspective, but also a homo-normative subculture. It’s at 5pm in Meeting Room 1, in the Student Union Building. If you’ve ever felt uncomfortable in your own skin, I suggest you go.