What I have learned about the ‘male’/’female’ binary

Posted: February 12, 2009 in Uncategorized

I journeyed through a series of genders recently. Now I am catching my breath. I identify as a gender-variant queer. That does not box me in, but expresses that I am actively playing with the prohibitions and technologies that create the male/female binary. It also says that I am part of the queer movement. The label genderqueer has its own momentum which I do not necessarily want to adopt. I follow Butler in thinking that biological sex is constituted through techno-social discourse, so I am not identifying in terms of a male/female dichotomy, not even as two ends of a masculine/feminine spectrum. I am shifting away from the locus of identity, mandatory behavior and mandatory technology (clothing!) that is labeled as (straight) ‘male’ in our culture. In my initial shifts I was still working within the male/female binary and I attempted to copy and appropriate identity, behavior and technology that I considered feminine/girly/female. I did this in a few ways:

1) Identity – identifying myself with statements such as ‘I am a girl’ or ‘I am transgendered’, and figuring out what these new labels meant for interaction with other social actors.

2) The Technology of Fashion – by learning the skills of clothes shopping and makeup application and by acquiring a wardrobe of clothing which is proscribed for the male sex, by exploring the subtleties of dressing and perceived gender.

3) Queer Outfits – Learning the subtleties of mixing different items, colors and textures into ‘socially projected identity’, and exploring how others labeled and interacted with those social identities. I learned to embrace my desire to be attractive. In hegemonic American masculinity being desirable is considered effeminate and heavily policed.

4) Queer Enculturation – I passed through the looking glass into queer space. I mapped out the city and its subcultures on the basis of tolerance for gender variance. I also avoided spaces which are structured by ‘hegemonic masculinity’ so I mostly spent time enculturating into girl social spaces. In the end I found out that although queer theory is trying to move beyond sexual essentialism, gay and lesbian identities are by definition invested in the ‘male’/’female’ binary.

5) Girl Enculturation – I recruited other actors by asking them to treat me as ‘girl’ and by attempting to unlearn male behaviors. This had mixed success because to many actors I was just a ‘male’ in drag, but at times I got a taste of the social space that women create with one another and this had a profound effect on me. It felt like women who accepted my gender claims of ‘girl-ness’ gave me the benefit of the doubt and had trust in my intentions. I have come to believe that the ‘heterosexual matrix’ and gender hierarchy severely curtail meaningful ‘male’/’female’ interaction as well as ‘male’/’male’ interaction.

6) Lesbian sex – I was fortunate to meet A. She is an ex-dyke and is exploring a straight identity. Together, we discovered a way of ‘doing’ sex which looks like lesbian sex, but with a penis involved. I learned to relate to my own body as a ‘non-male’ body. We discovered that my erogenous body had been severely limited by internalization of ‘male’ identity. If A. treated my ‘male’ body as a ‘female’ body it ceased to be either a ‘male’ body or a ‘female’ body. I feel like the erogenaity of the heterosexual ‘male’ body is repressed. The ‘male’ learns to disassociate from his sensuality and displace it into ejaculation.

I follow lesbian feminists in the the idea that lesbian sex is radically different than hetero sex, but I think that the social practices called lesbian sex are not necessarily tied to clits or specifically ‘female’ sexed erogenous zones. I think that lesbian sex is just free of the emotional and sensual castration which forms the basis of modern (American) ‘male’ identity.


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