Saturday, February 04, 2006

with a little help from my friends

The other night at karaoke I was noticing (too small a word for how much space this takes up in my brain- pondering? deliberating? worrying about? intrigued by?) how my interactions with my friends and other people contribute to my gender as read by strangers.

Specifically, I think people read me different depending on who I'm with and who I flirt with, and this prompts some intensely mixed feelings in me!

When trying to process my gender expression, strangers look to all the cues they can get, right? So they'll take into account 1) my physical cues (which I'm not sure I'm objective enough to delineate fairly, but which hopefully would include more of my squarish shoulders and boyish haircut and flattish chest than my too high voice, too small hands and too short stature), 2) my sartorial cues (it's much more complicated than just this, but there's a reason I wear so many neckties. hey, I'm man enough to be aware when I'm compensating) and therefore also 3) my social cues.

And my (occasionally agonizing) quandry is that I only have a certain amount of control over these variables. I can control my gender expression to a certain extent, but not only are there some things I don't have control over, but people are going to see what they're going to see, and I can't control that.

and also, which is the thought I've been mulling over most recently, there needs to be a line about how much effort I'm going to expend trying to have that control and influence over people's reactions. And this comes into play most promblematically with that third set of cues, the social cues.

I've noticed that I get "she'd" more often when I'm in certain settings or with certain people than others. So when I'm hanging out with lesbians/queer girls/queer girl types, I get read as a bird of a feather in that flock, and it's rather trying for me. Clearly, the company I keep has an impact on how I'm perceived, and oh it's all so stupid and circular, because I LIKE a lot of that impact- I spend time with a lot of queers, and I like being read as queer, and that's excellent.

Which is why I feel so bad for being unhappy when I get read as a queer girl because I'm hanging out with and flirting with other folks who are being read as queer girls. And that last clause is important, too, because sometimes that reading is more accurate and sometimes it's not! Plenty of the folks I hang out with don't ID as 'girls' per se, or are transguys themselves who are at a similar place as me in terms of passing.

It's an unfortunate thing that trans guys hanging out with each other can sometimes derail each other's passing abilities, because of some kind of critical mass of female-associated cues. It can be divisive, and it's an unnecessarily injurious result of something so critical: the need to spend time with trans comrades (foreshadowing for future posts about the importance of having trans friends/compatriots).

And so at Suite, the gay bar where we sing karaoke every week, I flirt with more boys because I want them to ready me as a queer boy, even though I don't necessarily really want to hit on those boys (more foreshadowing! this time, re: my sexual identity as relates to my gender identity, and how it's been shifting), I just want to be validated as a queer guy.

And I catch myself holding back a bit from flirting with girl-type folks, because in that capital G Gay bar I don't pass well enough to be read as a straight guy and I'm not sure they can handle me being a queer guy who flirts with queer girls. and I don't like that- I want to flirt with whomever I please!

So in principle I refuse to let my worries about passing dictate how I behave, and there's all kinds of tangents about this that I could (and no doubt will) go into- about those other cues, the physical ones and the sartorial ones, and hell, I didn't even include a category for my mannerisms and verbal expressions.

And I don't want to have to set up a hierarchy of what part of my identity is more important to me, because it's problematic all around. When I'm in the straight world with Fleury, for example, we get ID'd as straight folks (a couple, more often than not!) which shortchanges us both in different ways, even as it makes me feel good to have my masculinity validated. So what's more important? Being read as queer or being read as a guy?

Maybe I just need to make up some patches or buttons that say "Eli: Queer. Guy." and affix them to everything I wear. Blatant, true. Overkill, perhaps. But it might save me some head- and heartache.


Philip said...

I was just searching google images for something about Nicolas Cage's hair-do, irrelevant. Anywho, I saw a picture of you from this post inside the swarm of thumbnails and thought immediately, there's a really cute queer guy, and instantly clicked the link. Gender identity is serious business and I don't mean to offend, on the contrary, I want to offer a semblance of support. It took me a long while to actually get to the words of your pages before I stopped playfully admiring your pictures. Then, I realized there was quite a bit more to those pictures than I realized. I am a 18 year old queer male that grew up in Texas, and I find that in itself is really confusing and difficult. It's hard to be strong and I felt obligated to stop and let you know, people like you are my idols. You are such a strong person in my eyes, its unbelievable. I've only read the first page of posts and still feel exceptionally empathetic.
I don't want to drone on too long.
I just hope your journey in life remains incredible and that you find happiness in every part of every day.

Philip said...

Also, just in case I wasn't clear. YOU ARE SO HANDSOME.