Monday, June 22, 2009

beards & neckties

It occurred to me this afternoon that my beard functions for me in some of the same ways that my neckties used to, as a sort of masculine armor. I was talking with some transmasculine friends this weekend about our respective masculinities, and the markers of that masculinity, and how important it was to have that masculinity firmly anchored.

I used to wear neckties not for the reasons I do know- because they are beautiful and stylish and dapper- but because I needed them as a badge of my masculinity. I don't know how well it worked as a broadcast system, and most people probably still saw me as a dyke in a tie prior to transition. But I felt safe and grounded in my neckties; I'd learned to tie them from my uncles, and my father had given me a few of his, and I could feel a connection to every man I saw on the street or in GQ. W e all chose to tie these tiny nooses around our necks in the name of masculine beauty and tradition.

My good friend Mary Ellen even worked with me on a project of mine about the ties I wore as shields. She took some gorgeous pictures of me that I made polaroid transfers with, and I think it captured nicely some of the nuances of my choices, how I hoped the ties I put on could be both broadcasting signal and dampening field, announcing my masculinity and hiding my female breasts.

Here are a few from the series:

I don't wear my ties to signal my gender anymore. I wear them for fashion, or perhaps to add a touch of authority to my youthful demeanor. In fact, for a while early in my transition R. commented that I'd become a casual dresser, as I'd traded in my ties for tight t-shirts after I had chest surgery, in a sartorially opposite but psychologically similar announcement of my gender.

My beard is now, I realized, my primary gendered fashion statement. Like the ties used to be, it's mostly a matter of style preference (I think I look cuter with a beard!) but it's certainly a way for me to assert my maleness as well. I'm sure it's why I started growing out my sideburns long before I should have, and persisted through the patchiness. Nothing says 'dude' like facial hair, and I feel it welling up in me especially right before I head home, to face the folks (family, old friends) who have the strongest memories of me as female. I want my face as fuzzy as possible, to again both broadcast my maleness and dampen my female history that lives in people's memories.


Mo Machiva said...

I feel very similar about my beard, yarmulke and Jewishness. Perhaps even my masculinity, although wanna hear a shameful secret? I've never really taken a good hard look at my gender identity, despite all the wonderful invitations I've had to do so.I wonder if I'm scared.

but still... said...

Hi Eli,

I've been reading your blog for over a year and have found it most helpful on several occasions. Today's post seem extra fitting. I'm obsessed with ties. I knew I was using them as a means to beef up my masculinity but also as a fashionable expression. I'm a dandy and I know it. I think I used my yarmulke as more of a shield than I do ties. I wore it as a means to assert my Jewishness (although I was also asserting my masculinity). It took about a year for me to feel well grounded in my faith and Jewishness before I stopped wearing it 24/7. Although I hope to have the beard someday to replace my ties as a gender marker, I'll keep the ties on because I like them and I think I look good in them. Thanks for such insightful posts!

ps. you should consider bow-ties.

Anonymous said...

you are such a good writer. damn. makes me excited for the work ahead of us.


Jackson said...

I use ties (and fedoras) for the same purpose. Not only do they give me a strong sense of "masculinity asserted", but they help me feel quite dapper as well, which is certainly not something I'll ever complain about.

Jackson said...

er... "which is certainly not something about which I'll ever complain."

How very embarrassing.

Anonymous said...

man, just reading this, i could so easily have written the exact same things. its uncanny how true your story is to me too!

i'm just a random who stumbled across your journal via a trans community.