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Reflections on Gender, a photo essay

Gendered rules of genderqueerness 

When I came out as non-binary, I had no gender diverse friends, family or acquaintances. With no role models or anyone in solidarity with me, I took to the Internet. These online sources shaped what I thought I ought to feel and look like as a non-binary person. Also via the Internet, I began to make non-binary friends. These people were extremely influential in my understanding of being non-binary. These sources of information, however, were nowhere near helpful. In fact, they were pretty detrimental to my understanding and acceptance of my identity. In no time, I went from loving femininity, girlhood and myself, to chopping my hair, concealing my body, trying to lower my voice and developing hatred and disgust towards my body and myself. I thought I was way too feminine. I learnt I wasn’t a valid non-binary person unless I was strictly embracing masculinity. This meant short hair, no makeup, a thin androgynous body and dysphoria. I tried going with this narrow conception of non-binary gender, but I was miserable. I went through so much unlearning to get to where I am with my gender(s) today, but now I love my femininity, masculinity and androgyny all together and understand that there is no one way to be non-binary.  

Feminine Menstrual products 

I’m non-binary. I get periods. I’m tired of period products being referred to as “feminine”. I’m all for pushing to call these things “menstrual products”. “Menstrual” is way more accurate than “feminine” anyway. These products are for menstruation, and menstruation shouldn’t be gendered. Anyone can menstruate, regardless of any gendered designations. There’s nothing feminine about my non-binary uterus lining shedding; there’s nothing feminine about a trans-masculine or trans-male person’s uterus lining shedding; there’s nothing feminine about a masculine woman’s uterus lining shedding. A uterus is not inherently feminine; reproductive organs have no gender; they’re socially constructed as such. 

I didn’t think anything of my period pre-identifying-as-non-binary, but due to gender essentialist social constructions of reproductive organs, when I came out, I began experiencing immense, sometimes even debilitating dysphoria about my set of organs. It was especially distressing during menstruation. I put in a lot of work towards unlearning this essentialist, binary gendering and unearning my internalized transphobia, and while this took a lot of time, I finally am comfortable again with my body and its functions, and I can confidently assert that there’s nothing feminine about my non-binary menstruation cycle or the menstruation products I use.  

Bras, binders, bumless panties and boxers 

I don’t know why, I mean no one’s going to see my underwear, but wearing gender affirming undergarments makes all the difference in my self-validation and overall confidence. With my vast collection of underwear, from bras I haven’t worn since adopting the term ‘non-binary’, to binders, to sports bras, to bralets, to boxers, briefs, bikinis, and backless panties, it’s almost like I can achieve any gender identity through matching up my underwear to my internal sense of identity. Choosing my coveted combinations allows me to engage with self-determination and validation of my subconscious perception of gender. So, every morning before getting ready for the day, I sit down with myself and contemplate, “what’s my gender today?”. With limitless possibilities, this reflection could go in any direction. Sometimes it’s an easy answer. Popular conclusions include: Dickies Dyke, femme boy, trans masc, femme, soft butch slutty, anything, all of it, and/or nothing at all. Sometimes I just won’t be able to find any clothes that feel good and right. On unfortunate occasions, it’s a distressing introspection into dysphoria and internalized erasure. Regardless, the most important step of getting ready is always selecting precisely the right gendered combination of undergarments.  

Hairy, man-hating, bra-burning, lesbian feminist 

I stopped shaving my legs in grade 10. It wasn’t political; I just couldn’t be bothered to upkeep the hairless legs I thought I was supposed to have. Then I started seeing posts about it being radical to stop shaving. These were mainly made by white and/or liberal feminists, and while I roll my eyes at them now, these strains of feminism were my gateways into the intersectional feminism that I now embrace. At the time, I hadn’t yet had my non-binary awakening. I remember thinking to myself, “huh, this is a way to keep women subordinate… Fuck that. I’m gonna flaunt my hairy legs with pride now”. And although there are way more radical acts of resistance, and despite being exhausted by liberal feminists constantly talking about their long blue armpit hair and nothing else, not shaving my legs really is quite liberating; first, as a fuck you to patriarchal Western beauty standards, second in my own identity as a dyke and a trans non-binary genderqueer femme boy. Although they’re generalizations aimed to depreciate feminism and pigeon-hole feminists, I find the stereotypes of a feminist personally amusing… Hairy, man-hating, bra-burning, lesbians? I pretty much check all of those boxes.  

Consequences of presenting femme 

I pass a man on the street. He looks at me, I smile faintly, he smiles back. His eyes burn into me. They crawl up my legs. He doesn’t even speak to me, but I feel violated. I’m late. I have no time to dwell. I think to myself, “I look femme today, so I guess this is how it’s gonna go… I do make a hot femme…” I shrug. Without a second thought, earphones in, I keep speed walking. He chases me. He must have walked a couple blocks in the other direction then turned around and ran – sprinted – down the street after me. Out of breath, he runs up behind me. I take an earphone out. He tells me he doesn’t mean to scare me but I’m cute and he had to tell me. He asks me out. I say I have a girlfriend. I keep speed walking. He follows. He asks, “you’re gay?”. I say yes. He asks me if I “want to try straight”. 

This is what I was wearing. (Note: he was East Asian, I look extra EA wearing an oriental shirt, I wonder if this had anything to do with his interest in me).  

If you like me, you’re gay. If you’re not down with the gays, get lost. 

Inserting image...

http://rebloggy.com/post/sailor-moon-sailor-uranus-haruka-tenoh-text-post-meme/112324488748

I’m vocal on my social media about my disdain towards men. I have been since high school, which is when I realized I was gay, and also, probably more importantly, when I confidently established that men are trash. Then I realized I was non-binary. I’m vocal about that too. Social media (well, some platforms) is a place where I can assert myself confidently and safely. I post about social justice, emphasis on LGBTQ+ justice and intersectionality. I post sometimes about the harassment I face; I talk about how I face an increase in harassment when I present as femme. I reblog spells on Tumblr to repel and curse homophobes and transphobes who may visit my blog. I lose a lot of (straight, white, cisgender, male, homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic) followers for this reason. I think this is a nice cleanse. 

I posted this meme one time on Instagram, I think in 1st year, and captioned it “@ cishet men: if you like me, you’re gay, so either admit you’re gay or leave me the f*ck alone”. I lost so many male followers, hahaha. Mainly the guys from high school who hadn’t unfollowed me yet for my other posts calling men out. 

Dragon-Phoenix, Yin-Yang 

My cheongsams and other Chinese clothing represent the intersection of my gender and ethnicity. I own both women’s and men’s Chinese clothing, partially because I don’t care for the gendering of clothing, but mainly because I find it all beautiful, and a way to connect to my culture through diaspora. I used to feel ashamed of my Chinese ethnicity and hated being mixed-race because of Eurocentrism and internalized racism, but after years of repressing my Chineseness, I now feel so content and connected in my Chinese attire. Aside from wearing clothing regardless of gender, I also embody the symbolism of the dragon and the phoenix. Both associated with prosperity, the former is associated with masculinity and the latter with femininity. Together they are harmonious, like the symbolism of yin and yang. I feel empowered by my embodiment of both the dragon and the phoenix, as well as by my ability to wear both phoenix and dragon symbols and to wear both “women’s” and “men’s” clothing. 

Flower-like beautiful boy  

https://dimsumdyke.tumblr.com/post/183585385135/61cy-esc-studio-ss16

Until researching for this project, I only knew of binary terms for Chinese lesbians: and Po. These are comparable to butch and femme respectively. Being genderqueer, I didn’t know which I’d be categorized as, and I had no other language for the conjunction of my sexuality and gender outside of these terms. I was pleasantly surprised, however, when I read Hu (2017) and learnt some new terms. While and po are connoted with lesbian gender expression, I learnt that in Chinese and other East Asian cultures, zhongxing and huameinan are used to describe gender expression more broadly (Hu 2017). Hu focuses on the term zhongxing, which literally means “gender neutrality,” but also mentions that huameinan means “flower-like beautiful boys” (183). I love being a beautiful boy and adore the idea of being a flower-like beautiful boy. Despite being genderless by literal translation, zhongxing is increasingly used to describe women whose gender expression leans towards masculine (Hu 2017). This term resonates with me too, and I especially like the way Hu describes zhongxing style: 

Typical outfits include stylish short hair commonly seen in popular men’s fashion magazines, well-tailored shirts or polo shirts in a masculine style, loose jeans or khakis, name brand sneakers, and sometimes sports bras or breast binders. Swaggering steps and dauntless attitudes often characterize the ways they carry themselves. (183) 

This pretty accurately describes how I generally like to dress and carry myself. I love having these new terms to describe myself, relating to both my gender and ethnicity.  

Dickies Dyke 

I started calling myself a Dickies Dyke. Firstly, because I like the consonance. Secondly, I very stereotypically love my Dickies. Lastly, I love the word dyke. Roberts (1979) traces the trajectory of the word, outlining its connotation with masculine lesbians, addressing the traditional derogatory meaning, and discussing the politicized reclamation. My foreparents’ reclaimed meaning of “dyke” is associated with activism, resistance, strength, pride, independence and self-determination. Although generally reclaimed regarding sexual orientation, and while I am a dyke in this sense, I feel like “dyke” accurately describes my gender. I know it typically refers to a masculine gay woman, but despite not being a woman, the term really resonates. In a sense I have reappropriated “dyke” again for my own self-determination. To me, as an AFAB person attracted to femininity whose gender fluctuates through femme, femme boy, trans-masc, agender, and several other gender designations, I feel that my sexual orientation in conjunction with my gender accurately places me in the realm of dykeyness. I’m a dyke. I love women and femmes. I’m not as masc as a butch, nor as strictly fem as a femme. I’m strong and independent. I’m an activist. I’m super queer and proud.  

Everything is drag (reflections on makeup and genderfluidity, genderfluxivity)

 

I was trying to choose a new profile picture, so I was going through my best selfies. I narrowed it down to two options and couldn’t help but laugh at myself. Not to reduce gender to mutually exclusive binary categories, but I really selected the most masc photo of myself and the most femme. I’m in straight up drag makeup in these two photos; the first being masc drag, the second being femme, both done by my talented girlfriend. 

I know that when I posted the femme photo earlier on Instagram, most people just saw a g*rl in glam makeup, but my girlfriend and I know that I was a boy that day and that she asked to doll me up in femme glam drag. The masc drag photo is pretty clearly drag. I wish that people saw the femme photo as drag too. And I mean honestly, being genderfluid and genderflux, any makeup I ever have on borders drag. It’s all a way to manipulate my appearance anywhere from genderless to an all-encompassing gender, from masculine to feminine, anywhere in ambiguity and androgyny.  

References 

Hu, Yu-Ying. “Mainstreaming female masculinity, signifying lesbian visibility: The rise of the zhongxing phenomenon in transnational Taiwan”. Sexualities, vol. 22, no. 1-2, 2019, pp. 182-202. Sage Journals, doi:10.1177/1363460717701690. Accessed 10 Oct 2019. 

Roberts, JR. “In America They Call Us Dykes: Notes on the Etymology and Usage of ‘Dyke’”. Edited by Harriet Desmoines and Catherine Nicholson. Sinister Wisdom, vol. 9, 1979, pp. 2-11. http://sinisterwisdom.org/sites/default/files/Sinister%20Wisdom%209.pdf. Accessed 19 Oct 2019. 

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