When is enough, enough?

I came across the above clip the other day. In the video, a young man identifies his troubles being recognised as “trans” within the trans community, given that he no longer wishes to take hormones, have surgery, or do a number of other things that might be seen to be important to passing as a man (such as packing). Importantly, the guy in this video is expressing a desire to be recognised for who he feels to be (a trans boy), whether that means being less masculine than stereotypically expected, or not altering his “female” body. This perspective seems incredibly radical, as it troubles all of our notions of what it means to be a “man” or a “woman”. He’s not saying that people shouldn’t have surgery or take hormones, etc, but is saying that this approach isn’t for everyone that is trans.

I do not identify as a trans person, but this issue of feeling that you have to meet particular “criteria” to fit in definitely extends beyond the trans community. We all want to be seen to be who we say (and feel) we are. This raises issues of visibility – “how can I be seen?” – and sending the right message – “how can I effectively communicate who I am?” (see also previous discussions on femme).  When we have certain assumptions of what being X, Y or Z means and want to conform to those meanings, we also reinforce and reiterate their very basis.

sometimes we want to be seen to stand out from the crowd...

For example, the stereotype that “all butch lesbians have short hair”, might lead a baby butch to feel that she needs to cut her hair off to ensure both visibility and the right message (after all, can you really be a “boyish” lesbian with long hair…). There’s nothing wrong with this strategy- until it means you ignore those people still speaking an identity but not conforming to the expected image that goes with it (for example, if you denied someone that said, “I’m a baby butch, and I have long hair like Fabio dammit!”).

Unfortunately we’re all part of this process- and indeed, many people might claim that my “feminine” disposition means that I am also supporting a system whereby female = feminine = woman. This really hit home for me when I suggested to a friend that we start a femme group at our university. When we started thinking about the “criteria” to join we got stuck- if we write rules about what being “femme” is, we’d just be undoing all of our queer beliefs about gender and sexuality (we couldn’t come up with any good reason why everyone couldn’t define as femme if they wanted, straight, gay, bi, man, woman, whatever!).

...and sometimes we just don't want to feel like the odd one out

In the end I guess we settled on the idea that as long as the person felt they were femme and wanted to identify as such, then that would be fine by us. But then came issues of how we would explain our group, and what activities we’d do together. Sure, I may want to watch Mean Girls and wear pink eating cupcakes every Friday, but presumably this proclivity would not be shared by all…

This is tricky stuff. But I’m excited to see that the boundaries of gender are continually being critiqued, through mediums like the public video blog above. So, when we’re finally out of the semantic mud and into the post-postmodern quicksand, at least we’ll all be in it together.

10 thoughts on “When is enough, enough?

  1. Love it… It’s a great opportunity to catch up on some quality reading while I’m sick…

    I once had an LGBTQ History professor who presented/self-identified as a butch lesbian, and when I brought up the unease with which I would enter the lezzy bars due to my unapparent queerness (by whose standards, anyway?!), she replied that she often has her ‘official lesbian club membership’ card revoked by her community because she loves gay male porn. While to me she appeared to be the stuff that trends are made of in terms of gender presentation archetypes, even she often felt excluded because she wasn’t ‘doing’ lesbian the right way. So there you have it! If we’re hung up on appealing to a homo-normative aesthetic as exclusive and restrictive as what’s ‘hetero-cool’, not any one of us is or will ever be ‘enough’. The best I can do is just do ‘me’.

    p.s. I wish I had the ambition to keep a blog like yours. 🙂

  2. I can decorate any box. Sometimes I can confuse myself with the mind altering assumption of identities. I arrive at this game of place(s) already multiple, complicated with the experience of appropriated selves through time. Dynamic and fluid I rest in moments of unexamined delirium. When I am the Dreamer it is all me and all we and all interior and and all All and I Pass every time. And I try to never Pass By. And I always give way eventually to return. When we, out here attempt to organise together there is always sacrifice. Sometimes this is easier than other times. Although I say I know not seems. Sometimes the illusions of assumed selves seem easier to forgo. I don’t expect too often to perceive the sacrifices of selves within the others I associate with while organising. And yet I always feel it somehow. I don’t ever become New. Peeling away my engagements with illusion has not transformed me of illuminated anything of interest. Boxes can be useful, or clutter or places for kittens to play or rest. I can recycle them or attempt to recreate one I associate with fondly in memory. But mostly I am what I am. Again and again.

  3. I love your posts, BT.
    I particularly liked your comment about ‘[the] issue of feeling that you have to meet particular “criteria” to fit in’ and also see much wider applicability for this concept. For a long time as a teenager I was loath to identify as certain things because of particular suppositions being made about identifying as such.
    Loved your comment that ‘we all want to be seen to be who we say (and feel) we are’ and determining how to communicate who we are. It’s oddly tricky to do so in a world where we are told that we can be whoever we want. Identifying as anything results in a variety of assumptions made about aspects of myself I hold dear.

  4. Hi Binarythis, thanks for yet more thought provoking observations…. Who we are and how we present are certainly challenges, but are also games and opportunities…..I’m a short-haired butch-queer with an outrageously femme 9yo daughter (right now dancing in our rural lounge-room wearing a pink mini-dress, lipstick and Heidi plaits) and I have learned a love of pink from her. Now I am exploring cross dressing – wearing lippy and eyeliner to work, and I even practicing with a skirt! But its the dichotomies and interplays that I really like…. I enjoy sparkly pink cupcakes most after a solid day of fencing, and the best thing about the make-up is the thrill of drag. Do you envisage that your femme-separatist-society may sometimes extend to tea-parties or fingernail-painting sessions attended by femme-admiring butch queers? If so, will items of pink be provided at the door in case we’ve forgotten to wear the uniform?

    • Hi Buffy, don’t worry- no uniform needed in femme land! I think what I was trying to express here was that although I have certain things that make me think I’m “femme”, that doesn’t mean other people couldn’t be doing entirely different stuff and also go with the same name. That’s what so exciting/confusing/troubling/connecting don’t you think? Who is to say that fencing isn’t femme and cupcakes aren’t butch…

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