thats a good daughter: on gender as an illusion

not ten minutes after i put up a facebook status about preparing to hitch hike my mother was texting me asking me where i was going.  i tried to reassure her in that poor media that i was just headed out to twin oaks and had safely and successfully done the trip many times before.  and then i offered to text her when i was safe at my destination.  she wrote back, “that’s a good daughter,” and i couldnt help but laugh.  i quipped back and told her that “i am a bizarre twist on the good daughter.”  she laughed.  touche.

it has been awhile since i’ve hitched and i was that mix of nervous and excited as i tried to figure out what to wear.  i was afraid that my new hair cut–half the hair got buzzed to a quarter of an inch recently–would render me more gender ambiguous than i usually am and diminish my hitch hiking success.  so i threw on a wild bright pink dress and packed some strappy sandals to change into after i’d biked to my sisters place.  but more and more the act of dressing to my gender is becoming increasingly stressful.  it’s not that i dont love throwing on a dress and embracing everything i love about being a woman, but when i have to present myself as a woman in hyper-scrutinized circumstances like hitch hiking, i remember how absurd the gender binary is.

my gender identity is with some frequency a point of contention with strangers.  yesterday, i was walking to my sisters house and stopped to chat with a little girl on her power ranger.  we talked a little bit and then she abruptly and adamantly told me, multiple times, that i was a man.  because men can wear their hair long and only men have mustaches–which is what she considered the whisker like hair on my chin.  i tried to counter her certainty but quickly realized that i didnt actually want to be defending my definition of gender with the arguments at my disposal and, anyways, she was pretty clearly convinced.

but it reminded me of a conversation my housemate relayed to me.  she works at a local market that i frequent and one day a co-worker who had seen her and i together asked about me.  stumbling through a conversation with awkward questions, he asked if i was a transitioning transgender man.  she reassured him that i was woman bodied and identified and i still grew out my chin hair as a nod to embracing my body, every part of it.  until my housemate told me of his line of questioning, i hadn’t even considered the possibility that i would be confused for being transgender.  i found it amusing and frustrating at the same time.

we are still so stuck in the rigidity of gender stereotypes, gender roles and gender presentation that the only wiggle room we get is an ambiguous understanding of that it means to be transgender.  i have been considering playing with that more.  for awhile i’ve been wanting to do something with this unusual physical appearance i embrace.  the idea would be to pluck the hair from one side of my chin, tape down the opposite breast, and create some costume outfit that was part stereotypically male and part stereotypically female.  it seems like now is the time to do it, while my head reflects that split gender presentation.

and even this doesnt feel like exactly what i want to be doing.  i want to represent the possibility of a spectrum of gender identities and there’s something limited in the split presentation piece.  i would be interested in working with others to play with this.


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. donnagg
    May 29, 2012 @ 19:35:12

    How may I help?


  2. Sara Tansey
    May 30, 2012 @ 14:36:18

    i think i want two things, or maybe just one. anyone who can help me create a split gendered outfit would be awesome. but i’m also looking for challenging discussions on how to break through the gender binary and open up gender identity to a whole spectrum. like, in this performance piece with my split gendered outfit, i am trying to point out how brittle and false the binary is, but i want to go the next step and bust through the binary. we should hang out soon and talk.


  3. paxus
    May 30, 2012 @ 15:12:59

    i think you should throw a gender flex party. i would come and help organize


  4. Sara Tansey
    May 30, 2012 @ 15:18:29

    i’m game. i love the idea. i will have to check in with woodfolk about hosting. gender flex dance party with chill space?


  5. angietupelo
    May 31, 2012 @ 07:27:21

    If I’m in Virginia when it happens I’d be all into a gender flex party. Living in the outside world makes gender performance more complex to say the least- I’d love to play with it with friends.


  6. Whisky Doll
    Jun 04, 2012 @ 20:35:21

    I love this entry! I should perhaps come out as my non-writer self for a moment and introduce myself:, Though I am in Boston, mayhaps I could play/help/brainstorm too? At your service.


  7. Sara Tansey
    Jun 04, 2012 @ 21:32:44

    Dear Karin, we have actually met in the real world, though only briefly and i dont know if we engaged each other at all. But i was at east coast summer camp, gosh, a couple of summers ago now and saw you and jill perform. I am still very interested in the split gender performance piece, though i am trying to find a container for it and someone to help with the costume. But beyond playing with my own unique physical presentation, i am looking for new ways to bust through the binary. How do we creatively start dialogue that helps us explore a spectrum of gender identities? Identities we may have no clear labels or boxes for? This is the piece i’m most interested in brainstorming.


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