(Wow. Apparently shit is going down in Crazytown.)
Here's a question that's currently bothering me: how do you acknowledge people with nonstandard gender expressions, without legitimizing a narrow view of gender?
That is, my friend Joe Pseudonym likes to wear a dress sometimes because it makes him feel like a woman. At the time he told me this, I--a woman--was wearing pants. But I wasn't wearing them to feel like a man, I was wearing them because women are allowed to wear pants gosh darn it.
Part of me wants to respect Joe's gender expression and the fact that he enjoys getting a feeling of femininity by dressing up. But the other part of me wants Joe to be able to go out in jeans and a t-shirt and be a woman, rather than linking the symbols inextricably to the gender.
I guess the easy way out is to say that a dress is not necessarily female, but it is feminine. In other words, a vagina doesn't make you a dress-wearer, but being womanly does. Still, this answer doesn't totally satisfy me. It makes femininity into this pre-fixed thing that's taken for granted, as if it was declared in firely letters on Mount Sinai that dresses are for girls and any girl not in a dress is less of a girl.
(I'm using "dress" here, obviously, as a symbol for all gender indicators, from eyeshadow to the tendency to let people open doors for you.)
It also bothers me that not all gender indicators are value-neutral. A dress isn't exactly as good as pants and a shirt; it's a lot more impractical for physical work or exercise, it's somewhat more sexually exposing, and it makes you more vulnerable in violent situations. Plus you have to be all careful how you sit down. It can sometimes be more comfortable or more attractive, but I would say that all things being equal, a dress is a worse garment than pants and a shirt.
I therefore feel like someone who's following all the traditionally accepted indicators of femininity is, in some way, putting themselves at a disadvantage--not just against masculinity but against practicality in general. Knowing how to fix your car is "masculine," but men's and women's cars break just as often.
I want to be okay with Joe being a lady sometimes, but it bothers me that Joe thinks certain impractical (and in my mind undignified) things make him a lady. I guess cross-dressing into cargo pants and flannel wouldn't have that same thrill for him, and I respect that, it's just... it's weird for me.
This isn't going to be one of those entries that ends with a strong conclusion and call to action, because I really haven't resolved my thoughts on this. I feel like a willfully dense and vaguely transphobic (is that the right word when someone's not exactly trans? gender-bigoted, anyway) jerk telling Joe "You shouldn't go by Jane when you're dressed, because Joe is a perfectly good name for a woman!", but that's what I tend to think.
Incidentally I have no goddamn idea about my own gender. I mean, I'm a cis woman, because I'm okay with being called a woman and having a woman name and body and even acting feminine in some ways--for all my ranting, I'm wearing a skirt right now--but I always feel more "eh, I'll play the hand I was dealt" about this than truly identifying with it. Like if my same personality had been born with a penis and raised as a boy, there's no way I'd see myself as a woman.
I hesitate to identify myself as androgynous, because I'm a woman, but only because it's convenient--I used to have very short hair and dress androgynously and very few people found it attractive--and it doesn't bother me. But I'm not really wild about being a woman. It's more "easy and acceptable, and I don't feel that strongly about it" than "really me."