Goddammit.

I wrote a really long and elaborate response to Lance Mannion’s post on the chocolate Jesus and now it’s gone. (Lauren, do you have any idea what happened? Can I get it back? It was the Middlemarch of blog posts.*)

In other news, you should just go read Little Light’s blog . Check for updates every day.

And in other other news, mk at Little Lambs Eat Ivy wrote a post off of my post about not passing:

The point of retelling this encounter, however, isn’t that a stranger said good morning to me. It’s that he correctly assessed my gender, and it made me happy.

I’ve had this experience a fair amount, and afterward I always feel a little odd. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I have a significant amount of gender anxiety. That is, it stresses me out when I meet new people and don’t know if they’re reading me correctly, and I’m nervous when I think I might have to defend my presentation. So I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that I feel a little (or a lot) relieved when someone recognizes my gender without any prompting.

What’s interesting is that while I generally experience the most gender anxiety in all-female settings (bathrooms, mostly), I experience the most gender relief–if I can coin a new phrase–when correct recognition comes from a man.

I don’t know if my responses–at least in terms of “gender relief,” which I think is a very apt neologism–are alike. I do know that I have always felt the most “gender anxiety” in all-female settings, precisely because women have been much more likely to scrutinize me. There are several reasons for this, as mk goes on to detail. I’d like to point out, however, that at least some of the vocal scrutiny I’ve experienced seems motivated by disgust rather than actual fear of assault.

I know that I’ve been more likely to challenge men who categorized me against my preference, and I’m not sure why that is. It could be because they’re more likely to apologize if I seem annoyed. It could be because I would feel like a bully were I to snap back at a woman–particularly if she’s already made it clear that she thinks of me as male in some way, or if she seems frightened. It could be because in at least some cases involving men, it was really important that their categories be disputed. If, for example, a guy thinks you’re a dude about to enter the women’s room, and tells you you’re in the wrong place, it’s vital that you establish your right to pee with the other ladies.

It could also be a gendered response to the speaker. It’s normal for me to assert myself a little bit when responding to strange men who are speaking to me for whatever reason, to establish a clear boundary. I don’t respond to women the same way. This could very well be part of my attempt to establish my gender–a facet of performing womanhood in order to prove womanhood.

It could also be because men (and this is only my own life; I know other people have had very different experiences) are less likely to challenge me in order to ridicule me. Honest confusion is something I can turn into a shared joke. A transparent attempt to make me feel horrible makes me shrink.

On the other hand, it could be related to some of the issues mk brings up: it’s possible that the opinion of men means something other than the opinion of women. And like mk, I’m not exactly sure why that is, or why there’s such a disparity between gender anxiety and gender relief.

*Except more scatalogical.


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17 comments for “Goddammit.

  1. mk
    April 9, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    I’ve also found myself more likely to challenge men, but I think for me that has more to do with the relative locations of the encounters. As I said in my post, women mostly misread me in bathrooms, where I’m usually just in a hurry to leave–I’ll defend my gender, but I don’t want to make a scene about it. With a man in an airport or a grocery checkout, on the other hand, I’m probably a little calmer and not already on the defensive, so I’m more comfortable fully articulating myself–“It’s miss, actually, but I get that a lot.”

    The idea that men’s opinions mean something other than women’s opinions, though, was sort of my impetus to write in the first place, and obviously hasn’t gotten fully worked out in my head. As a lesbian, I often have a hard time with my need for male attention, which is predicated on men’s ability to read me as female.

    …And now I’ll go back to creaming my jeans because piny quoted me…

  2. piny
    April 9, 2007 at 12:32 pm

    I’ve also found myself more likely to challenge men, but I think for me that has more to do with the relative locations of the encounters. As I said in my post, women mostly misread me in bathrooms, where I’m usually just in a hurry to leave–I’ll defend my gender, but I don’t want to make a scene about it. With a man in an airport or a grocery checkout, on the other hand, I’m probably a little calmer and not already on the defensive, so I’m more comfortable fully articulating myself–”It’s miss, actually, but I get that a lot.”

    That’s a good point about bathrooms. I tend to be paranoid–in women’s bathrooms and locker rooms and anywhere men are not supposed to be–that a woman will go and get security and cause a scene. I don’t know if that’s about being humiliated or being harmed or what.

    But it’s interesting that we seem to have a somewhat different reaction with the same outcome. I tend to feel much more defensive in terms of gender, I guess, but–like you’re saying–less defensive in terms of social embarrassment.

    Do you think it’s because it feels easier to correct men? That is, that they seem more suggestible?

  3. April 9, 2007 at 12:32 pm

    I often get called “ma’am” or “miss” when I am out shopping. I have fairly short hair and I don’t think there is anything particularly feminine about the way I dress. I honestly don’t know why it bothers me, but it does. At least consciously I feel like it would be better to use something gender neutral, like, “How are you doing today?” or, “Can I help you folks?”

    I certainly engage in my share of gender blurring at times; last weekend I wore a tube top to a punk show, then walked down the street to a country-western show to a variety of mixed reactions. Perhaps it is just programmed into my nature to be offended when I’m refered to as a woman when I am in fact a man. Especially when I dress “like a guy.”

    Hrmmmm….

  4. piny
    April 9, 2007 at 12:33 pm

    …And now I’ll go back to creaming my jeans because piny quoted me…

    And thank you! I really liked your post, too. I haven’t written much about the wrong-bathroom thing, or spent much time thinking about why I react the way I do.

  5. Ataralas
    April 9, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    I am much, much more likely to assert my gender when I am among women; I think this is due to the fact that I feel much more of a need to assert that I am not like them, I am not one of them.

    I am much more afraid of asserting myself to men; afraid of rejection—especially among my male friends.

    I wonder if this is a function of what one is perceived as and/or what one wishes to be perceived as.

  6. mk
    April 9, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    Well, again, I think this has a lot to do with the spaces where these interactions take place, but in my experience men are easier to correct because there’s less at stake for them in the misreading. Someone calling me sir in a retail situation has very little at stake. Even an airport security guard has little at stake when gender is concerned, though I suppose misreading someone is probably pretty embarrassing when a big part of your job is (supposed to be) accurately reading people in a split second.

    A woman in a bathroom, on the other hand, has a lot at stake. The impression I get when women still seem a little bristly after I’ve corrected them is that even though I’ve turned out to be a woman (or so I say), they still don’t want me there. Men aren’t going to get particularly territorial about public places like airports and grocery stores, but women get extremely territorial about gender-segregated spaces like bathrooms. I can’t say I blame them, but it’s still highly problematic for gender-variant folk.

  7. April 9, 2007 at 1:47 pm

    Wait, so the little figurines of Casaubon’s mother and Aunt were made of chocolate and wrapped in foil? Whaaaa? I’m so… confused…

  8. DAS
    April 9, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    As a lesbian, I often have a hard time with my need for male attention, which is predicated on men’s ability to read me as female. – mk

    I could be misreading what you are saying here, but what is the significance of wishing for attention from a sex to which you are not attractive. I have a friend who is a somewhat butch lesbian but nothing seems to flatter her more than attention from males (and she is butch in a way that a certain kind of hetero male, e.g. yours truly, finds super-duper hot). Similarly, in my case, I tend to like it when anybody, whether a man or a woman is flirtatious with me, even if I simply am not turned on by men. There is a certain desire to be found attractive that is independent of one’s own sexual orientation but is (of course) dependent on the sexual orientation of others.

    To the extend that some people have a desire to be found attractive by anyone who is interested in their gender, how does this interact with homophobia? If a man has a need for anyone who’s attracted to men to be attracted to him (an ego thing?) what happens when he encounters a gay guy who simply is not attracted to him? Does he displace this feeling of rejection onto a hatred of those like he who rejected him? And what happens when he encounters a gay guy who fulfills this need? Does he begin to question his own sexuality for having a need that is actually relatively independent of sexual orientation? Is this the mechanism of “I don’t mind gay people as long as they don’t go for me or rub it in my face”?

  9. April 9, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    I once lost a long blog post like that, piny, and eventually discovered that I’d accidentally saved it with a date about two years in the past. So you might try doing a search for some string in that post, just in case it’s in there with totally the wrong date.

  10. DAS
    April 9, 2007 at 2:11 pm

    Men aren’t going to get particularly territorial about public places like airports and grocery stores, but women get extremely territorial about gender-segregated spaces like bathrooms. – mk

    Based on one particular experience (*) — and of course the plural of anecdote is not data — men are less territorial about gender-segregated spaces like bathrooms … I’m not sure exactly why …

    * in my undergrad residence hall, they had to remodel the bathrooms. when they remodeled the women’s room, the women just went into the men’s room whenever they needed to use the bathroom/shower and everything was hunky-dory. But when it came time to remodel the men’s room, the women weren’t so pleased with the reverse — that men could go into their bathroom at any given time.

  11. sophonisba
    April 9, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    men are less territorial about gender-segregated spaces like bathrooms … I’m not sure exactly why …

    What, seriously?

    The less space you have that is “yours,” the more fiercely you defend it (see also all those tedious arguments about mean mean women who won’t “let” their husbands “help out” in the kitchen.) The fact that public space is so strongly gendered as male that women are reduced to defending the places where they pee, for god’s sake, as sacred, is terribly sad, but one thing it is not is hard to understand.

    (Many women will, if questioned, mention a fear of assault (which is a real fear, of course, and one we are encouraged — even ordered — at every turn to maintain) but it is easy enough to counter this argument: as things stand now, nothing at all actually prevents a man from going into the ladies’ room. If a guy wants to assault you, he knows where to go. And if we had mixed-gender bathrooms, he couldn’t count on finding only women there anymore.)

  12. MrSoul
    April 9, 2007 at 4:13 pm

    The less space you have that is “yours,” the more fiercely you defend it (see also all those tedious arguments about mean mean women who won’t “let” their husbands “help out” in the kitchen.) The fact that public space is so strongly gendered as male that women are reduced to defending the places where they pee, for god’s sake, as sacred, is terribly sad, but one thing it is not is hard to understand.

    I’ve long noticed: Women go to restrooms TOGETHER and exit TOGETHER. They talk about all kinds of stuff in there, and since that is a “personal” space, they talk about personal stuff. My wife has overheard lots of pregnancy and sexual discussions in bathrooms. Women go to public bathrooms to cry, diaper babies (often while talking about the babies to other mothers), to “compose” themselves during unpleasant evenings out, etc. By contrast, I can’t even remember the last time I heard a man say anything in a bathroom.

    But that makes it unique “social space” of a sort, not just a “bathroom”–which possibly accounts for the increased policing. Just a guess.

    I’ve seen people I thought might be women in men’s bathrooms, but it certainly wouldn’t occur to me to SAY anything.

  13. DAS
    April 9, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    sophonisba,

    That I said I wasn’t sure exactly why didn’t mean I didn’t have maybe an idea. I was leaning toward your explanation about the gendering of public space, but (1) I wasn’t sure what to make of the degree to which fear of assault was also a reason (hence I wasn’t sure) and (2) I couldn’t quite figure out precisely what was going on with your preferred explanation, which is mine too.

    Thank you for explaning what I had somewhat intuited but couldn’t even put my finger on precisely enough to express it.

  14. mk
    April 9, 2007 at 4:53 pm

    DAS, that is a little bit of a misreading of what I was trying to say, but since I didn’t express myself very clearly I don’t blame you. I wasn’t referring to flirtation or otherwise sexual attention from men.

    But since such a huge chunk of our social interactions (particularly those where people of more than one gender are involved) are sexualized, or at the very least colored by the sexual identities at play, how is, say, an interaction between two lesbians different from one between a lesbian and a man? Or a straight woman and a lesbian?

    I guess the real question I’m trying to get at is this: If I’m not, as a rule, attracted to men, and don’t particularly care if they’re attracted to me, why is it so important to me that men clearly read me as female?

  15. Mnemosyne
    April 9, 2007 at 7:21 pm

    But that makes it unique “social space” of a sort, not just a “bathroom”–which possibly accounts for the increased policing. Just a guess.

    I think that’s probably it. Think of how many women’s restrooms (especially in nice department stores like Nordstrom) are fitted out with a lounge area with couches and chairs. I doubt there’s anything like that in most men’s restrooms, even the fanciest ones.

    I think I’ve only been mistaken for a man when I had short hair, and that was only from the back (I got nice wide shoulders to go along with my large breasts). At the time, the man who did it was very embarrassed, as was I. I didn’t think I looked that unfeminine at the time though, when I look at pictures from that period, I really did look like a 12-year-old boy from the shoulders up.

  16. Sophist
    April 10, 2007 at 2:35 pm

    I guess the real question I’m trying to get at is this: If I’m not, as a rule, attracted to men, and don’t particularly care if they’re attracted to me, why is it so important to me that men clearly read me as female?

    I dunno—living your whole life immersed in a culture that casts male attention and approval as being more important and meaningful, perhaps?

  17. Caja
    April 10, 2007 at 8:45 pm

    I guess the real question I’m trying to get at is this: If I’m not, as a rule, attracted to men, and don’t particularly care if they’re attracted to me, why is it so important to me that men clearly read me as female?

    Wow, that strikes a chord. Though for me, it’s a more general statement. If I”m not interested in a sexual relationship with a person (and that’s a true statement for the vast majority of people I encounter), why do I care if they read me as female? I’m not entirely sure; part of it is that I find my facial features on the harsh side of attractive, but part of it is definitely the fact that I’m androgynous enough that I could easily be taken for a boy (not so much an adult, but definitely a teenage boy). And that’s bugged me for a long, long time.

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