Wednesday, May 13, 2009

the things we wear so close to our skin

Last night I met a girl who wants to be a radical lingerie designer (she wants to take Victoria's Secret down, big time), and while walking her to the train I ran into some friends and got diverted from my homeward course. Instead, I ended up at a bar, listening to a debate about gender and whether it is an inherently harmful cultural construction. (This is life lately. Radical lingerie and bar talks about gender. Don't even get me started on some of the other conversations I've had recently.) I was so frustrated at my own inarticulateness and silence that I came home a little after midnight and wrote in my journal until about 1:45. Generally I've been sleeping better, but a good idea can still keep me up all night. All I ever end up with is more questions, though.
When I was younger, a "baby feminist," I spent a lot of time writing about how we needed to smash everything apart and make it all new again, how everything needed to be restructured so that we could get past all of that sexism/racism/classism bullshit. The idea scared the crap out of me, I'll admit, because I had no idea how it could happen, but I upheld it faithfully. (I was so into 70's feminist lit... Can you tell? There are some really interesting journal entries from that time, I imagine.) The idea of revolution has always simultaneously excited and confused me. When I was twenty I believed in radical revolution, but now I'm not so certain that the kind of revolution I vaguely envisioned is as "easy" as I assumed it to be. Not that breaking everything apart and restructuring everything would be easy (yikes), but I no longer am so certain that it's entirely possible or even entirely desirable. Can you untie what has already been from what will be? Could you maintain a sense of history and progression if something like that were to happen? What kind of revolution do I want? Is it the same as the one that might be possible? Do I want them to be the same, or do I want something more than what is pragmatically more reasonable?
I don't want gender to hurt anybody, the people I love or people I don't know or myself. But I have so many questions about just what gender is and what it does that I don't know exactly where to go from where I am right now. I feel lately, not stupid, but lacking some of the pieces I need to have in order to put my thoughts into a coherent order. My journal is full of questions, and very few answers. Is gender inherently harmful? Can it exist in a non-harmful way? Can you take responsibility for the way you feel about your own gender, regardless of what that is, and use that to become more open to other people's gender ideas? Does gender actually exist, or did we just make it up? Some of these I could answer, at least theoretically, but I find that if I want to fully understand and believe my answers I just end up with more questions and no solid conclusions.
Sometimes, I can feel the gender edifice in my mind get shaky. When I'm thinking really clearly, when I'm talking to somebody and the gender ideas keep slipping into each other and I realize how transitory and constructed they are, I can feel it quake inside of me and for a brief moment I get a glimpse of something beyond what I normally perceive, gender-wise. I'm trying right now to make those moments happen as often as possible, because they always slip away from me and I'm not sure I'm learning enough from them. I don't have the bone-deep certainty I want to have about much of anything (if certainty is even possible... which sometimes I doubt as well) but I figure all I can do is push myself to keep learning and growing and having new thoughts and someday maybe I'll reach a place where I understand more than I do now. I may not have the pieces yet, in other words, but I'm getting closer all the time. I hope.

1 comment:

Emilyon said...

No, I don't think gender as a concept is inherently harmful, although imposed constructions of gender often are. I find it increasingly hard to even apply the terms "male" and "female" because they're so essentialist.

I think it's not about doing away with the idea of gender as much as it's about being able to hold the idea of gender as a spectrum in your head, and to think of gender as a fluid thing (not at all easy). We all get a little gender queer on occasion, in ways that don't even warrant labelling it as such. For instance, sometimes I dream that I'm a man. (As in literally, I dream that while I'm asleep) If I'm dreaming that I'm a man, and inhabiting that shell in my unconscious mind, am I a man? (Tell me, where is gender the heart or in the head) I tend not to worry about those questions too much, but then, that's easy for me to say. I'm a little odd and unfashionable, maybe, but I present as more or less unambiguously "girl." Hm. Interesting post. I'm going to be thinking about it all day now.