Gender is a Genre

The weather is warming, which means the icicles are actually getting more dangerous. There’s one right outside my apartment I’m sure would kill someone if / when it falls. I tried throwing rocks at it to dislodge the menace but to no avail.

The following post is from an assignment for Queer Lit. We discussed “Gender is a Genre” last week, did some in-class writing, and the rest as a take-home assignment. Engaging with my gender and considering the “shoulds” and “musts” of men and women was eye-opening and challenging, and something I continue to strive to recognize in myself and in my writing.

Hopefully the format and structure transfers over to the blog format. There are three short pieces that kind of go together.

***

“Boys / Men Should & Girls / Women Must

Boys should get gross. Girls must stay clean.

Boys should be tough. Girls must be soft.

A boy should wrestle. Once he is old enough he says “No homo” when he does it, even if he is.

Girls must not fight. If they do fight they should limit themselves to hair-pulling and scratching.

               Leave the fists to the boys, girls.

A man should defend his honor.

              If he has no honor he should defend someone else’s honor.

Women must let men stand up for them —

              in bars, on the street, in courts of law and public opinion —

                            It gets tough being a man, doing all this defending.

A man should always know when to say something. This is often.

A woman must speak when she has something important to say, which is not often.

Only a man should tell another man what to do. A woman must listen when a man tells her something. A woman must not tell a man what to do. She can tell another woman what to do but only if she outranks the other woman.

                     There is no chart for this; women must learn their relative positions.

A boy who cries is acting like a girl.

Until he stops crying the rules of

boy / manhood do not apply. Until he

stops crying the rules of

girl / womanhood do apply.

Women can cry when they want to —

that’s one of the things they can do.

Boys and men should do what they want and get to do what they want just so long as they conform to the rules and don’t try to rewrite the rules rewriting things is for girls and women and change is scary and women are agents of change and men are forces for stability and women confuse and men speak from the heart and off the cuff and women say one thing and do another and mean something entirely else and men can’t be expected to keep up with all the changes.

*

“Men Should Be Hairy”

My dad has a father, three brothers, and two sons, and all their genes for hairiness. My mom and dad have been married for forty years and she’s never seen his chin. He jokes that he was born with more of a beard than I can grow after six weeks. This is probably in some way true.

My last day in the military I decided not to shave — one ineffectual act of protest. Six months later I had a decent set of chin whiskers but decided to shave it off when it started to interfere with my sandwich-eating. I shaved it off with a hotel razor in the countryside just outside Stratford-upon-Avon.

(This is in no way symbolic.)

I hadn’t been attached to my beard but my beard was attached to me.

When considering men and women and should and must and body hair, of all things, I realize there’s a privilege in being able to grow a beard, chop it off, stay clean shaven, or let my hair go. A woman who shaves her legs or doesn’t shave her legs or lops off all her hair or does not conform to societal grooming standards is an outlier, a challenge to the system, though I’m on her side.

*

“I Remember [X]”

I remember in first grade thinking I could join a gang by demonstrating my ability to kick. I remember falling down when I did a high-kick on loose gravel and was not, of course, admitted to the gang. The gang broke up by the end of lunchtime.

I remember crying a lot as a child. I remember crying over things I had no control over or things I had control over and I remember crying over unfair things and fair things. I remember crying less as an adult, though I can still remember what makes me cry now.

I remember thinking how awesome it was to a kiss a girl for the first time. I remember my dad asking what I thought about kissing someone with braces. I remember replying that I had nothing to compare it to, so had to admit it was pretty awesome.

I remember the closest I got to being in an actual fight. It was middle school so the reasons were dumb but I tackled a friend and hit him a couple of times and neither of us felt better afterwards.

I remember having my nose nearly broken. Boxing was a required class in college and I was boxing outside my weight class and the other guy’s glove connected with my nose (“Keep your hands p!” is good advice inside a boxing ring) and my nostrils turned on like faucets. I remember my friends thinking the shirt looked like a tie-dye with only one color.

I remember putting away my uniforms in a storage locker. I remember wondering if I’d have uses for them. I remember not wanting to use them as Halloween costumes or anything so obvious. I remember thinking that after a few months they wouldn’t fit anymore anyway. I remember not wanting to throw them out, and seeing them again a few weeks ago and wondering again what to do with them.

I remember being asked if I ever killed anyone. I had expected this question eventually so I wasn’t surprised, though the person asking the question surprised me. I remember giving my spiel, my rehearsed answer I’d come up with in case anyone asked me that question, and I remember the shock and embarrassment and the something else in her eyes when she realized the question she’d asked me. I remember thinking I needed to change my canned answer.

I remember reading over these episodes and instances in my mind’s eye I see the thread of violence throughout. I remember years ago when I wanted to put violence behind me but maybe that’s not a thing. Maybe it’s just a part of me, not the man-part or woman-part but the me-part. I am me and these are my things and this is who I am right now but not who I’ll always be.

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