August 31, 2012

Free to Be You and Me vs. Gender Claustrophobia

I've been thinking a lot about gender claustrophobia lately and this week in particular. And not just gender claustrophobia as in me, a woman, feeling choked by stereotypical notions of what it means to be a "man" or a "woman," but in terms of how the multitude of labels for various gender identities out there can feel choking and confining too.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I first came across the term gender claustrophobia in the context not of "straight" people but among queer people who felt constrained by all the limited understandings of "homosexual," even within their own communities. I've always felt freer in queer communities, but the fact that within those too there's gender claustrophobia: well, that really struck me. It hit right home.

As our daughter turned four this summer, gaining a new level of self-reliance, my husband and I have enjoyed a few more nights out just the two of us. Last weekend, we went bar hopping in the cities, hanging out at those places rated highest on the LGBT friendly scale. The first place we went to, where we also had our dinner, sort of depressed me with its cool factor; like being queer was also acting cool, in a very self-conscious sort of way. Very confining. And not very free and cool at all.

At the second place, I was struck by the multitude of labels in all their rigidity, as odd as that may seem. So we have straight. And we have queer. And then we add more labels, to change things up and make things more colorful. But if the label gets too narrow; well then, how far have we really gotten? To just a bunch of claustrophobic boxes?

As I've quoted, "labels can be a good way to build community and find yourself, but they can become a problem if someone feels restricted or constrained by them."

To me, it would seem we would get farther if the labels themselves could broaden to include more. If the categories were looser; freer; providing more play-field to explore and define on own terms. If "heterosexually married" or even just "married" didn't come with so much old fashioned baggage; stereotypes regarding what it means to be married.

I felt the freest at the drag and king show we went to at the end of the night, though a transwoman (or was she a queen?) in the audience kept studying me, like "who is this person [me]?" or "what is this person [me] doing here?". As if I were an impostor.

The thing is, no matter how queer and free and fluid I may feel, I fear that the way I present (fabulous and glamorous if you ask me on a good day; check out this cell phone picture of me on our way out this particular evening), reduces me to, well: cisgender straight. Boring. An intruder.

Except to those good queer folks who already know me, of course.

I guess I'm just rehashing the fact that gender claustrophobia bothers me. And that it troubles me that it happens not just in straight contexts but in queer ones too. That doesn't really surprise me (and shouldn't, considering the origin of the term). But it still brings me down just a tad.

That said, I ironically found the performance (!) of specific gender identities the most freeing at the queen and king show because it was so out there. Free from the self-consciousness of the cool queers at the place we ate, and the flamboyant gays and rehearsed butches and femmes and bois and all the other cool and queer folks in between at the lush bar. It was just what it was. An old local bar in the cities; the oldest LGBT friendly bar in place, with people delivering a true good and honestly desired performance to be who you are inside in all its quirky and beautiful and inspiring uniqueness. As opposed to a contrived effort and attempt to fit into that particular way of doing, being, acting queer.

Free to be, you and me. That's all I want.

Photo credit: Father of the Year Helps Dress-Wearing Son Feel Comfortable By Putting on a Skirt Himself

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