Contemplations on queerness, transness, and other Otherness.

Friday, January 27, 2012

fraying categorical consciousness

       i made a ball of rag yarn. It's a beautiful cluster of scraps. A ratty spiral of remaining bits of cotton that i had turned into 50's dresses, dutifully and cleverly recycled into a tediously beautiful artifact. It's been on proud display on my bookshelf for months.

       One of my friends recently asked me what it was going to be when it was done. i responded the only way i knew how, "it is done."

       This caused me to reflect on a few things. There's a certain sense of utility as being necessary for a thing to have worth. My friend would have understood the point were i making a scarf, something that could be used or worn. Something, frankly, that fits into a pre-constructed category of value. I think my friend would also have understood were it something that was classically beautiful. Again, the key here is this idea of pre-constructed categorical value.

       The fact that my yarn ball was both an end in itself, and is atypically beautiful made it difficult to interpret or accept. i'll be honest, i've always been attracted to a certain type of aesthetic. DIY culture found its way to my heart years ago, and i've been alienated from a lot of people for it since. But the point here is not what i like, or even why i like it.

       What's interesting to me is the general incapacity of folks to consider things for their own merit, independent of social mores. This is where i locate a link to gender. There are sharp, binary, cis-centric categories, into which human beings are mangled and crammed. There are even a small handful of non-cis categories, or categories that bend the binary a just a little. But the minute a person starts to stray from said categories, they enter a realm beyond the understanding of most folks.

       Over christmas my uncle referred to me as "young man," and quickly apologized and corrected to "young lady." i was thankful for the acknowledgement of his mistake, it meant i didn't have to internalize it and carry the weight. And, for the purposes of this essay at least, i'm going to willfully ignore the categorical disparities between "men" and "ladies." It’s the existence and enforcement of categories that’s interesting.

       i found myself thinking, "why can't i just be a 'young critter?'" Although i sometimes identify as a woman, i primarily do this out of necessity. There's not a category for my gender. i'm trans-feminine, sure, but that's just a generalized sense of directionality for me. It's a far cry from a location, and an even further cry from a permanent or solid location.

       Unlike my ball of rag yarn, i'm not done. Queer theorists call it fluidity. i just call it openness. Openness to change from within myself. Openness to catalyzed change from the outside world. Openness to daily shifts of whim and fancy. Openness to a multiplicity of identities and expressions coalescing into a single being; a single being driven to allow that tattered multiplicity to twist itself into a ball of creation.

       This incapacity to accept the idea of a fluid nature is perhaps an even bigger obstacle to overcome. If my identity were solidly and consistently one thing, i could probably come up with some sort of functional definition that allowed people (and this assumes they're willing and putting forth effort) to understand my gendered sense of self. If i always identified as genderqueer, which i sometimes do, i could patiently explain that and fight for an understanding of a singular unique identity. But, because my gender is both non-categorical and in motion, i'm left in a self-specific jam.

       Getting people to respect my femininity is hard enough, but a lot of people do. (Not so) sadly, i don't have the privilege of a binary identity. This is sad because i'm frequently reduced to using lowest common denominator descriptions of self, purely to accommodate people's incapacity to allow for my flux.

       This is not so sad because my gender is absolutely my own. i say this with zero sense of certainty, but, i think that type of consciousness is not one often achieved. So despite the hardships of living a gender that is difficult to describe or identify, i relish the hard fought privilege of living in a gender that is comfortable.

       Like my ball of yarn, my gender is made of frayed scraps. It's twisted around itself into a, not so cohesive, whole. Different colors and patterns shine through depending on the angle of view. An amalgam in style and texture. A potential to adapt and remain beautiful, even if that beauty is expressed in a wholly different fashion.

       Again, like the ball of yarn, this makes folks uncomfortable. i've been asked why i shave parts of my head if i want to be read as a woman. i've been brazenly told that my identity must be a masculine one on days that i wear pants. i've been told, to my face, that i look scary. Every one of these incidents, and countless others, was based in another human being's incapacity to accept that i, the queerly gendered creature in front of them, do not fit neatly into a category. Each of these moments happened because my gender is beautiful in its own way.

       It's unfortunate that people are incapable or unwilling to stretch their capacity to understand beyond categories. A perfect storm of socialization has armed our society with an ignorance that forces me to be at odds at almost every possible turn. A binary induced rejection of otherness has left me with very little choice save to be an apocalyptic little ball of yarn that is resilient in its beauty.