Over the last week, I’ve been visiting family, which has been more educational than it has been a holiday. Accordingly, I haven’t had all that much time and energy (or internet connectivity) to spend on studying. Starting tomorrow, I’ll have to get back on it.
Tonight after work was spent venting confusion and participating in conversation about gender-nonbinary positionality. I needed this, regardless of how much study is piling up. I haven’t yet checked to see where I stand as regards my current workload, but I know I was only given a half-week for Spring Break.
Overall, I feel like I’m doing pretty well, though that wouldn’t be the case without accommodations. I do have the excuse as well that a large part of the reason for the visit was to attend a memorial, though no one has asked me for that information, yet.
Anyhow. Now I’m back, albeit touched more than a bit by being read as woman-by-default, by my extended family.
We didn’t really get to my topic at the gender group tonight, and I’m okay with that, because I did get to engage in conversation and feel heard. Basically…I’m coming to a realization that I’m more of a soft guy than a hard woman, although historically and contemporarily speaking, I am gender-fluid.
My thing is that I don’t fit into any ready-made gender category; I have more like a mixture of traits (and whatever else one may use to determine gender). My identity itself is clearly not-girl (to me), but that doesn’t make me a woman or a man, either. And yeah, that sounds (and looks) about right. My body is mostly typically female, but not entirely so…and I’m okay with that. I relate to my body as my own body, not the body of anyone I’m assumed to be which I’m not. I’m lucky that way.
I’m also lucky that the people closest to me understand (and normalize) where I’m coming from, which eases a lot of tension I might otherwise have.
The issue I’ve been having recently is not knowing how to present. Particularly, while on break, I started thinking about differing versions of femininity. This was mostly tipped off by visiting a number of Japanese(-American) markets…and identifying with red and pink and violet. (In particular, Japanese clothes tend to have some really beautiful shades of red, for reasons I’ll get into below.)
I was remembering what my Japanese-American grandmother told me about colors of clothing when I was little; that red was a color used in girls’ clothing, and that the colors became more subdued as one married and aged. This sounds ridiculous to the parent I have who isn’t Japanese-American…but I must have learned this when I was 6 years old, and aside from Inu Yasha (which was written by the female author behind Ranma 1/2), the red-clothing thing seems to be a pattern which conforms to what my grandmother said.
I think I still have my first red kimono with white flowers all over it (my grandmother tried to shape me to become as ethnically Japanese[-American] as possible, regardless of my race; though notably, she never did introduce me to maru obi [a woman’s waist wrap] or obijime [a waist-cord accessory], though I still have the kanzashi [hairpin] she gave me).
But there’s a lot of drama and ambivalence around this. In Japanese culture, it isn’t a good thing to be mixed-race (as I am), at least unless one is mixed with White; for what reason, I don’t know. I’m thinking it may have to do with war, and also with ethnic pride. I know that my grandmother wanted 100% Japanese(-American) grandchildren, but because of the family having been in the U.S. so long…it’s very common for families by the third or fourth generation to begin marrying and having children who aren’t fully racially Japanese. It doesn’t always go over well with the rest of the Japanese(-American) family, though.
I did get to see both sides of my family over the last week, I should state. There were race tensions, and general tensions that had to do with long-standing family dynamics, which I won’t get into here (if I can help it).
Anyhow…we went to a couple of different Japanese markets…and, well, you can see on this blog that I have a big thing about colors and their psychological effects. This may even overrule the subject matter of some of my work (or attempted work), at least in my mind. It’s something that has had me looking at artists like Mondrian. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned anything about color symbolism before now, though.
Kandinsky went into an actual book, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, about symbolism, including his personal meanings behind his use of colors in his art. I’m not rigid enough about it to really codify it in a book, at this point (like I say I could never run a cult because I change my mind too often), but this, and Josef Albers’ works, in addition to color-field artists…they’re things I keep in mind. Even if I haven’t deeply read Kandinsky’s book. 🙂
While I was at one of these markets, I found a beautiful little incense burner which was a glossy red-violet ceramic dish with white glaze highlights. I was immediately attracted to it. Now that I think of it, I remember thinking that it must have been made for someone like me, because of its color.
Which, in turn, brings up the question of what exactly a woman is. Especially, what it means to be a woman outside of the U.S.
Like I said earlier, there is a large emphasis on red and pink in a lot of Japanese stuff (like clothing, in particular) because of its symbolism and relation to girls and women. Red stands for blood; it also stands for power, fire, and fertility. I’m uncertain if it is linked to Amaterasu, the sun goddess in Shinto faith; but the Japanese flag’s red circle is meant to represent the sun.
Anyhow…I wish I had taken a picture of this incense burner. I ended up putting it back because it cost $14, and I ended up spending about $22 on a metallic pink water bottle instead. I could use the water bottle (and actually, already have). I don’t need another incense burner (I don’t even know how long it has been since I burned incense). I think I even commented that I could “reinforce my gender another time.”
The thing is that I don’t know if I’m walking a line here of appearing to be a cis woman even though I’m gender-fluid with very apparent forays into femininity. The thing is, “femme,” is not the same as, “woman.” I’m comfortable being femme. I can even like to be femme, but I have to remember that I’m not a woman, or else I get into dangerous territory where other people are treating me like a woman and I go along with it, and start to think of myself as a woman. The major problem here is that the term, “woman,” for me, carries with it a lot of social expectations, expectations of myself, and cultural baggage. That is, I disidentify with it in order to preserve my own identity, or sense of myself.
And then I talk about making jewelry and sewing and embroidery and becoming a Librarian. But none of that makes you a woman. The way I’ve thought of it is that being a woman is something that comes from inside. At least it has been that way, for the transgender women I have known. According to another source, though, who happens to be a Second-Wave feminist, people are born and then they do what the society tells them they should…that, for example, women don’t wear “Women’s” clothing to express something inside of them, they do it because of societal and cultural power constraints, and because they don’t consider other options.
The thing is…my disidentification with girlhood and womanhood…(I will say I was at one time a girl — but a thirty-something-year-old human is no longer a child, regardless of sex)…doesn’t extend to eschewing femininity. I’ve lived through a time where I was “dressing to character,” so to speak; where I chose and wore clothes because of their gender designation (as masculine).
At this point, I feel like I’ve grown beyond that; literally, because of age and lack of exercise, my body is no longer androgynous; figuratively, because I like certain clothes regardless of what message that sends to other people. I haven’t yet learned how to deal with the responses from others that come with this, though. In particular, I get a lot of positive attention for being femme while being female, which means I’m being seen as a cis woman, and I don’t know what to do with that.
Maybe that’s why I dislike it.
In addition, though: I also want to dress in more red and pink and purple (with green and blue), as versus the cool and neutral colors I had been drawn to and which make up most of my wardrobe.
I guess it actually literally is, “passing,” as a woman, only I’m not trying, and I don’t have a history of living in a male body. But if, “passing,” is being seen as something you’re not…which seems more accurate to the origin of the term as regards race relations…(that is, transgender women are women, they are not men, “passing,” as women)…
Is that what I’m dealing with? Passing privilege? It would make sense, then, why I would have a great deal of trepidation toward being seen as male and presenting femme at the same time. Transitioning to male seems like it would put me into the space of a pre-transition, gender-nonconforming, assigned-male person. And that is a very difficult space to exist within in my culture, even where I am. Let alone, the possibility of living permanently that way, as versus as a transitional phase.
That would also explain why I even have the ability to feel, “normal,” because my difference can be (and is) glossed over. That is, the erasure and lack of understanding of my identity grants me a level of relative safety (as most who don’t know about transgender people will see me as a lesbian woman when I complain of being misgendered by straight men — and most people here accept lesbian women; at least, heteronormative lesbian women). But it’s still very apparent, when I speak, to those who are also gender-variant, that I’m coming from a gender-variant viewpoint. My appearance just doesn’t fully disclose my identity; and if it did, I run the risk of presenting as a stereotype — for the sake of other people — in order to be socially intelligible. And, given the risks of being readable, it’s to my benefit not to be so.
I guess you can kind of get a glimpse of what I’m going through, here.
I think…I should look back over this tomorrow, and see if I can draw any further conclusions out of it. Right now, I think I’m in it too deep, and I’m probably up too late to think clearly, in any case.