Welcome to the 4th edition of Masculinities Femininities or is that Femininities Masculinities?
Each edition changes and evolves, just like the fluidity of gender is inate, and so the title organically reflects this change. I too have changed my name since the last issue. So this issue is dedicated to change and all it brings….
‘change is a fertile soil
I plant my future‘
This issue is different in that it is more than words. It is a visual extravaganza. An expression of the creativity of gender and its multi layers and intersections.
Thanks to all the contributors, those who made it this issue and also those who didn’t but desperately wanted to but couldn’t for whatever reason. Hopefully, they will get their contributions to the next issue (start sending them in now!)
Thanks to Noa Ktana for the cover illustration.
Thanks to all those gender variants and allies who kept me going this year!
Misster Raju Rage
I was recently asked to answer the following questions for an article about gender and drag in a Finnish queer magazine Normihomolehti NHL http://www.lehtiluukku.fi.
I thought that I would share my ramblings with you as an introduction to this issue…..
– What is feminine?
– What is feminine to you?
– What is masculine?
– What is masculine to you?
Misster Raju Rage:
These are difficult questions to answer but funnily enough it is something I get asked a lot, whether directly or indirectly. People always want to know what defines gender and I struggle between giving an answer and refusing to answer, because a refusal often means they have to consider gender more fluidly and broadly rather than a fixed state that can be explained. Also they have to then figure it out themselves which means questioning (themselves and others) further than they have before which will lead them to find out more than they bargained for (I hope). That I think would be beneficial for people who just need simple answers (to complex questions for some) or who do not even question beyond what they have been told or expect answers.
People also ask this question of me to derive my gender status in order to pin it down. I am ambiguous as male or as female, even though I do not consider myself strictly either and would define myself as transgender. I will then get asked if I am MTF or FTM as people cannot decide and so I have taken to just saying I am ‘undefined’ or that ‘I don’t know or care’ when people ask me my gender. Now try saying that to strangers on the street and it can get pretty messy and unsafe at times. Try telling it to friends or people you meet in so called safe spaces and you find yourself having to explain yourself for hours. Try filling in forms and paperwork and well you get stuck and feel isolated pretty quickly.
But to answer your question I would have to say that it isn’t something I really think about in regards to myself. I have asked myself in the past and not come up with any answers besides what I’m sharing with you here. I have felt comfortable with both masculinity and femininity and uncomfortable with both at different times also. I allow myself both expressions and in different combinations depending on many different factors like environment, mood or safety. I don’t often restrict myself to how I behave or the activities that I do because of whether they are considered masculine or feminine so I’m not a good person to ask as it’s not something I ask myself or get caught up in. Also I feel very much like both are so meshed in me and not at all polarised as such and I often cannot differentiate between them. So when I drag up as my alter ego ‘Lola’ it is both an expression of my femininity and masculinity, my femme masculinity that I otherwise struggle to convey in everyday life where everyone puts their expectations of gender onto me. It is a statement of the fact that I do not see myself as a solely masculine trans guy but that I am femme even though I consider myself male and use male pronouns. I feel I look more masculine when I dress up as Lola and possess a strength that I find truly feminine and it is also a culturally Indian femininity rather than a western femininity to me which I feel more at ease with and want to express.
I have always been told that I am not feminine enough and then not masculine enough, sometimes that I am not trans enough or then not gender queer enough so the fact that I am not complying makes me (willingly and unwillingly) confused about gender and fitting into masculinity and femininity in a ‘proper’ sense. I will never meet other people’s ideals. So that realisation is that gender is not so fixed at all as it will depend on the beholders eye, beliefs, opinions and experiences as to what they consider gender to comprise of. What is masculine or feminine in my personal experience or my culture will not be in someone else’s and that is also an important consideration as it becomes a more multifaceted discussion to incorporate many factors that people may not be aware of at first and of course the more dominant cultures in a given space will get to dominate what is more acceptable with gender in definition. My family cannot fully accept that I am transgender. That I want to be considered male with masculine pronouns as they see my femininity (which I do not conceal) and they have been told and socialised in the dominant western world, including the power and influence of the medical world and the media, that masculinity must equate with certain attributes like being big, strong, tall, hairy and having a deep voice. Also that trans people are not beautiful or comfortable with their bodies, that they are self haters and freaks. But in my culture (and in many others) many men are effeminate or vary from this model and in my culture it is common for gender variation (for example with hyjras) to occur and exist. I mean if we actually look around with open eyes we can see that people comprise of many different shapes and sizes but wider society is not generally accepting of that. Instead we tell them they do not measure up or that they are inadequate and so people of all genders, even those who consider themselves cis gendered, struggle with ‘passing’ and measuring up, being man or woman enough and will go on to develop eating disorders and body image issues and personality ‘disorders’ and mental health issues because they cannot just be who they are or they struggle all their lives to try to fit into somebody else’s ideals. This affects ALL genders and not just gender non conforming people. For this reason I make a political statement to not define what is masculine or feminine as I feel that we are constantly being told and really this can only be answered personally by each and every individual person in self definition. For me being feminine is looking into my heritage of strong Indian female role models who express/ed themselves as they wanted and who were/are not afraid to show it to anyone or braved it. For me masculinity means being different to all those negative male role models I have had in my life, making a stand to be a different male identified person to them, rejecting certain aspects like misogyny and introducing others like feminism and building on others I relate strongly to like brotherhood.
THE SPIDERBOI FILES is a choose-your-own gender graphic novel in poems. Initially inspired by kari edwards’ “
each piece began as a cut-up poem, borrowing from found and overheardlanguage, which was later inked onto a panel and folded into apalm-sized zine. The project chronicles my relationship with gender and the early stages of my gender transition. One of my aims was to confuse my gender variance and trans-identification with consumer culture’s promise of providing the power to choose and create identity.
Jai Arun Ravine is the author of the chapbook IS THIS JANUARY (Corollary Press, 2010), creator of the choose-your-own-gender adventure graphic novel THE SPIDERBOI FILES and a Kundiman fellow. A trans/gender/queer, multi-disciplinary writer, dancer, visual and performing artist of mixed Thai and white American heritage, Jai received an MFA in Writing & Poetics from Naropa University and a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies from Hollins University.
For more information, visit http://jaiarunravine.wordpress.com/spiderboi
What are you honestly willing to give up?
It takes all kinds of things to keep our communities alive, truly a diversity of tactics. i recognize this, and am not going to shit on people who are trying, in their grief, in their own ways, to help, even if i think it sometimes has more to do with making adults feel better than supporting queer youth. That’s not what this is about. (Nor do i think that is what critiques of the It Gets Better campaign are all about either, but i digress). This is about my take on it, my needs, desires, hopes. They’re not mutually exclusive. And saying this doesn’t mean i want queer kids to die or don’t understand the gravity of the situation, or am somehow not taking my place and my privileges into consideration, all critiques lobbed at folks who have spoken about their concerns regarding this campaign. There are many things i don’t understand. As someone who never had computers as a kid, who did not exist in a computerized world in the 70s and 80’s, i definitely don’t understand the impacts that has today. i don’t know what it is to be a kid in school, right now. No clue. So much more i don’t understand based in my white privilege. This place of privilege and hurt and understanding and not understanding is where i’m coming from. And so very importantly, this place of being a member of the group of people who have the legal right to control what youth have access to, is where i am coming from. Let’s be honest about our place as adults in these conversations.
i don’t support or fight for marriage rights for queers, not because i want fellow queers to suffer, but because i want more people to have access to the privileges, not just a specific set of folks, such that they cease being special privileges at all. So i fight a broader fight. And i don’t want to tell youth to wait for shit to get better only once they graduate high school, i want to contribute to making it better in the here and now. i’m not suggesting anywhere here that folks who are saying “It Gets Better” are only saying that or only doing this one thing, because i’m quite sure that couldn’t be further from the truth. But personally, this is not my focus. And since we’re not competing here, but having a dialogue about our various focuses and opinions on that, let’s do just that.
Let me tell you i’m tired of this future-tripping-as-sage-advice that’s floating around of late. How about: “You ARE Strong”? Like, right now. Not 10 or 5 or 2 years from now at some magical point at which everything will apparently change. And not based in my adult, white, male-passing, North American presumptions about what strength and survival look like or how they manifest? Or better yet, how about “You Don’t HAVE to Be Strong To Be Respected and Not Assaulted”? What about “You Can Be Strong, Weak, Both, Conflicted, Confused, Sure-As-Shit, and You Will Still Have My Solidarity”?
i understand the point of the campaign is to get fewer queer kids killing themselves. But when people like (and unlike) me are going around telling kids to wait through abuse for freedom and solidarity, this has never and will never be the generalized result, IMO. What it does is tell kids that where they are at right now is a phase, a stage, and that they just need to knuckle down and take it. And you know how well many queers respond to that. The former is condescending, unfair, and not an accurate reflection of our lives, and ultimately shuts down conversation, while the latter is just plain cruel.
And when people like Dan Savage out trans people against their will, i’m unsure to what degree he hopes that will help trans kids stop killing themselves, but i suppose that’s too off-topic and “not getting the point” as well. i’m unsure to what degree a trans queer kid is supposed to listen to people like him and take comfort. As if kids need more adults to prove we are hypocrites. Too many folks don’t understand or accept that youth see us adults. They know our bullshit, they know our game. The internet has i’m sure only intensified this understanding for those with access to it.
But my point isn’t to pick at this and similar projects.
i’m no longer in school, so i speak from this place only and from memories of my life then. But i don’t respond well to being told to wait through pain, abuse, silencing, rage, self-deprecation, and isolation. Would you tell your sister to wait? Would you tell your friend to wait, because their partner is going into therapy and will stop being an asshole real soon, promise? Or that at some point, 6 years down the road, they will be given societal permission to leave, and then it’ll all be better? Why would i do this to a kid? Perhaps i’d do it if my story told me to, if things did indeed get better after some predetermined amount of time and i believed people all have access to the same possibilities and resources. But they didn’t and i don’t.
Instead of killing myself, i stuck around because i had the resources to stick around. i self-injured pretty intensely as a kid, and i did it in isolation, in silence, in private, in shame. It hurt me, but it kept me alive. Too few adults would ever recognize that as a legitimate survival tactic, one that i had devised on my own, one that i utilized when i could, one that kept me alive. i also drank, in private or with my parents, in my teens. Few adults would recognize that as a legitimate coping mechanism for kids. But it allowed me to numb the pain of being a survivor of abuse, and of being queer and trans without adequate words or safe space to speak to it, of being poor and newly disabled in my early teens; alcohol allowed me to numb all of that enough to go on. And it did get “better”, in terms of how i dealt with it, but not before it got worse. A lot worse. Making claims about it getting better wouldn’t have helped me. It wouldn’t have inspired or spoke to me about anything but silence; a silence that i had been busy cultivating and expanding since i was two years old. That those were the two main coping mechanisms i had spoke less about my innate ability as a kid to know what was right for me, to support and love and rally round, than it did to the sheer inability/unwillingness of adults to help me; their hypocrisy, their cluelessness.
There were things adults did that helped me. To escape and get out what was going on for me, i wrote, a lot. i wrote poetry and made up political reports. My parents, while not understanding what i was writing (most of which i never shared with them anyways), supported me in that by getting me a typewriter at a yard sale when i was like 15. i also played guitar, and while we were broke, my family supported me with that too. There was a guitar in our home, and while i often felt not good enough, the opportunity was there to play. i bought my first guitar when i was 7 years old, from a family friend for just under $50. i had been saving almost every scrap of change i could find, since i was 6, allowance ($1 a week or so), anything i could do, returning beer empties with my dad, anything, to save up to buy this guitar. The only reason i got it was because i had access to these pennies, and because my uncle asked me “how much have you managed to save?” and when i told him he said “well that’s amazing, because that’s how much i’m selling it for!” He took my change, handed me the guitar, and i learned how to play and learned how to survive. It was me, but i had the resources made available. This isn’t some tale of a kindly philanthropist helping the poor kid so they can “be all they can be” and not off themselves, this is about acknowledging the privilege of having some resources available to me. You see what i’m saying here? It wasn’t just about holding on, about my personal strength, about pulling myself up by my proverbial bootstraps.
My message to youth is not to “hold on”, “wait it out”. i want them to stick around, believe me. It breaks my fucking heart to know the reality they’re enacting. Breaks. My. Heart. But i’m not going to tell them lies. i’m not going to pretend to have answers. And i’m not going to pretend they don’t. What’s that saying? “We are the experts on our own lives”? Yeah.
i don’t want to offer hope based in one persons experiences. i want to support them finding their own hope if they want it, they’re own resiliencies, their own powers, and i want to get the fuck out of their way while they do it. i don’t want to tell kids to wait and it’ll get better. i want to be able to honestly tell them i’m doing what i can to help so that they don’t HAVE to wait. i want to tell them i don’t understand what they’re going through, but i’ve had my own shit, and am trying to understand. And i want to tell them that even in my ignorance, if i never understand, i’m going to keep doing what i can because it’s important to me that queers and trans people and fatties and gimps and folks of colour and poor kids and everyone else who has ever been fucked with, survives and thrives on their own terms. i want to go to the rallies they can’t go to yet and support the ones they can, go to the events they’re barred from based on age, to raise money to go towards projects which they have said help them. i want to, when i’m able and invited, to support but not dominate spaces which don’t bar them. i want to not speak for them, but give up some of my own space to them if they want it so they can speak and do for themselves. Yes i want them to know they’re not alone, but i don’t want to deny their lived realities that they so often are.
Instead of offering advice, i ask myself this: What am i willing to give up in order to help? Because that is surely what this is about, as it is about any hugely diverse group of people seeking liberation, voice, relief, community, understanding, love, friendship, solitude, peace of mind. As a gimp, i am under precisely zero illusion that in order to get what i need to be ok someone else will not need to give something up. They will. Society will. Whether folks wish to acknowledge it or not, that’s how this shit works. i’m not going to tell kids all they need to do is hold on. That’s not all they need, and they have been telling adults that for as long as time.
What are you honestly willing to give up?
Edited to add: i’m going to add this, because the flipside comes up a lot in the discussions around the campaign: Many supporters of this campaign are saying that this kind of messaging HAS to happen, that youth HAVE to hear these messages, and that they will add to the saving of lives. And i’m just here to say that while that may well be true for some, in my case at least it wouldn’t have. This messaging about it getting better in 5, 10 years would not have saved my life, it would have been the nail in my coffin. What kept me alive was pretending that the shit i was dealing with was only going to go on for another day, because i could only cope with one day at a time. And maybe others can stretch that out to mean over years via this campaign, and that’s great. But we’re not competing here, and other perspectives are as important as any other. The perspectives of kids who would not be saved by this campaign are important. The perspectives of those kids who would off themselves after hearing “wait 7 years, it’ll all be cool then and you can go to France” knowing full well they’re not going to France, they’re probably not even going to get out of the town, the housing project or the fucking tent they live in; those perspectives are important too. That’s where critique comes in, and in a dynamic varied community trying to make connections to “youth” who may or may not feel or be part of that community for so many reasons, that needs to be ok.
And “youth” are not a monolith. “Youth” are a hugely diverse bunch, certainly were “when i was young”, and i’m sure that’s not changed. There is no all encompassing One Message That “Youth” Need to Hear. That’s why i love all the critiques of this campaign, especially the critique from “youth”. i don’t believe Dan Savage figures this kind of thing is all it takes, but the backlash against the critiques of it are troubling to me. What’s wrong with critiquing this? What is so sacred about it that it’s above critique? Critiquing it doesn’t mean people want queers or those perceived as queer to die. It means we want more. It means we’re doing more. It means we recognize different perspectives, the complexities, and don’t want to make a monolith out of a molehill, so to speak. That’s a good thing! When people stop questioning, that’s when i really worry.
Femme on Fem
scratch up my back as breathless whispers of my masculine name,
reach closer than I can see in this charcoal sight.
I only feel heat.
My back is a canvas,
Worn and weeping for eager claws,
That match her bleeding fingertips.
An hour earlier I patiently watched her paint those nails the colour of my wounds.
her sharp strokes.
Now she is painting me.
And tearing me to pieces
Releasing me from my shell, she says, so I can be free.
but she is only toying,
I consent since she understands my forced biology (better than I think she does).
She recognises my history,
As it is also her(own)story.
you see our bodies share the same heritage.
Our ancestors have walked, ridden, sailed and flown into the unknown,
speaking in forgotten, infused tongues that we now entwine in lust.
We have also travelled through time and transcended identities in order to survive,
in the same directions but with different lines and curves.
We explore each other s contours,
Tightly tracing each other,
without breaking contact.
We have crossed many unspoken borders barbed with sharp wires, forbidden laws that cut us up.
We are in the same skin, trying desperately to escape,
whilst at the same time nourishing our beautiful coats as best as we can so that it shines like it is supposed to,
like it should,
as it would,
under the sun of ‘other’ landscapes,
where we truly belong,
but do not know anymore.
We are the same… but we are not. Two marooned islands that we call fem/me.
A mirage of flesh on flesh,
the same and yet not.
where I begin and she ends,
We do not see
We are myth
A story yet to be told.
Though we do not need words, or even pronouns here.
she senses my every impulse,
with a surgeons cutting precision,
but i know i can trust her much more with my transgendered body than any doctor.
my body cannot hide from her
under the folds of my gendered clothes.
But this is a dance of contradiction.
Subconsciously i move out of rhythm,
missing the repetitive beat on purpose.
She hears this tune too and for her own reasons refuses to move.
We are too complicated for this dance,
We move around each other,
To our own song
at times following,
taking instinctive turns
The signs are misleading,
but we know what to read,
how to move,
what to do,
what to say,
when we must.
While others guess and get the answers wrong, she knows to ask, when we do not even speak.
She moans when I let her. I groan as she begs me, she moans as I tease her, i groan as she makes me
advancing, retreating, dominating, submitting. caressing.
She is a woman and I am not.
Yet we share a common femininity.
Not when other’s assuming eyes are on us, for they see what they wish to see,
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