Sunday, September 07, 2008

Gender on the Ground

Recently, I have been talking with some folks about how pervasive the binary system of gender is and how it really impacts all of our lives. How most people see only male or female and when one is wearing those blinders, are encouraged to snap judgments and assumptions that may not accurately reflect how I'm feeling at the moment. For most people, this really doesn't matter and perhaps I shouldn't worry about it because I'm just being myself.

But I do.

I've reached a place where I've crossed that line from being mostly gendered male to mostly gendered female and please don't get me wrong, I'm fine with that. But that's not what others may be seeing. Now it seems, when I'm in public places, I need to wait for others to tell me who I am. And its a funny place to be, to have to wait for their cues, before I know mine. helen boyd put it at its simplest best, "you're going to be clocked as either male or female by everyone, even if they don't agree with each other. that's gender on the ground."

Now, our house has an open door policy, people are always welcome to just drop in. Many do, and most often, when a meal is being prepared. So it was no surprise that while my daughter and I were preparing breakfast, at six a.m. I might add, the phone rang and some friends who were driving thru town, called. 'Yah Tah Hey big sis, what's for breakfast', was what came from the phone.

So my friend shows up, with another friend of hers and I put down 2 more plates and put on another pot of coffee. 'Look what I found on the run', was her way of introducing her friend to me. For the past 6 months she has been coordinating the Sacred Run of the Continents and was in the process of returning home, her leave of absence ending soon. Her friend, who needed a ride home too, is a young runner, a member of the Paiute Nation and a Two Spirit. 'Thought the two of you might have something in common to talk about', she said. We did, and over the next few hours we shared a conversation that had my friend just gazing in astonishment.

Oh, we did talk about a lot, especially about how women's energy influences many of our ceremonies (in the next couple of paragraphs, when I use plurals like 'our', I mean it in the context of a pan-Indian or pan-Two Spirit voice. The specifics of our personal ceremonies vary culturally, yet many of the traditions are very similar). And one of the points he, a F2M, and I agreed upon is how strongly who we are, when we walk into a ceremonial place, is mostly determined by how we are seen by those in the ceremony. He and I have both shared those moments, when others decide our gender, roles and place and we have had to 'adjust' to accept their assumptions, or not. And over chorizo and coffee, the two of us sitting there, looking straight into the eyes of this women who thought she was so sure she knew who she is, as a spiritual women; with he and I knowing that we each were initiated into a world that we knew was not entirely ours hold and armed with that knowledge, we were able to make even her question the very essence, spiritual assumptions and absolute significance of something as 'cast in stone' as our friends' moon time.

So there it is, on both sides of my walk, the consequences of a grounded gender. Despite who it is that I think I am today, the binary persists with others continually defining me in their own view of who I am or think I should be. Its their own personal vision of who I am and it is their vision that shapes my reality. Again, I'm not sayin' that its a bad thing and generally I'm pretty OK with it, much of the time because what I want people to see me as aligns with their perceptions. But its those times that I'm not wanting to be who they see me as, that its particularly annoying.

Or dangerous.

But that's not why I'm bringing it up here, to rehash passing privilege or trying to redefine a middle road or to wear my culture on my sleeve. Lately, and more often than I'd like, I've been caught in these gendered places and being there can get quite surreal at times. It's an odd feeling that when you're out and about and doing your thing, that you need to wait for clues from others to see who you might be today. To them. At that point of time. And place.

Of course its bad enough when its just you, out and about. But I have a wife, and a daughter and in-laws, and my ma and family and old friends and new. Each one making me who I am. Whether anyone, including me, is in agreement or not, it doesn't matter.

There was a time when my wife and I never had to even think about the qualifiers. She and I could just go out for a walk. Just a couple. Out for a walk. Now when we walk we have to be aware of others, waiting for signs from them, in order to see who they are seeing, to see if we can be who we are, or who we should be.

So while I was writing this stuff, I got a couple YouTube posts. I've known Georgie Jessup and Lisa Jackson & Girl Friday for some time, but to have them pointed out to me at just this time was truly a wonderful Coyote moment. Being able to watch both of them, for the first time side by side, I was just struck by their not making any bones about who they are. Right then. And watching them is perhaps the wrong sense, it was listening to them. The voice. Their voice. We all understand the power of the voice, as trans people. And there they are, singing in their voices. No hiding the the range, the tone, the depth. Their voice.

What is the gender of those voices? Are they male, female?

Me, all I hear is Lisa and Georgie. Two beautiful voices singing songs that resonate in my mind, my soul. Like the drum beat and the heart. A connection that goes back in time. And will always be there in the future. So, if you turn off the video and just listen, its there. You can really see it. Who they are. They are being themselves. If only for a moment, showing the elusive heart of a Two Spirit.

Sometimes I wish the world could be so blind and just listen to the our voices.

1 comment:

DK said...

I appreciated reading this piece.

For reference I recently wrote a piece on binary gender assumptions, it can be found on my own blog ( if you're interested.

Thanks again.
~doffs cap~