Femininity On A Spectrum

If masculinity and femininity are on a spectrum, and where you identify at any point can change, then there shouldn’t be this immense pressure to define yourself as a particular category in the queer community. There are so many separate categories just within the lesbian community that try to nail down “which lesbian you are.” Personally, I feel as though I don’t fit any particular category. Labels have expanded past butch and femme. Look up lesbian terminology and you’ll see terms like lipstick lesbian, chapstick lesbian, stud, stem, androgyne, high femme, and so many more. I have friends that identify along with the androgyne category. This makes total and complete sense to them; they are confident that they are not femmes. They present themselves in ways that defy traditional femininity. They’ve never been “girly.”

Whenever I ask the people around me what they think I am, I hear an overwhelming agreeance that I am a femme. This made me wonder, what is it that classifies you as feminine? Is it your actions? The way you carry yourself? Your extracurricular interests? Or is it simply gender presentation?

Gender presentation can reflect one’s inner self. Or it can completely defy it. My friends have worn dresses and makeup before; doing so didn’t innately change them to make them more femme. If we all dressed up in the same outfit, they would still consider me to be the most femme out of all of them. So is this because of something innate that we exude? If I don’t feel particularly attached to femininity, why is it that I am consistently perceived as such?

Femininity is so much more than clothing, and it is far more complex because it is completely intangible. It is a social construct that is meant to help us understand the world around us. It is a combination of how we see ourselves, how we wish to present ourselves, and how we interact with the world around us. It is absolutely a manmade concept and it is not explicitly defined for each person. It is fluid and malleable. It’s important for me to remind myself that labels don’t have to be definite because we’re all different, and we don’t have to be the same presented version of ourselves today as we were yesterday.

The gay community embraces fluidity and doesn’t abide by rigid roles. We’ve already broken down barriers by defying societal norms in terms of our sexualities. If we can embrace an identity outside of the “norm,” we feel more comfortable experimenting with and breaking down social constructs. I think this allowance for changing preferences and identities and gender presentation is one of the most beautiful aspects of our community. Conforming to a binary has never been part of our path.

I didn’t choose to be gay. None of us did. We didn’t actively pick and choose what our identities were. We discovered our preferences and we shaped our lives around our realities. We deserve time and a lack of rigidity with our experimentation. Your identity is yours, and how you shape it and what you call it is up to you.

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Why Queer Identities Threaten the Patriarchy

The patriarchy is a social structure that has existed to oppress both men and women throughout history. We are negatively affected by this social structure that divides us with rigid roles, unrealistic expectations, and harmful beliefs. Men are expected to be masculine, dominant, controlling, and unfeeling. Women are expected to be feminine, submissive, timid, and emotional. Gender does not determine any of these traits, and it is harmful to expect them from individuals based on their gender identity.

The patriarchy relies on a binary classification of gender. It does not allow for natural deviance or the acknowledgement of alternate realities and experiences. Gender is simply a social construct that we use to categorize individuals. Judith Butler, a gender theorist, asserts that “gender reality” is a performance of gender. Butler says that gender is not tied to one’s body, but that it is instead a social construction that is open to fluidity. She discusses how various acts of gender create the idea of gender; therefore, without these acts, gender itself would not exist. She talks about how the body is an active process of embodying cultural and historical possibilities and that the act of gender is similar to a theatrical performance. Common assumptions of “being a gender” is that one is to act and meet certain social expectations according to the cultural script that their given gender assigns them. Butler differs from common assumptions by saying that gender reality is real only to the extent that it is performed.

If we, in the LGBTQIA+ community acknowledge the complexity and diversity of identity, sexuality, and gender, the patriarchy loses its power over us. If we acknowledge that it is flawed, non-inclusive, and rigid in harmful ways, we can choose to refuse to let it dictate our lives. Lesbian identities defy the social script that women are meant to serve men. If women who exclusively love other women do not exist to pleasure men or to be the object of men’s affection, they threaten the idea that women are the property of men. By refusing to conform to the roles that the patriarchy lays out simply by claiming our identities and acting according to our desires, our very existence threatens the system.

Labels: Why do we seek further division?

Our minds seek clarity, understanding, and compartmentalization. Labels provide us with a sense of comfort and ease. They give our world context and a clear framework. If we associate certain attributes with certain behaviors, and certain demographics with certain roles, our brain doesn’t have to do much else. Not a lot of work is required if we have clear-cut definitions of everything and everyone in our surroundings. This can both be helpful and problematic. As a result, we do not experience as much confusion about the world. Aspects of our daily lives are easier to perceive. However, by making automatic assumptions, we put people in boxes. If we jump to the conclusion that “what you see is what you get,” we miss out on different realities and experiences; we rob ourselves of learning opportunities and human understanding.

In the United States, gender is taught as something that is completely binary. Our culture perpetuates the idea that you are either a man or a woman. Gender identity is so much more complex than this. It can be fluid, it can contradict one’s assigned sex at birth, it can be clearly felt and understood, or it can hold absolutely no meaning to an individual. This applies to masculinity and femininity as well. Most of us fall somewhere on the spectrum. Some individuals that identify as women can feel more masculine while others embrace and exude femininity. The same goes for masculinity. Male identified individuals can strongly identify with masculinity while others may lean more towards embodying femininity. Some people have gender identities that fall outside the binary and they may fall on any end of the masculinity and femininity spectrum. And our own experiences with these identities may shift and change over time, or even on any given day. Gender identities, preferences, sexual orientations, and our relationship with each of these are complicated. By assigning specific labels, we hinder our understanding of the complexity of everyone else’s existences.

On the other hand, labels can give us a sense of identity and community. They can serve as tools to validate our experiences and understand our existence. In the LGBTQIA+ community, we have a growing and shifting list of labels. Identity is complicated, and there is a sense of comfort in knowing and naming different parts of our selves. We deconstruct sexuality, gender, and desire in order to feel at ease and to perhaps find others that have similar experiences.

Personally, my relationship with labels changes constantly. Some days I feel great about assigning myself a clear-cut identity. Some labels give me comfort. Calling myself a lesbian feels right. But I also understand how doing so might give people anxiety. By claiming a label, one might feel trapped into committing to certain preferences for the rest of their lives. And while some identities and preferences may last a lifetime, our experiences and understanding of our selves may shift; putting specific labels on us might create immense pressure to remain constant and to not further explore our identities.

Labels can be empowering. Owning your identity can give you a sense of worth, and a name for what you are fighting for. At the end of the day, you’re fighting for yourself.