this subtle body of desire – II

Part I

It wasn’t till I moved to San Francisco that I started really recognizing the interactions and the building of community between butch, boi and femme, dykes and lesbians, heterosexually queer and homosexually curious. Six liberating months there, in a city of women who were aware of, and inhabited and owned their various genders, no explanations or apologies proffered or needed, changed my perceptions pretty drastically. I began to look differently at ties and waistcoats, shaved heads, a slightly swaggering walk, that straightforwardly assessing stare, masculinity without machismo. I began to see that my immediate knee-jerk feminist (and personal) reaction against that masculinity in women’s space completely misjudged it: for one thing, it was not predatory, not arrogant, not dangerous. For another, my personal frustration with the queer community in the Midwest had been mainly about the lack of space within it for femininity. I appreciate androgyny and gender fluidity in other people very much, but can’t pull it off myself — and feel angry that I should be expected to in the first place! — but it was clear that feminine was ‘not queer enough’ there. Seeing a greater degree of variance along the gender spectrum did make me realise that the lack of space I felt there was not, as I sometimes thought, precisely because of the room made for masculine self-expression, but that they could be complementary, in the best possible ways, to each other.

Which is not to say that I immediately became a fan of the butch-femme dating model. I’m still quite wary of that sort of gendered interaction, uncomfortable around ‘chivalry’ if it’s aimed at me, unwilling to play the game of caprice and cajoling that people seem to expect, irritated that it still keeps me invisible as a queer, unless I am literally on someone else’s more visible arm. I don’t want to owe my self-definition to anyone else’s presence in my life; I already spend far too much of my time and effort proving that as an Indian woman, I am more than merely daughter, sister, potential wife and mother. And yet — I see the appeal.

What does this have to do with my own gender though? Well, while immersing myself in this world, I also pared away a lot of the more stereotypically femme things from myself; no earrings or heels, fewer skirts, more hats, a greater freedom in standing, sitting, moving, making eye contact, flirting. Most of this was just ‘coming out of my shell,’ but a significant section was another consciously undertaken gender experiment. Let’s see what happens if really wield the physical power I have in my body. Let’s see what happens if I think about it in terms of ‘what can it do?’ instead of ‘what does it look like?’ Let’s see what happens if I try to be sexual without being femme.

Part III

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~ by mortarandpestle on October 9, 2007.

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