Saturday, February 9, 2008

how the gender binary system complicates my life

Two weeks ago, I put on my first pair of girl underwear (I think they call them "panties") since 1994. In 1994 (one year after coming out and beginning to "do it" with chicks), I briefly dated a woman who is now still a good friend of mine, Bec, and she introduced me to boxer shorts. I remember the first time we undressed together. She unzipped her jeans and instead of some girly blight on her tomboyish presentation, there were white cotton boxers. Brilliant!

I went to K-Mart the next day and bought some for myself. I was 19 at the time and up until that point, I'm pretty sure my underwear had all been purchased for me by my mom or grandmother when either of them decided that whatever I was wearing was too ratty to be allowed to live. I never gave any thought to it until that night and, once I discovered boxers, I never thought I'd go back.

That is, until I met Mera. Mera is my new, hot girlfriend. (Mera is known as Mahavira over on my other blog, but I'm quite sick of typing all those letters and Mera is close enough to her real name to satisfy me.) Mera has worked a one-woman sexual revolution on my body and Mera has got me wearing girl panties.

Mera is sort of a miracle -- she's a mystery and a conundrum and she's completely harmonious in all her inner diversity. Mera is the first woman I've ever been with who wears make-up. Daily. And it's hot. But she's also the most sexually masculine lover I've ever experienced. She exists outside the butch/femme spectrum, yet she holds it all in balance inside her. Her body is a perfect blend: waist up she's voluptuously female, with her mane of curly hair, her huge green eyes and sexy, full lips, her succulent tits and goddess belly. From the waist down she's a centaur, she's Pan, she's literally furry like an animal from the navel to the ankles. She's incongruous and harmonious, masculine and feminine, smooth and course all at once. And I love it.

But back to the underwear. Mera wants me in the sheerest girl underpants on earth. Mera is not impressed by my boxers, boxer briefs or straight-up men's Y-fronts. When Mera fucks me, she's the guy. She's never naked, never reminded of her own tits as she's manhandling mine, never thinking about her own woman's body as she's entering mine. Me in panties helps. And if Mera wants me in panties, I'm in panties. Like, yesterday.

Which brought me two weeks ago to Fred Meyer where I anxiously approached the girl's underwear section (called "intimates" -- which makes me cringe). I was so awkward and uncomfortable I ended up with a security tail, I'd evidently triggered the suspicion of the in-house "loss prevention" agents with my false starts and aimless wandering, working up the courage to actually walk up to the table full of Jockey "seamfree comfies" and pick some out.

There wasn't much to think about, I was just buying myself three more pairs of the exact same underwear Mera had already gotten me, I just couldn't stand to even approach the department itself, much less the table with the underwear. Gah. I'm a boyish looking dyke, especially on that day two weeks ago, with my oversized mechanics jacket and my slouchy jeans and my knit-cap. Even when I don't look like a little ragamuffin boy out of Oliver Twist, I still feel like the fox in the henhouse whenever I get myself into straight-girl territory: ladies rooms for sure and definitely any area of a store selling women's intimate apparel. Gah... again.


I always feel like the other women shopping for their panties and bras feel uncomfortable with me around. Like I'm a guy getting some voyeuristic pleasure from watching them -- but worse than a guy because once they realize I'm a chick who looks a bit like a guy ("probably a lesbian," some voice in their heads will say), then they'll assume I'm that much more creepy and perverted. Of course, this is all my own internalized homophobia and neurosis and it's very possible that nobody (except the "loss prevention" people) are ever paying any attention to me, but I'll tell you: it doesn't matter. I still felt uncomfortable and slightly ashamed as I walked through Fred Meyer towards the checkout holding three pairs of black "seamfree comfies" balled up in my hand.

And did I go through the regular checkout where some creepy cashier would touch my new girl underwear and possibly look up at me with suspicion? Of course not, I went through the self-checkout, and it was only after I'd completed my transaction and taken my receipt that the Fred Meyer employee who had been not-so-subtly following me around finally walked away and let me leave the store in peace.

When I first started buying boy underwear, I felt awkard too and never wanted to imagine any stupid cashier sizing me up and diagnosing me with gender dysphoria or general freakishness. In the fourteen years I have been buying myself boxers, I have never felt completely comfortable handing them over at the register and letting them pass through someone else's hands before leaving the store with me. I've always chalked that up to the gender thing, but now that I'm buying girl underwear again, I realize it's more complicated than that.

Sure, it's still the gender thing, but the gender thing itself is more complicated. I'm not just a girl buying girl underwear now, I'm a boyish looking dyke buying girl underwear. And underwear (as the sign over the underwear at Fred Meyer will tell you) is an intimate sort of thing. And I guess, when it comes right down to it, I don't want anybody in Fred Meyer (from the other customers to the cashiers) looking at or thinking about the intimate details of my gender expression as evidenced by the type of underwear I happen to be buying on any given day. It feels too private.

Sorry this is rambly, but I want to push myself a little further to explore why it feels so private. I know why, I just want to drag it out slowly. It feels too private because it gives people to much information about gender expression, which feels vulnerable. Why does that feel vulnerable? Because having a gender expression that doesn't conform to the gender binary system is dangerous. Gay-bashers don't bash gays for who they fuck: they bash gays because they percieve gays to be thwarting the confines of the gender binary system. It confuses and then pisses people off when they can't figure out "what" you are. I don't know the "why" to that one, though. That one's a mystery.

So even as Mera and I act out these fabulous binary gender roles in our sexual relationship, I perceive myself to be in some kind of nebulous danger when I go to Fred Meyer to buy the panties necessary for me to transform into the girl that Mera likes to fuck. What is up with that?


zuhn said...

You know, every time I end up in the women's underwear section or in some lingerie shop, I find myself blushing constantly and refusing to so much as look at any of the stuff on display let alone the people shopping. When I buy boy underwear, I have no problem picking them out and wandering around the store, but I always feel a little uncomfortable when I'm up at the cash. I always thought it was because I'm prudish by nature and don't want people to either think I'm some pervy guy checking out women's underwear or have cashiers touching the little piece of cloth that's going to be covering my bits.

I really enjoyed this post because you've delved into this a lot more than I have in my head and put the pieces together to form an interesting analysis. Looking forward to reading more of your thoughts.

reasonably prudent poet said...

thanks zuhn, i appreciate the feedback. i hadn't thought so much about it until recently. and i'm glad i'm not the only one interested in it.

Zoe said...

I've always felt like I'm in gender limbo. I don't really fit in on either side. I feel like other women will think I don't belong in the womens section, but I don't belong in the mens either. I don't know how to explain it, and maybe it will make sense and maybe it won't, but I feel like a fraud as a woman. You know what I mean?

Even worse for me than underwear shopping, is going with BP to the make up store/counter. High aniety for me. And my most recent horror, locker room at hockey. Ultra uncomfortable.

reasonably prudent poet said...

zoe: wow, the make-up counter. mera may wear make-up, but i will never accompany her to any kind of make-up counter. i am not interested in being sized-up and judged by women who fit nicely into the girly end of the spectrum. good for them, it's just not for me. i think my worst nightmare would be to be dragged into victoria's secret. i think i would probably die. i totally know what you mean about feeling like a "fraud." i don't know if i'd ever have thought to use that word, but i understand it. the gender binary system is to blame. perpetrators of the gender binary system (which is almost everybody) make you think you're not a *real* woman because you don't behave a certain way, but that's bullshit. any woman is a *real* woman by virtue of being a woman, which means all the different *ways* of being a woman are valid. we just don't experience it that way because all the different ways aren't honored by our culture and reflected back to us as ok. it's frustrating. it's kinda like how the republicans like to make liberals think they're unpatriotic because they don't support the war. that's bullshit. it's just the republicans setting the terms of the debate. it's up to liberals to stand up and challenge those terms just like its up to queer women to challenge the dominant culture's idea that there's only one way to be a real woman. but god, who wants to fight so much all the time? wouldn't it be nice to just relax and feel safe?

Ampersand said...

Hmmm...I'm often stymied by the binary nature of gender too. The older I've gotten, the more I've found what combination of masculine and feminine clothing and accessories works for me. I like a blend of both.

Cool blog.

got to you from syd.