For the asexually curious and the curiously asexual

Archive for the ‘Gender’ Category

You make yourselves another: On make-up and power

“God has given you one face, and you make yourselves another”

-Mysogynistic rant in Hamlet, III i.

So while catching up on the blogs I lurk, I discovered S. E. Smith on feminism and make-up:

Few feminist conversations confuse me as much as the one surrounding makeup and beauty standards, a reminder of my outsider status in the feminist community in a lot of ways because of my gender and socialisation. This conversation is conducted in a way that assumes everyone is on the same page, everyone is thinking the same things, everyone has the same experiences, but that’s not actually how it goes. With the makeup conversation, there are some of us who feel really, really at sea, and it’s hard to express it in a way that doesn’t come off strangely, evidently.

 

Read the rest. Something about this really struck me, so much that I needed to talk about it even though I don’t think S. E.’s personal blog allows comments, and it doesn’t properly fit with the theme of this blog, though I manage to shoehorn asexuals in later.

Firstly, my experience is of agreeing with S.E. I’m young enough not to have encountered the middle-class job-market sexism yet, but the only people among my friends who feel they have to wear make-up are goths. I can name at least 3 ciswomen friends who I know for a fact have never worn make-up a day in their lives, several more of the gothy persuasion who have never worn ‘respectable’ make-up. A lot of people I know simply don’t wear make-up in their daily lives and it isn’t a problem.

And this reaction sounds a lot like “I haven’t experienced it, so it’s not a problem,”- the standard reaction of the privileged. I can’t comment on the lived experience of people of a different class, generation, culture and gender to me, who I’ve never met. If they say expectations of wearing make-up are a problem for them, I’m going to believe them. What I don’t like is the assumption that everyone else’s experiences are the same, because a lot of people really don’t have that problem.

I’m going to go further than S. E. and argue that make-up can, in some circumstances, be a source of power. S. E. points out that transwomen are under expectations not to wear make-up. As a cisguy, if the walls of gender expectation came tumbling down tomorrow, I would rush out and buy make-up. Partly because I love the performativity, partly because the simplest contouring and eye-shaping makes my face into what I want it to be, not what it is. I’ve mentioned on yadaforums a group of people who I hang with who tend to do the whole ‘getting ready for a night out’ thing with a massive amount of clothing and hairstyling for both genders, and how comfortable I feel with them. The same group of people also often spend hours sitting in a circle and, unigenderedly, putting on theatrical make-up. Again, I feel so comfortable.

So, yeah, make-up is something I want, want, want, and am never going to be able to have, and I’m going to spend as much of my life as possible appropriating that privilege at halloween and Pride marches until I’m too old for that to be acceptable. And I’m slightly bitter.

That’s not to say that you’re not allowed to complain about unfair cultural expectations on you. I am entirely sympathetic, and will fight for your right not to wear make-up. But when you consider that, in my experience, make-up is entirely a choice for all women who aren’t in the fashion buisness, your cries of “Oh god, it’s so DIFFICULT being able to do this thing that you’re NEVER going to be able to do!” are not going to make me like you.

Lots of people are not allowed the privilege of make-up. At the time when asexuals were the big ‘trend piece’ in the media, I recall there being some talk about a programme where asexuals were presumed not to want the make-up which would make them look good under the studio lights. Asexual people were refused this marker of performativity, attractiveness, which everyone else was expected to want. Asexual people apparently do not have the privilege to wear make-up, to re-invent themselves, to be whatever they want to be. Asexual people, the station presumed, are less-than-normal.

Make-up can be oppression. Make-up can be objectification. Make-up can be privilege. Make-up can be power.

Don’t assume your reality is worth more than mine.

Born to perform

Wotcha, dudes and dudettes. Let’s talk about PERFORMATIVE GENDER. And performative sexuality. And how they’re often confusingly confused.

And by talk, I mean squeal excitedly over this. And this. And this.

Because they’re all utterly amazing. And the first two, the one I found this morning and the one I refound this morning say such a lot about masculinity. Performing masculinity when it’s not automatic. Performing masculinity when you’re queer. Performing masculinity when you’re asexual.

I’ve been thinking recently about how amazing it would be to perform asexuality. Without purchasing a shirt that says ‘this is what an asexual looks like’ because that’s, you know, cheating! A surprising number of people have twigged from my general demeanour that I’m queer but not gay, and I’m now wondering, as a little social experiment, how high I can ramp up that number. How intuitive can I make my sexuality presentation? How on earth do you codify asexual?

I think some of it is about challenging gender stereotypes, but in a way which differentiates oneself from the camp. Personally, for example, I’m thinking in terms of the Edwardian morning suit, more than the muscle shirt, the feather boa. Alternative gender constructions that don’t owe much to previous ones. But I don’t know how much that’s just me, and the pernicious influence of the yadas.

I think there’s a lot I tend to reveal by the way I act, just on the basis of going around and being non-normative. I think some of it is in the way I just refuse to fit in the box in anyone’s head marked ‘single’, or ‘looking’. Some of it is in the way I play with sexuality, sexual attraction, gratuitously in conversation, with a perspective that’s clearly alien. Some of it, maybe, is in the way I’m clearly unmotivated by the possibility of relationships, and it shows in how I express myself.

I’m building up all these little flags, just from living in my own head long enough that I have an automatically new perspective.

And this roots itself in how I perform masculinity. It seems perfectly obvious to me that I’m affecting masculinity from a queer viewpoint. To follow DJ’s terminology, I’m subverting masculine sexual power by bringing that power to the heel of my asexuality.

In conclusion: Just read the posts/song I linked to at the beginning. While you’re reading Garland, think about how what he’s saying is also kinda relevant to asexuality, in a whole number of interesting ways. How performing gay has such a wide number of functions, and performing asexuality maybe the same. No, I’m not doing the hard work for you. Yes, I should be. Sorry, I have essays to write. Like, genuine, non-asexual ones.

There’ll probably be more on this later though.

Gender: Oh yeah, forgot about that

So, in this utopian world with ultra-flexible relationship models that we’re going to create (we being me and the Imaginary Brotherhood of Aromantics that I’m increasingly talking to. All you other guys are just eavesdropping), what do we do about orientation? By which I mean sexual and romantic attraction along gender lines.

It seems to me that those sexualities which disregard gender, asexual aromantics and bi/pansexuals, get to smoosh around with the definitions a bit, play loose and easy with the rules. Which is fun and all (except for, you know, when it’s not), but it leaves the monos playing catch-up a bit. How does a mono-sexual person implement a non-binary approach to relationships? When you clearly don’t have infinite possibilities with fifty percent of the population, do you deal with them the same as the others?

My point isn’t that monosexual people are incompatible with this hypothetical universe, simply that it’s going to seriously change the validity of orientation in everyday life.
Imagine, for example, two straight people of the same gender becoming committed life partners, living together, raising children, sharing hobbies, talking about everything and looking outside their relationship for more ‘casual’ ones, focussed on romance and kissing and sex, and those few things which they aren’t getting from their committed friend. How often would this type of arrangement occur in our hypothetical universe? Theoretically, not that rarely, I think a lot of people have the ability to share incredibly strong bonds with people they’re not sexually attracted to. In fact, I think the idea that the person who really gets you going in bed is the same as the one you can share amazing conversations and commitments with is getting kinda strained. I think a system where sexual intimacy comes relatively detached from everything else would be a pretty useful one for a lot of people.

And this ties in a little with a point I threw hurriedly into my last post– the mechanics of jealousy rely on the idea that you only have to be worried about one gender. The idea that only opposite-sex interactions are threatening. This is convenient because it allows an awful lot of control through wielding jealousy, but it still allows your partner to have someone in their life other than you. And this myth and the myth of the romantic binary prop each other up in loads of other subtle ways. If a relationship with people you’re not sexually attracted to is completely unthreatening, but any relationship with the slightest hint of sexuality is suddenly a massive deal, does that tell us anything important about our culture’s relative valuations of sex and emotional intimacy?

I’d argue, nothing we don’t already know.

Cisgendered men don’t wear tie tacks: A theory of performative masculinity

So the way I want this blog to start heading is less about the considered, slow and, above all, painfully delay-prone musings about big asexual issues (though asexual issues will still be central), but to open the scope out to more general ideas about sexuality and gender. The gender bit is important. I have a lot of thoughts on gender.

So today, leaving my basic ideas about gender for another time, I’m going to dive straight into the big questions I have about performative masculinity. I may be inadvertently transphobic in this post. If you think I am, please bawl me out on it in the comments.

I’ve always been annoyed with how women can wear things that look pretty, ornament without merit other than the fact that it’s simply good to look at. Men’s clothing is dominated by status, and prettiness is difficult to work in. The image that burnt it into my brain is this one.

See how all the men wear boring suits while the woman has something original? It isn’t very exciting, no, but that just demonstrates how little freedom men have. Even something as simply-tailored as little white bits on the lapels is too effeminate.

Ok, so I realise this freedom screws women over. It’s the freedom to be dolls, judged only on your appearance, the freedom to be cookie-cutter cute, but still. I want the pretty.

And with this sensitivity to the plight of the poor, ugly and unloved modern man, I’ve been casting my eye over various fashion blogs and internet resources designed for people presenting as male. I won’t link any of them here, because I’m going to be rude about most of them. The ones for straight cismen weird me out. They have a tendency to go on and on about how amazing it is to be a gentlemen, and how much better we are than those filthy degenerates who wear white after labour day, or don’t take a stand on the big ‘how many vents should a suit have’ issue. Because that kind of person is just worthless.
The ones for transmen and butch women are a slightly subtler kind of weird. At first, it seems like almost the same plunge into the world of your grandfather. The same excitement about pocket squares and trilbys, clinging to the relics of a bygone age because there is too little beauty in this modern world. But it’s more of a personal feelgood factor. ‘I have this cool new tie tack, isn’t it awesome’. Everything in the cisgentlemen’s wardrobe is designed to create superiority. Not even that, designed to create a snivelling and imagined inferiority in others. Because that’s what these men get out of clothes. Wheras these people raised as women, they, like me, seek out the pretty. They just want fun and style.

I don’t know how many cisgendered men really wear tie tacks. Apart from the very elderly, there are probably a few. It doesn’t stop me imagining the entire tie tack industry being kept alive by transmen and butch women who buy into this idea of performing masculinity.

Men don’t seem to perform masculinity through clothes. Or when they do, it’s about clan allegiance or status symbols. And I feel slightly sorry for these people raised as women, who’ve thought “Right, I’m going to go out and dress like the best guy ever.” Because that’s applying female principles to the thing. They dig through the history books and the antique shops, looking for ways to perform masculinity, when masculinity is performed through absence.
I see myself in them. Looking for something that will be positive, that will be pretty, when all men seem able to hope for is something simple enough to make them look good, or status-filled enough to make them better than scum like us.

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