Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky.
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same. -Malvina Reynolds, Little Boxes
“Pretty open” has apparently expressed an interest in meeting me but there is a snag. The person who approached me wanted to introduce us at “game night”. Game night, as I understand it, is when you get a bunch of friends together to play board or card games. I can think of nothing more trying than playing board games. Except, perhaps, playing board games with people I barely know under the pretense that we are all geeks here so we must love board games. What’s more, I am being set up with one of the attendees. I’ve been going back and forth on which level of hell this is. When I told her I hated game night, she countered with Cards Against Humanity. Her husband is obsessed; her words not mine. I play Cards Against Humanity on occasion-with friends. I don’t play that game with strangers. I went back to my acquaintance and told her that I would rather meet him for lunch or coffee. Boring though this may be, meeting in public is infinitely safer for me on a number of levels. And while I am not one of those women who obsesses over her safety, I’m not an idiot.
I’m losing interest. When she introduced him she thought we’d hit it off because he’s in IT, he likes sci-fi, he likes Dr. Who, he likes good food and wine, and he’s generous and kind. Well, I like science fiction but it isn’t the only thing I read. I like Doctor Who but I haven’t watched the new incarnation much because, frankly, I don’t care for it very much. I’m very competitive and don’t like to lose. Most board games are dull. My preferred card games are poker and bridge, although I have to learn to play bridge over again. He likes good food and wine, to which I say who doesn’t. Of course he’s generous and kind. You wouldn’t be friends if he weren’t. I have people in my life whom I have known for years who wouldn’t dream of setting me up and yet a person I met eight months ago wants to set me up with someone? I should be flattered but it makes me very uncomfortable. It feels presumptuous. It feels weird.
I can only guess that in her mind I fulfilled the requirements for nerd and I must like nerds. I understand the need to find your own tribe. I mentioned once before how feminism and punk saved my life. When you’re young finding your people is essential to survival. Now that I am older I have family, not people. At my age, my tribe should be middle-aged women with grown children who might be out of the house. It’s like when a friend of mine told me we needed to mend fences and attend activities sponsored by my synagogue’s womens’ group.
-What do women talk about when they get together, I asked?
-Their kids, their grandkids, and their husbands, she said. She was very matter-of-fact.
-How can I participate in that conversation, I asked? I have none of those things.
She went on to say that if we all went, there would be women of all ages and backgrounds. No, I told her. We go where we will fit in, where we feel welcome. I have sat in silence many times as women around me discussed their children, grandchildren, schools, married life, toilet training, finding childcare. I learned early on to take a book to outings so I have something to read as I will have little or nothing to say. I can’t even discuss what’s on TV as I don’t have a television. I read, I watch movies, I draw, I exercise, I go to museums and galleries, I’m a street photographer, I visit friends, I listen to the radio, I cook and bake for fun. I know there are things on this list that I share with most other women but when women get together they talk about their children, their grandchildren, and their husbands. Some would argue that the impetus to find common conversation is on me to which I ask if you’ve ever killed a conversation? I have. Once conversation strays from what most people find familiar, it dies.
In order to be desirable we must comparmentalise ourselves, fit ourselves into ever-smaller, increasingly tidy packages fit for categorisation and consumption. To be a well-rounded person with varied interests, conflicting emotions, and viewpoints is messy. We value simplicity over complexity, purity over sulliedness, the explicit over the implicit or the subtle. Mystery has no place. We spend so much time and effort isolating ourselves we don’t want to do the hard work of actually connecting. If I declare myself to be femandrogynous, heterosexual, Sephardi Jewish, punk, over-educated, artist, elite athlete, then who is like me? I have drawn my lines in the sand but who is willing to cross? Who is willing to stay?
I am not saying we should not be who we are, that we should not declare who we are. But we should be the ones to define ourselves and declare our findings as we see fit, and we should be prepared to face the consequences of our declarations, or non-declarations. I know a bisexual woman who lives as a married, heterosexual woman because she does not want to be defined by her sexual preference, she says. She has told no one but me. That is her choice, but her reasons are more complex than her statement belies. She belongs to a very conservative, heteronormative faith. She does not want to be defined by her sexual preferences because to do so would make her a social outcast. I know many for whom the struggle to be who they truly are has been arduous and ongoing. Many times it is either because the language finally exists to describe who I am or the language has always existed but now has been codified.
As for myself, I have always been and always considered myself to be highly androgynous. When asked in a college class if I had ever thought about what I would be like were we the opposite sex (be nice, this was over 20 years ago and gender was binary, there was no intersectionality, and privilege applied to the affluent), I said that I couldn’t imagine myself being a different person because I am that person. It’s not that I couldn’t see myself outside of my female self, it’s that I still saw myself as being a rational, intelligent, passionate, compassionate man just like I saw myself as a rational, intelligent, passionate, compassionate woman. The only differences I saw were purely physical. I’d probably be taller. I’d have a penis and testicles instead of a vagina, uterus, and ovaries. The trappings would be different but the person would be the same. It is only now that androgyny is spoken of, but legally recognised, as a non-binary gender identity. There are femandrogynes-androgynes who feel more feminine than masculine. There are mascandrogynes-androgynes who feel more masculine than feminine. Versandrogynes/Neutrandrogynes who feel a mixture of both or none at all. That there is language beyond an aesthetic is all new to me.
If I have the outward trappings associated with androgyny and believe that I would be the same person regardless of whether I was born with one x chromosome or two, does that make me androgynous? If I declare it, is it true? Is that enough? Does being cisgendered mean that you necessarily buy into everything that comes with what is ascribed to femininity and masculinity? Including gender roles? Are we still basing notions of gender on outdated norms? Are they outdated if they still exist and persist? When women are labeled as androgynous it is usually for aesthetic reasons. We tend to be thin, white, some would call us butch or soft butch. The default aesthetic is masculine. Dominant culture makes all sorts of assumptions about our sexual preferences, because what heterosexual man wants anything other than what is typically feminine. That it could be anything other than aesthetic is absurd. Unless, of course, these are all women who secretly wish to be men. I don’t.
Once in bed, the man I was seeing pulled me on top so I could “feel what it was like to be a man.” I stopped and said I don’t need to know. It was as though power was gendered, that a man’s place was on top, and perhaps it was to him. I am powerful whether I am on top or whether I am enveloping the man I want. I feel gorgeous in a dress or a skirt and heels and I feel sexy in a shirt and tie; they are different but not unrelated feelings. The dovetail nicely with my introverted/domme-huntress nature. (I use feminine pronouns.) Not that the introvert wears dresses and the huntress wears ties. It speaks more to the duality of my nature. It’s a duality that I find hard to reconcile sometimes. The introvert is not terribly interested in meeting IT professor. The domme-huntress is very interested in pursuing the neurobiologist whose late father was a rabbi. The introvert keeps the domme-huntress from texting the neurobiologist and asking him out to a movie. The domme-huntress gets the introvert out of her shell. To me there is nothing inherently masculine or feminine about any of this. I just is.