I Look at You and I See Myself
I recently gave a talk to a college class about my consulting and education business as well as my experience as a transgender person. I gave a fairly typical talk about my experience but I was asked two questions that I had never really thought about before, that no one had asked before.
What do you not like about masculinity?
What outside of masculinity do you like?
In the moment, these stumped me which is kinda embarrassing for someone who writes an advice column. I’ve never considered being trans as a reaction to or a dislike of masculinity or even an embrace of femininity. It just is. I’m not running to femininity. I’m simply feminine. Well, the femme side of androgynous really. So, not knowing exactly how to answer the question, I blathered. “Oh, I don’t like the way men talk about women.” “Everybody was about Han and Luke, but I liked Leia” Ramble ramble blather blather.
Of course, this got me thinking about my relationship to masculinity and femininity. Why haven’t I thought about this before? It seems to be something I should have considered. Was I purposefully avoiding the question? What do I think of masculinity beyond “cis-het men are kinda creepy”? Do I indeed embrace femininity? I identify as an androgyne so, by definition, I mix these two cultural concepts to form a unique presentation and outlook on life. Shouldn’t I have considered what these terms actually mean to me?
As these questions were swirling around my mindscape, a friend of mine sent me a text which read, “I think of you whenever I watch this. Plus, it’s a great video.” Attached was a link to the video for “5 Dollars” by Christine and the Queens.
Christine and the Queens or Chris as she recently rebranded is actually the stage persona of French singer/songwriter Héloïse Letissier. Chris (Héloïse) is an androgynous, pansexual woman and her latest album, Chris, explores her sexuality and gender identity. The video for “5 Dollars” shows Chris getting ready for the day or possibly a date — exercising, showering, undertaking her grooming routine and finally getting dressed in kink gear worn under a three-piece suit.
I was mesmerized by this video. It was a revelation to me, not simply because Chris is a very attractive person with a gorgeous voice. The confidence and swagger that exudes from her during this performance are almost palpable. (And yes, she/her/hers is the right pronoun. I looked it up.) From the opening shots that highlight her musculature filmed in a way usually reserved for the male body to the closing image of Chris in a three-piece suit, you know that you are looking at a powerful queer woman. Not a woman wearing men’s clothes, not a trans man but a queer woman. Her unapologetic presentation is decidedly out of the gender binary and she is inviting you to come along with her. It is a powerful and needed statement.
I have to admit that I became a bit obsessed with her work. Since first being exposed to Christine and the Queens about two weeks ago, I’ve watched all of her videos, read multiple articles and interviews and found clips of her on talk shows (thank you BBC). I learned that she’s a multifaceted performer (singer/songwriter/producer/ dancer/choreographer) so her performances are all her creation. I learned that about the same time I was hanging out with roller derby girls and coming to accept that I am a trans person, Ms. Letissier was hanging out with drag queens in a London nightclub inventing Christine. About the same time she was starting to evolve Christine into the more androgynous Chris, I was starting to come out and live my life as Addison, my androgynous transfeminine self.
Finally, one morning as I was letting water sluice over my head in an unconscious imitation of Chris in the “5 Dollars” video when a thought hit me so hard I stumbled in the shower. I see myself in Chris.
That’s why I’ve never considered the masculine versus feminine argument. It simply doesn’t apply because I respond to and identify with what I’d suppose you would call feminine queerness.
Masculinity and femininity are cultural concepts that change over time. They are something we can relate to but they don’t come from us. We learn these concepts. We see ourselves in others and we learn what it is to be like them. If you see yourself as a man, no matter what body type you have, you will want to learn what it means to be masculine as your culture currently defines it. If you see yourself as a woman, you will want to learn what it means to be feminine. We identify with a gender and learn to be that gender. It happens at such a young age that we don’t even realize we do this. Instead, we believe this learned behavior is something intrinsic to us.
Identity is about knowing yourself and knowing yourself through others. When I look at cis-het men I do not see myself reflected in them so I have no desire to act like them or think like them or look like them. The same can be said for femme cis-het women or androgynous men. However, when I see a queer woman, I do see myself reflected. I know that’s who I’m supposed to be, who I am in my heart of hearts or soul or brain wiring or information processing centers, however, you want to look at it. I see a queer woman and I want to learn how to be like her and look like her because she reflects my gender. I look at you and I see myself.
Now if someone were to ask me those same questions, I know how to answer. I don’t have a problem with masculinity (except the toxic kind), I’m simply not masculine. Masculinity is great for people who are masculine. Be masculine, have fun, just don’t be a jerk. I can’t say that I’m really drawn to be feminine in the popular sense, but if you know you’re feminine, go for it. I’m simply not all that femme either, at least not in the culturally acceptable way. My gender falls somewhere outside the traditional masculine/feminine binary and more to the feminine side of androgyny.
That’s the part that people seem to have the hardest time accepting. The gender binary requires people to think in either/or terms and strictly defines masculinity and femininity. I’m not an either/or kind of person and neither is Chris. That’s why I see myself in her. That’s the most important concept that queer artists can teach their audience — not everyone fits into the cultural understanding of masculine and feminine. As a genderqueer person, I have a hard time thinking of gender in those terms thus my failure with that college class. We need to find ways to educate people to this way of understanding gender. Chris uses her music. I use my writing.
I am a transfeminine, non-binary, queer woman despite my outward appearance. I have always gravitated toward friendships with queer women and I’ve always been romantically attracted to queer women because of that simple fact. I’m not escaping masculinity. I’m not running to femininity. I simply am who I am.