Monday, January 19, 2015

Beyond The Queer Eye

Today I celebrate an otherwise invisible anniversary. It has been ten years since I became a professed feminist, though I suspect I was one a long time before I quite deliberately pinned a label to myself. I'm amazed by how much I've learned in a decade's time. Male allies like myself often overreach due to basic ignorance, especially in the beginning. What made me different was that I was a quick study, but if I am to be completely honest, I always had a leg up on the competition. As is true with many queer men, I have often identified more closely and thoroughly with women than with men.

This is the case in almost every aspect of my life, from my mostly stable childhood to the pop culture that fascinated me then and continues to fascinate me now. For whatever reason, I've always felt more drawn to films that feature a solidly female ensemble cast. One of my guilty pleasures is the 1980 film Foxes, a story of four teenage friends growing up in Southern California in the late 1970's.

It holds my attention even now very naturally, not because I made a bucket list of Things All Feminists are Supposed to Do™. I wasn't consciously trying to play the part of the newly liberated feminist man, but my interest was so profound that it was never an effort to absorb the discourse like a sponge. Female friendships in every form fascinate me, even if they are only the product of a clever screenwriter. I've often been jealous of the kind of tight-knit friendships I observe in the women who are most often my closest confidantes.

Men are supposed to be islands, indebted to no one. That was an impossible task for me. I confess that I've wrung my hands in worry. I've been petrified in the company of other men that I was coming across as too vulnerable, too chatty, too honest. My interactions with most other men are perfunctory, superficial, and not terribly deep. Men who also identify as queer, however, are a breath of fresh air, allowing me the opportunity to spontaneously recite memorized Sylvia Plath poetry, share baking recipes, and many other pursuits never to be mentioned in the company of straight men.

In addition to being a confessional account, this post is a mea culpa of a sort. The other side of the coin is that I know I've turned away men who have made overtures of friendship. The closest male friendship I have is a guy who dislikes stereotypical heterosexual masculine posturing strongly enough that he exclusively seeks friendships with queer men. In him and in his example, I have some modicum of kinship. But as I said, he is one of the few. On public transportation, I stand well clear of bros wearing hockey jerseys and too much cologne.

I know I rub men the wrong way when I deliberately limit contact with them. That's not very fair of me. There's a man in my work orbit who I know to be a kind soul. I admire the work he does, but I find I tend to avoid him in person instead of setting the record straight. Explaining the situation would be an awkward experience but maybe I ought to give it a try.

In all truth, I'd much rather associate with women. My interests have always lined up more with theirs and this spirit of commonality stretches to the way we communicate. I'm happy to find friends who are women, but with only a few exceptions, I know that I'm treated a little differently. Granted, I don't have a uterus, nor will I ever, but unless I chance across the sort of woman who has mostly men for friends, there is always the possibility present of misunderstanding.

Back in college, my best friend was a woman who had never been friends with men who weren't straight until me. We tended to read each other's mind and as the two of us became better friends, her young daughter grew close to me, even though I've always been uncomfortable in the presence of children. We developed romantic feelings with time, but I think she preferred seeing only one particular side of my sexual orientation, the kind not attracted to the opposite-sex. I never pushed it, fearful that if I confessed my feelings, she would throw up walls and our friendship might never recover.

I've been variously misunderstood and mistakenly categorized as a player, a womanizer, or to a particular few as somewhat distant. Because my presentation is very masculine and because I usually come across as 100% heterosexual until I volunteer information, I find I can take people by surprise. But if anyone were ever to want to know who I really am, they'd do best to speak to my woman friends.

It's taken me quite a long time to grant to men more than a very reluctant handshake, but, though difficult, I confess it is a relief to offer an embrace to other men and receive one in turn. I peer at the world through masculine eyes and with male privilege firmly intact. But I'm a blending and blurring of conventional lines of demarcation, forming combinations that are subtle and unsubtle, cisgender and transgender, gay and straight. If any description of me rings truest it is that I feel like a gender hermaphrodite. But I would rather just be.

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