Monday, March 26, 2012

Thoughts on the formation of gendered identity

I guess I'm a bit stuck on this idea lately, wondering how a person arrives at their sexual identity, which is by definition a subset of their gender identity.  While it doesn't strike me, personally, as weird, I am aware of how strange it is for a person like me to ponder these things. 

A refresher on how I display per gender identity . . . I'm 33 years old.  White.  Male.  Physically, I don't know if this means much to a person who doesn't watch a lot of American football, but physically let's just somewhere out there is a defensive co-ordinator running a 3-4 who needs a defensive end who would have killed to have me in my heyday.  If you can't picture that . . . here ya go.  And a second.

Add to this that I am a bit bikerish-looking.  Scruffy bear.  Long hair.  Dirty water blond.  Add to this that I dress well without being over-dressed.

Women I've known seem to enjoy holding court on the question of my attractiveness. I seem to inspire intense discussion.  There are women who are uniform in their belief that a man my size simply cannot be labeled attractive.  They hold this as an article of faith and find the attraction their peers have toward me to require profuse and sometimes loud shouting down.  (I don't know how to explain this, but people are astonishingly comfortable having the damnedest conversations around me.)

But, there's the other group of women.  My fans.  For most of the English-speaking women I've known, I'm "cute".  Strangely, for the Spanish-speaking women I've known, I'm "guapo".  My best guess on the contradiction is that American women seem to need to downplay my masculinity, while foreign women are generally quite enthralled of it.  (I have unreal game with European women, many of whom have never encountered a freakishly large, but relatively athletic white man before.)

My point?

My point is that in terms of how I display gender identity, I'm very masculine.  Very cisgendered as the term is used in certain more modern gender-studies circles.

What's funny about that to me is that I've been accused more than once of being gay.  Now, I use the term "accuse" here not because I feel anyone should feel guilty about being gay, but because that was the tone of my attackers.  The centerpiece of this accusations has always been that I'm not sexually aggressive enough around women.  Particularly, other guys have taken umbrage to the amount of time I'm willing to wait women out.

When I was in high school, we were dirt poor.  Worse, I was in an academic program.  In a poor, rural school district, that means I largely went to school with kids who had a lot more money than me, because poor, rural school district segregate their classes pretty aggressively along economic lines.  A few exceptions are made for those poor kids who are undeniably smart.  And, of course, I was the exception.

The thing is in high school I had a lot of girls who liked me.  And of course, I was dirt poor and they weren't.  Meaning I constantly felt like shit and felt unworthy of their attention.

What's worse is that as long as I have been sexually mature, when a woman decided she liked me, she never just liked me.  She locked in on me.  Bad.  Meaning?  Meaning that there were multiple girls in high school who spent more than a year making serious attempts at getting my attention while pretty much ignoring every other guy in the school.  Of the top ten hottest girls in my graduating class, five of them took a run at me.  All five failed.  Admittedly, on account of me, but . . .

Guess what rumor that created? 

If women spent an undue amount of time discussing whether I was cute (or guapo), let me just tell you that the other guys in high school spent an undue amount of time trying to figure just how gay I had to be to not be raping every girl in the goddamned building indiscriminately.  I'm also pretty sure that the other guys were jacked about the fact that I was jamming up the deep end of the breeding pool. 

Really, I can't blame them on that account.  Primate behavior dictates that signals come from the top down.  If several of the hottest girls are all jammed up pining for one guy, you can damned well bet that fucks up the entire signalling system.  What's funny is I can remember some of the guys in HS made a point of telling me which girls liked me.  In retrospect, I think this was their best attempt to unclog the jam in the system.

As I got older, I got more comfortable and finally started having very muted relationships.  No surprise, having wasted my teenage years not getting laid, I wasn't really equipped to handle relationships when I finally got around to them.  The longest relationship I had was an off-and-on casual relationship with a girl I hated from day one in college.

I can remember the gay thing actually reared it's ugly head after she left school.  Her best friend decided that was the time to make her move.  Now, this girl had a legion of guy friends who all wanted to fuck her.  As anyone who knows that setup will tell you, those guys were never getting laid.  Not by her, not ever.  I turned her down and eventually was accused of being a "bull queer" by those guys.

So . . . there's some insight into why gender identity matters to me.  I've been on the receiving end of some nasty and unwarranted talk in my lifetime, much of it centering on my gender identity.

I think my case was particularly inflammatory because I'm so clearly the heteronormative stereotype of masculinity.  Tall, strong, scruffy, raised tough, aloof, emotionally distant, good-looking.  In other words, at first glance, I square nicely with the stereotype of a manly man.  And if there's one thing I've learned about this crazy shitpile of mutant apes we call humanity, it's that they get pissy when their expectations don't pan out precisely as planned.

Worse, human beings consider the "sexual" stereotype of any kind important.  So, if you're heteronormatively straight and masculine, but you don't behave that way, then the response by the mob is to deem you heteronormatively gay and masculine.  Because even if you're not normal, people still want to cram you into a stereotype that works for them.  A highly sexual gay guy is still considered superior in our culture to a straight guy who is passing up easy shots.

Now, in my case, if people had ever bothered to think the problem through, they actually would have found the underlying dysfunction in my sexuality in fact strongly reinforces heteronormative stereotypes.  My hold-up, quite simply, is that I couldn't be the man I wanted to be until I had the money to pull it off. 

I grew up around too many illegitmate kids who never knew their dads.  I grew up around too many trailer park moms who left their kids to be raised by those kids' grandmothers.  I grew up around too many guys who missed their kids' childhoods because they were pulling stints for drug trafficking, robbery or murder.  I grew up around too many guys who lost their jobs because they spent a month recuperating in the hospital from having their faces beaten in. 

From an early age, I knew what the fucking problem was: M-O-N-E-Y. 

Until I had money, as far as I was concerned, I wasn't a man.  Not enough of a man to deserve the undying affections of a beautiful woman, that's for sure.  And I wasn't gonna fake it -- I've seen how that bullshit ends.  I was going to get my education and get rich.  That's all there was to the equation. And the further along that path I got, the more able I was to function with women.

The joke, of course, is that I sacrificed my youth to this plan.  Worse, I lost all the experience that I should have developed.  And of course, my lack of relationship experience compounded over time into bad relationship experiences.  All of which made me worse and worse.

But, ya know, at least now my sexual aggressiveness is approaching about a tenth of the appropriate level expected of a straight guy in my position.  I'm sure some group of mutant primates deep down feels like that's a minor improvement.  Probably in need of a great deal more.  But, ya know, at least it's straight cisgendered male behavior, right?

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