Teaching and Performing Gender
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Teaching and Performing Gender
Another post for HackGender.
This month's prompt for HackGender is Personal Reflection. I've been thinking about gender and sexuality for a long time. As an educator, I spend some time in the classroom addressing gender, sexuality, and sexual orientation. It's gotten me into trouble in the past. Serious almost getting fired trouble. Still, I just have to push that line....I'm just a little more careful, or at least, I try to be. For the most part, I teach Freshmen. As I teach at two community colleges, the type of student I see is very different than the students that land up at universities for the first year. Sometimes I have university dropouts, but by far and large, my students just graduated from high school and are going to a community college because it is cheaper and they don't know what they want to major in. Keep that in mind.
When I teach gender we start with looking at the question, what is a binary? Then we go from there. It seems really really simple but for students who have never even thought in that direction before, these conversations often change their lives. We also talk about sexuality and how that intersects with gender. Sometimes they get that part and sometimes they don't. In class, I give two examples that really shake them up.
We start with the story of a friend of mine. We were on a trip together. She is beautiful, thin, smart, athletic. As we walked the streets of the city, she was wolf-whistled at and there were many really terrible pick up lines. I was appalled. As a fat butch, I have NEVER received that kind of treatment. My friend stated that this was normal and that she hated it. When my students hear this story there are three reactions. The girls usually react with disgust and nods and some will even speak up and talk about their own negative experiences with men. The boys will look disgusted and feel a little uncomfortable that other boys would do such a thing. The last group is the special group. The boys that look down and blush because they have done exactly the kind of negative behavior that we just talked about. I would like to think that this discussion helps them see that they should not be doing those kinds of things and that no one welcomes that sort of negative attention. I use this story to segue into a discussion about gender performance. It often goes something like this, why did my friend get all this negative attention and I don't? I reassure the students that I won't be offended by anything they say and that their offense-o-meters are turned off for the class. Usually one of the more talkative ones will say something along the lines of "you are fat" or "you don't look like a girl" and that opens the flood gates. We talk about my personal gender performance - no makeup, jeans, boots or sneakers, tshirts only, no nail polish, and a sports bra which creates a uniboob effect thereby de-feminizing my boobs. Then we start talking about how they perform gender. It's a rather fun conversation actually and one I know they have NEVER had in such an explicit way.
That class and the one or two that follow it are usually pretty lively and I take care in my gender performance to be more butch than is normal so that they really see it as a performance. The students spend so much time indoctrinated in the culture that they can't see the artificiality of gender as a construct. I don't quite put it that way, but you get the idea.
For the last two years in particular, I have been thinking more and more about my gender performance. For a long time, I felt like one day I would graduate out of jeans and tshirts, but I really haven't. I have recently added some long sleeved dress shirts to my closet but I wear those open and I own no ties as of yet. If I had a better paying job, I would probably purchase some more masculine type clothes. A different friend recently pointed me towards The Butch Clothing Company which is based out of the UK. Believe me, if I could afford it, I would have a suit custom made from them along with a few other items. More than once, I have wished that I had the business acumen, the creativity, and the seed money to open a butch store. Still, though my lack of "nice" clothing is somewhat appalling, I am comfortable with what I wear and with my butchness. For a long time, I wasn't. For a long time, I wondered if I would "grow out of" my masculinity and become more girlish, but I never have much to my relief. That is not to say that I haven't had moments of curiosity about the whole feminine thing. Lately, I've been thinking about nail polish, specifically blue, green, black, purple.....deep jewel tones to wear for special occasions. I don't actually own any nail polish yet but I have thought about it. Most of the time, I find myself completely bewildered by the feminine rituals that femmes go through. My mother didn't try to force me much to be girlish (thank the Goddess) but still, I feel like I missed some valuable how to be a girl lessons that sometimes I think would help me out in society. No matter, I ask my friends and they usually somewhat exasperatingly enlighten me. Still, as I settle into my 30s, I find that I am enjoying my butchness more than ever before and that I have actively begun thinking about what it means to be butch, but that is a post for another time.
Posted by ButchBoi at 8:55 PM
DATE ADDED: 2010-06-30 18:57:16
COLLECTION: Personal Reflections
ITEM TYPE: Document
CITATION: butchboi, "Teaching and Performing Gender," in HACKGENDER, Item #36, http://hackgender.org/items/show/36 (accessed December 5, 2013).
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