Androgyny: An Appeal & Revocation

This is an observation of my self-appeal after years of self-revocation.  Let none be fooled.

Androgyny does not appear to earn top-dollar (or any dollar) in mainstream places of employment (i.e Fortune 300; Financial firms; blue-chip corporations). That aspect of life surprises some, but it shouldn’t. How many androgynous men do you see in an office? How many androgynous women do you see in an office? It’s a curious question for a curiosity.

Many androgynes (males specifically) work in sexually objectifying spheres – circumscribed and imprisoned there – as the private (secret, and hopefully happy), controlled, contained and naughty peccadillo of some alpha male with a fetish or found in the milieus of art, celebrity and fashion. For these men, mainstream society will always express some level of discomfort – and who’s fault is that? Not the person with the uncomfortable thoughts, the person with their prejudice welling within themselves – no, the object prompting the discomfort is the androgyne – for example – me. It is easier to find me at fault because I’m a faulty fit to begin with – and there enters a more subtle form of homophobia or racism – these the two-headed hydras that screw me ass to mouth – along with the discomfort with my androgyny.

Now, as fate and fortune are really dicey, I don’t regret my androgyny – that great physical blessing.  I enjoy it, but I have actually underutilized it.  According to Professor Sandra Bem “androgynous men and women are more flexible and more mentally healthy than either masculine or feminine people; undifferentiated individuals are less competent.” So, I have to step my game up in some respects.

I have been aware of my androgyny for years, only I never thought to give it the weight others did. Being the prettiest boy in college, as one friend put it, should have easily made me the hottest date. But, given my prudery (am I not worth a lifetime of companionship?) as well as the discomfort I inspired (jocks didn’t rate me so highly those days), such an outcome didn’t really exist. In a snippet, however,  my experience as an androgynous male are worth unpacking and understanding.

With this post I have come into the clear awareness that my looks – bequeathed genetics for which I did nothing to gain – makes some people of either gender disagreeable. In their discomfort, even my most restrained behavior promotes a caricature of who I present and project myself to be. A person will exaggerate my movements for comedic effect and implied ridicule – and I silently watch what people do, not because I don’t know to speak up, but out of extreme compassion.   Life is short, and I’d rather not be breathless explaining the wrongness of their action – people know when they are being dicks. We all know the homophobia within in us all. And, kindly – we’re all growing into better people, if that’s what we want.

But, karma metes out the correction far better than I, and I am ok (and learning to be ok) with who I am. Getting others to accept me, well, that’s another matter all together different. Even in a suit and tie (which I prefer), the perception of foppery comes across and not the serious. This gap between who I think I am and how people see me is the gulf of frustration. It solders well the bond of opposition to my presence, like an inside joke, in many arenas beyond belief – and even with certain gay people who, I’ve learned, are the most demonically malevolent.  And, while I don’t look particularily funny, androgyny is funny to many – and as Quentin Crisp noted, “Those who look funny get stuck with the arts.” This is a curious, and unmentioned form of entrenched social morality – and we’ve been here before.

The narrow range of behaviors allowed for male self-expression in the US, or the West in general, does not encompass graceful or elegant. Instead, the view is camp or effete – this unfortunate poverty  of adjectives for comportment arises from social conformity and an extreme form of internalized individuality. Until now,  I never believed my androgyny  ranked as a principle self-identifier. I am black, and I am male. I am ambitious and accomplished. I am well-traveled, and educated. In my view and conception of myself – why on Earth would I want to self-identify primarily as an androgyne?

The message from my fellow humans has hit home – hard and nastily – You are a resident alien, and our hostility towards you will be unrelenting. And, so here I am becoming re-aquainted with the arts because, after trying everything else, that’s the one area  where I will flourish and make a living  (fingers crossed).

In my strength, I have surmounted many challenges – but at the end of the day for many people –  sex circumscribes the locus of who I am – I am the project of change people want, a make over so that I input well into the social construction as an imprinted output. People have asked me to grow my hair, and for what reason? It helps other people see me more on the male side of things – it may save my life, too. It’s a request to make an effort to blunt the look of my face with a frame of hair  so that I may encourage the less enlightened to consider me within the proper* gender, and thereby enable their willingness to allow (tolerate/suffer, but not accept) my social and professional participation. FYI: The hair doesn’t change much after all.

Stunningly, but unsurprisingly people probably aren’t fully conscious of what they are reacting to when they see me, all they know is something’s “off”. I accept that, but I rebel against the idea that I can* conform without others having to change something within themselves. This is an impossible fiction that would lead faster to the grave than any addiction. Trust me, I’m tired of trying – but defining my future due to physical appearances, when I am not physically disabled, is obnoxious.

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In short,  to most people androgyny isn’t a professional office worker, a spouse , a neighbor – it’s rock and roll like David Bowie or Prince, wonderfully brash like Grace Jones or wise comic relief like Kenneth Williams or Quentin Crisp – but it is not neatly respectable. It is the ordinary and the neatly respectable who make the androgynous find an extraordinarily profound way of surviving with it.

During graduate school, with my outrageous affability and garrulousness, people asked, “are you running for class president?” I easily said “no, I am not running for class president”, but I couldn’t tell them I wanted to fit in.  That’s all. Some people knew that’s what the aim was, and they included me. And, yes, I fit in somewhere, but the ideas of what I wanted didn’t quite line up with the realities as defined by the cisgender majority. However,  as with any dominant group: some people simply love with great relish the exercise of that tyranny – and professionally I have found one gauntlet after another with the narrowest seams of stability to run along.

Androgyny by definition – in the West – alters a native – it’s abnormal in presentation – it’s not like everyone else. It is the greatest threat to conformity and people resent it. In the East – in South Asia where I have lived for some years, on a social level I did not feel such a loneliness and felt greater acceptance. Socially men seemed to respond to my looks with out the shame found in Western men. But in conservative, Western oriented professional environments – the frictions remained the same as they were in the US.

This does not mean it is impossible to survive in typical jobs. But of the few androgynes I have met in them – one was a woman who surrounded herself with all women. I couldn’t understand why she did this, but now that I see her as an androgyne I can understand why. As I wall off into my room, she walled off behind women who didn’t make her uncomfortable, discounted her professionally; women who were not unnerved by her gaze or simply put-off by the fact that she didn’t neatly fit into one gender or the other. In her response to the world, in her attempt to cope and make a living – she succeeded. While she’s a positive example, it does not make easier this sea change of thought and perspective upon myself that I now undergo for the moment.

If the treatment depresses you, as it has depressed me, well the person promoting these feelings within you will say: “Well, this is self-pity”. When a cisgendered male told me this during the end of a particularly horrible year, I couldn’t tell him what my rumination was – but it certainly wasn’t self-pity. What I worked out later:  my depression arose from how dark and tough the route will be to live in this world as I am.

RuPaul (Nov. 17, 1960 – ) Not my style, but more power to him/her.

As I noted above, there are few proper roles in traditional society for androgynous men – and many have  carved them out from live rock. I beg to know: why is RuPaul one of the only role models? Despite number of fame-seekers on YouTube, America has at this time come to an understanding: A. The androgynous exist to be consumed in safe batches. B. Their expression in our society will be entertainment.  C. We will not take them seriously.

Lena Horne (June 30, 1917 – May 9, 2010) – conserves fuel
Office of War Information photograph

It’s a great moment of realization, but it’s not saying much. Think of it like this:  Black American Lena Horne appeared in a 1940’s advert., but segregation, lynching and overtly racist behavior continued – and continues as the 21st century gains its teen years. So, RuPaul’s show is a frontline, and not the established norm, but a welcome start. Yet simultaneously the androgynous (along with the transgendered) are still being screwed, literally.

Moreover, despite the ethnic diversity of androgyny on RuPaul’s program, why is there no diversity of lifestyles besides drag? Is that the only acceptable role? Bottom-line: What the fuck is wrong with people?

In traditional areas of life, androgyny – no matter how smart, capable or self-assured the person maybe – limits, if not disappears the individual all together from overt participation. This social erasure  fox-holes them into alternative careers – lifestyles and dangers. Then, when the average respectable person sees an androgynous man or woman and maybe imagines them as a tranny, dyke, or perhaps a camp flamer.  These people, even if they are liberal, can’t comprehend the role their behavior has played in the distancing, marginalization and enclosure of this person’s life into such an uncommon experience. This inability to account for the impact our own actions may have on another’s well-being is as normal as greed and destitution.

Donatello, David (1440s?) Museo Nazionale del Bargello

But, on the social level – it doesn’t work out well either. For some women, my presence may just cause their men to think a lustful thought. That’s not my fault. So how have women dealt with me? With a  hard look – as if to challenge me or assert “you can’t have him” – they grab their man’s hand as if to keep him from the stray (no lie). Thus, their romantic insecurity is laid bare, and leaves me to wonder about the man’s loyalty. And it makes me shake with laughter  – why does this foolish woman think I would want something as indisciplined, and as faithless as the man she holds to so tightly? Does she not adore and serve all his needs well enough to keep him fixated on her? She doesn’t know maintaining a relationship with a man is an all-encompassing job?

For men, unaccustomed to dealing with their emotions or thoughts that conflict with their declared sexual identity or projected masculinity (including gay and bisexual men), my social ostracism and diminishment becomes an exercise that affirms their personal and group identities. Or the bricks in the façade of their confidence. But, the other goal remains – a forced effort to compel my conformity to the “right” gender, behavior and interactive roles when the problem isn’t gender identity, per se, but their inappropriate response to my androgyny. I could go to a gym, build muscle, take powdered steroid drinks, but that won’t change my androgyny – it may even exaggerate it.  In the end it’s an unenlightened solution when the challenge is: how to change the way people think about and respond to androgyny?

For this change, I don’t think it’s politics (and I don’t think it a good idea for it to become political) but with politics there’s always a disturbing drawback, as Eartha Kitt noted with feminism: “…No, I don’t believe in all that nonsense,” said Ms. Kitt… “When they started that nonsense, nobody sent me roses anymore, let alone the diamond rings. I used to get furs and diamonds from men, and they’d open doors for me, lay out the red carpet. Now, I don’t even get a petal…”

So, I’ll keep living, remain private. I seek my happiness – it’s there and my life partner is right there with it.

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