Beverly GreeneDecember 1996
I know what you're thinking. You just read that title, and you're saying to yourself, "Now, how can that possibly be?" Well, that is just want I want to talk about this month. I want to look at the question of masculinity and femininity. I want to talk about the stereotypes and expectations, both internal and external and is there really a difference? I also want to talk about how much of what we like about ourselves and how much of what we like in others shapes what we make ourselves to be.
I was laying on the couch the other day, book in hand, cat on my tummy, reading a book based on a documentary interviewing men and women on what it was like to be gay or lesbian from the mid-70's. It seemed that no matter how many interviews I read, there was always some mention of the necessity and reality of being either masculine or feminine, for both men and women. It got me to thinking. Is that really true now days? Do we still need to pick one and stick with it so that we know where we stand and what chores we should do?
When the gay and lesbian equal rights revolution really begin to seep into the general public's awareness, the stereotypes of what gays and lesbians should be like also seeped into the rainbow community as it never had before. There had always been people choose to dress and/or act like the opposite sex, for any number of reasons, but there was a difference now. Before, people had often times been trying to hide the "abnormality" by one of the partners taking on the identity of the opposite sex, insuring that they could stay together as long as they could keep up the act. But when people started saying that it was OK it was OK to say that you were gay or lesbian, it seems to have been believed that the only way humans could relate to each other was in masculine and feminine terms, not as simply individual humans.
If you are wondering what I mean by that last statement, just look at any TV show, any movie where gay people are shown. Almost every time you will find a woman who looks like a man and calls herself a dyke, or a man who dresses in women's clothing and calls himself gay, or simply walks around acting overly feminine (i.e. the limp wrists, the high voice, the phony walk) and you will find out. The idea, even today, in the general public, and even within our own community is that we can only relate to each other that level. This is why people think that in every gay and lesbian couple there is a "man" who does the car stuff, the heavy lifting, and the house maintenance and the "woman" who does the cooking, the shopping, and the dishes. People also think that this carries over into physical characteristics, one person needing to be very masculine with short hair and men's clothing and one partner wearing makeup and as much pink as they can find. Anyone in a real gay or lesbian relationship is bound to know that this is pretty much untrue and unnecessary now, but still the myth remains.
It used to be that all lesbians wanted to appear to be men. There were several good reasons for this. I'd rather look like a man and declare to the world that I am a lesbian while decreasing the chances of getting beat up or worse. However, the need for this type of disguise is not really necessary. So, why does the myth that all lesbians still want to look like men persist? Well, there are some women who enjoy the total butch look. There are women who look like what we think a dyke should, and probably gets called a dyke, even if she's married with 7 kids. We have just come to think of lesbians as being men-wanna-be's. We all know this is true. How many times have you looked at a very butch woman who you know nothing about and thought "Uhuh! She's family'!"? You thought that because she looked like what we have been taught to think a lesbian looks like. The same can be said for gay men. We have all seen men with a good sense of style, a pink tee-shirt, or who was shopping without a woman pushing him in the store and we have all thought "Uhuh! He's family'!" without even knowing anything more about him because that is what we have been taught gay men are like.
So, what is the reality? Are we still dividing ourselves into masculine and feminine roles. Well, yes, some people still do because they are more comfortable playing a part, taking a role and knowing where they stand. However, I think that for the most part, our community no longer sees a need for this. I think this is thanks to the straight community. I think that the women's rights movement has also allowed gays and lesbians to say that we do not have to make one of our partners be less of a person by demeaning them to the level of a socially acceptable slave. We are now able to say, it's ok if we both cook, if we both do the dishes. I think that what happens most of the time is that people just divide up the household chores to what people do best, what they like to do, and then share everything else. I know that that is how my wife and I do it. I am what most people would call the "femme" and she is the "butch" yet I haven't done dishes since we moved in! I haven't cleaned the bathroom either! But aren't those my jobs? No! Those are hers. I do part of the cooking, keep other parts of the house clean, and help with the laundry. All in all, it works out evenly. We don't feel the need to divide the chores by what gender we think they go with. We just do what we are best equipped to do. While it is true that she does most of the maintenance, that is because she is a computer tech and is better with her hand. I, on the other hand take care of the check book and the money. I pay the bills and take care of those sorts of tasks, a chore normally given the masculine partner. Those are just what we are the best equipped to do.
Many times I hear young gays and lesbians talking about their confusion as to which role they will take because they assume that they will have to eventually take on, deciding which part of themselves they want to nurture and it always makes me sad. No one, straight, gay, lesbian, bi, or transgendered has to give up a part of themselves to fit in. We have to stop wondering "Do I look gay enough? Will other family members' be able to pick me out?" Well, no, maybe not. If you're all that worried about it, get a set of pride rings! Don't become less than who you are!
Now, I'm not saying that it is wrong for some women to be really femme, never leaving the house without at least their eyeliner on, and I'm not saying that it's not OK for women to always wear their hair short and never wear anything pink, frilly, or without pants legs. All I'm saying, is do those things because that is how you feel comfortable, not because you think that is your role in life. Only you can determine your role in life. Be how you are, develop your gifts and your talents and everything else will fall into place. Just be who you are. Be the definition of masculine femininity if that is what you want to be, just be happy with yourself!