Friday, February 25, 2005

dress me up in women's clothes, mess around with gender roles, dye my eyes and call me pretty

Yesterday when I got home from work, I taught myself how to tie a four-in-hand knot in a necktie. I also practiced tying a Windsor knot and a half-Windsor, but I couldn't accurately say I taught myself those, since I suspect that another attempt at them would produce something similar to my efforts at origami. So...bendy...
I own a tie, one tie, and I got interested in the notion of wearing it to work. Our dress code is not horribly restrictive, and the clothes I'm allowed to wear are pretty nice. From previous experiences with bright red polyester sweatshirts, I know that this is not a given in a retail job. It's just that after several years of going to work with pink hair in my stretchy leopard-print dress and fishnets, or slouchy boy-jeans and band t-shirts, I got spoiled. I am accustomed to wearing what I want. It's sad when a necktie is a symbol of fashion rebellion, and not in an Alex P. Keaton way.

I can't make the knot do that wedge-shaped thing, though. spook came home and tied it a couple of different ways and showed me a trick that helped, but explained that part of it is the fabric of this particular tie. He never wears a tie except for dressy reasons, and I got a sense of dislocation watching his hands wrap it around in one of the more complicated knots as though he was born knowing how. There aren't a lot of cosmetic displays of gender in our house--spook knows more about makeup than I do, which robs it of any fetishistic power it might have held, and shaving doesn't seem so alien to me now that I do it every once in a while. I was fascinated watching this unfold. Or fold up, as the case may be.

It took a long time for me to enjoy adornment. To get there I had to make peace with being a femme instead of desperately trying to attain the soft-butch look that I thought might help me fit in. Some of the things I've done in the name of dyke respectability are just embarrassing. The black vest and bad haircut in my high school graduation photo, for example, or wearing a suit jacket to take my girlfriend to a dance. I wasn't fooling anyone. In university, I shaved off my shoulder-length hair and then cried for a week because I felt so ugly. Every time I had to get dressed, it felt like drag. Somewhere in there, I started to understand that every time I get dressed, it is drag, which was a tremendous relief.
While Sarah and I were living together, we talked a lot about what it was like to be a teenage dyke in the early 90s in Toronto. The terrible defensiveness! The biphobia! The flannel! The seven Acceptable Lesbian Haircuts! Laughing about it and telling Jen-L stories about the olden days together helped me see it as a period of time, a narrowness born of feeling embattled and invalidated, rather than a comment on my personal flaws.
Despite the many people who cling to some of those crappy attitudes, we're moving on. Pie-baking and knitting can get the feminist respect they deserve, and not a minute too soon--let's face it, making clay yoni sculptures to honour the goddess doesn't do it for everyone, and no one was doing anybody any favours by pretending it would.
Punk, in my case via riot grrl, deserves my eternal gratitude for making it okay to do things imperfectly, just because I wanted to try them. Jennifer made me mix tapes of lady bands and Kathleen Hanna gave an interview where she talked about offering to do the music for a film and then going off and spending an hour trying to tune her guitar, crying, because she couldn't really play and she had to figure it out fast. If Kathleen Hanna could freak out and bawl, it was okay for me to do it too--and then to make whatever art I could, mistakes and all.
All of it comes together in my girlyman punk-rock feminist cowboy partner, who strolled into my heart and my life turning on lights in parts of my personality I'd buried so long I'd forgotten they were there. I remember turning to spook, then newly my boyfriend, and saying "You're the first person I've known who can hold my coat and respect my opinion," and feeling it unlock something in my chest.

I live here now, and although I get panicky sometimes over things like being expected to know how to walk in heels, I'm much happier. I can learn from spook's capable hands folding my tie over and under and showing me how to tighten the knot. I can put on hot pink eyeshadow and go to work.

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