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October 13, 2012 7:25 AM   Subscribe

My Life as a Girl - Why Stephen Burt likes dressing up as a woman.
posted by Artw (54 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 


Oddly enough, I'm seeing Eddie Izzard tonight.

Apparently my day will be fill with executive transvestites.
posted by bpm140 at 7:35 AM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I took a class from Steve at Macalester College back in the day. He is so brilliant, so odd, and so endearing. At the time, all the students were WAY CURIOUS about his personal life. He never taught in drag, but little indicators like his fondness for Sanrio made us sure that there was a story we weren't getting. Features like this are answering a decade of questions for me.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 7:39 AM on October 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Does Burt use the label 'transvestite'? The only mentions of it in the essay are quotes from Izzard, and relatively few crossdressers accept that label for themselves.
posted by jiawen at 7:47 AM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is really good. Thank you.
posted by davidjmcgee at 7:59 AM on October 13, 2012


And I'm so glad this piece of writing exists, but I'm also really looking forward to when everybody can wear whatever they want and not have to defend it to anyone.
posted by davidjmcgee at 8:02 AM on October 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yes, this is really good. Thanks for linking this.
posted by yeoz at 8:02 AM on October 13, 2012


Maybe I've been around "too many" genderqueer people, but I found this quite boring and unoriginal. "I'm wearing a green cotton dress" and "I go shopping in the women's department at the GAP"? Who cares. This breaks no new ground. I mean, I respect the guy for living his life and sharing his thoughts, but is this really shocking or surprising to anyone here?
posted by desjardins at 8:19 AM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


but is this really shocking or surprising to anyone here?

Why does it have to be shocking or surprising? It's a bit weird to read such a personal essay and think, "Boring!" but maybe I'm just a voyeur.
posted by muddgirl at 8:26 AM on October 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


At first I too was all "so what", but then I read this:
Later I published poems in girl personae, such as “Self-Portrait as Kitty Pryde,” about the teenage genius from the X-Men who has the power to walk through walls.
It's still novel enough for me to read something like this from a Harvard English professor that I was startled and enchanted enough to go on.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:30 AM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Self-Portrait as Kitty Pryde" can be found here.

His famous sestina, "Six Kinds of Noodles."

An essay about poems about superheroes from Michigan Quarterly Review.
posted by escabeche at 8:34 AM on October 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


I took a class from Steve at Macalester College back in the day. He is so brilliant, so odd, and so endearing. At the time, all the students were WAY CURIOUS about his personal life. He never taught in drag, but little indicators like his fondness for Sanrio made us sure that there was a story we weren't getting. Features like this are answering a decade of questions for me.

It's a huge regret that I never took a class from him, even though he was my advisor up until he left for Harvard. I remember finding out his first book was on Randall Jarrell and realizing I was in love. Incredible guy.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 8:35 AM on October 13, 2012


Sorry, I don't mean to trash the post and certainly not the person, maybe I'm surprised that the subject is as "normal" to me as it is.

Also I had no idea that Kitty Pryde was named after Kitty Pryde, so that's something.
posted by desjardins at 8:37 AM on October 13, 2012


Personal writing is not inherently interesting. I find the performance of self-consciousness somewhat tedious here.

More than that, though, I am tired of the collapsing of expressions of womanness into such a narrow expression of "femininity," which reinforced for women the idea that certain social expectations of behavior and appearance are more valid, the most valid. When he says he wants to dress "like a girl," what does that mean for me, when how I as a girl (woman) dress is quite different from what he means? It reifies patriarchy.
posted by liketitanic at 8:45 AM on October 13, 2012 [14 favorites]


That was really excellent.

There were a couple places I identified, even though I'm not trans: where the teacher asks a little "pink boy" why he wants to be a boy and he replies that he wants to be what he is; and where Burk confides to always being afraid his friends will find out that he is secretly twelve. I thought a lot about about whether I would be happier as a boy when I was - not young, because my parents didn't believe in raising boy and girl children differently, but at that point in middle school when you are supposed to really perform gender difference. I wasn't good at being a girl. Of course it's ultimately easier for girls to be boy-like and pressure to perform as a girl also lessens after those years, and I'm not as between-genders as some people are, so I was okay.

This essay skips pretty lightly over deep waters but there's a pervasive sadness to it, too, I think. Was this published on National Coming Out Day, by any chance?

The contrast between this extremely hesitant, modest, and careful piece and the NYT profile where Burk is described as "nothing if not confident" is interesting too. I think this piece is brave, personally, especially since the author is a public figure.

Finally, I like this guy(?)'s thoughts on poets and criticism! Another writer on the "to watch" list.
posted by subdee at 8:50 AM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


But liketitantic, Burt dresses in t-shirts and jeans because that's what androgynous, butch women wear. There are sparkly rings and nail polish so people will know the look is supposed to reflect androgyny, but no frilly pink dresses and tiaras...
posted by subdee at 9:10 AM on October 13, 2012


A biological woman who dresses boyishly is still unmistakeablely a woman, but if Burt dressed purely boyishly he'd be wrongly identified as 100% male.
posted by subdee at 9:12 AM on October 13, 2012


Sorry to keep harping on this point, but another thing that reifies patriarchy is the insistance that "men" never identify with or seek to emulate characteristics that are associated with the oppressed class (women).

I will step away from the reply box now.
posted by subdee at 9:15 AM on October 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think there are ways around it--wearing clothes cut for women, among others--but I am not arguing with you about this.
posted by liketitanic at 9:16 AM on October 13, 2012


I am also talking about men selecting particular characteristics of "the oppressed class" to emulate and then elevating those characteristics to a normative status, thus affecting and limiting the choices women have.
posted by liketitanic at 9:18 AM on October 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Yeah, I'm a novice in this field so if we kept up an argument, sooner or later my unfamiliarity would come out.

Clothes cut for a woman might not fit, though (apologies, couldn't help myself. Now I will really step away).
posted by subdee at 9:19 AM on October 13, 2012


Skirts and rings, you mean? Or just "dressing up, looking pretty" in general?
posted by subdee at 9:21 AM on October 13, 2012


The response to the article is still surprising and interesting, however mundane and commonplace the subject matter (which I don't think it is.) "Dressing up like a woman" is marginalized not only in society, but among ostensible allies. You're either not trans enough to belong, not gay enough, not straight enough, not pretty enough to pass, not fabulous enough to be on stage, not subversive enough to be a real feminist, not man enough to enjoy the full benefit of the patriarchy. You either don't use the right language to describe your experience or don't know enough to know better, you're homophobic for being closeted or misogynistic for not having the right attitude about what it means to be "feminine". Maybe I am just being naive, and surely there are elements of my own privilege I am not aware of, but I don't think it's fair to say the final word on dressing up is that it does nothing but reifies the patriarchy. It's difficult to even comment on without doing so, because there aren't enough descriptors and square quotes to put across the idea that I'm using these words because at this point I don't know any better ones to say what I feel.
posted by Lorin at 9:36 AM on October 13, 2012 [24 favorites]



Clothes cut for a woman might not fit, though

Sometimes clothes cut for the woman's department might fit *better*...
posted by mikelieman at 9:40 AM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is a cruel world we live in, if you're male or female or somewhere on the axis in between. It would be a better world if we could all wear and be whomever it was that we really are. But labeling all the sparkly things 'female' and all the plain things 'male' and fetishizing the sparkly things is not going to fix that.

The feminine to him is the thing to which he applies himself as the Oxo Vegetable Peeler of which he wrote. He's stripping it away to the shallow surface signifiers, leaving the thing itself in the sink, discarded.
posted by winna at 9:54 AM on October 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


But labeling all the sparkly things 'female' and all the plain things 'male' and fetishizing the sparkly things is not going to fix that.

Where, in the linked article, does Burt say that he's trying to fix anything?

The response in this thread is really squinking me out. Yes, this person is surely reifying the patriarchy because his fashion choices would definitely be accepted and celebrated by the patriarchs. Give me a break.

I suppose we should all just wear featureless beige jumpsuits.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:05 AM on October 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


He's not trying to fix anything, he's helping perpetuate how it's broken. The point is that he's making a statement about what being a woman is and linking that to being sparkly. That contributes to the fact that I'm supposed to be into sparkly things when I could not be made to care at gunpoint about sparkly things.

If he was just talking about how he liked sparkly things, no one would care, or people would say hey, great for you, sparkly things are awesome. But he's linking those sparkly things straight to being a woman, and those of us who are women (whether or not we were born women) have a right to object to that tedious generalization. You'd think a poet would have worked through the boring stereotypical conceptions of gender identity well before they're getting articles in the NYT, but they do love their narcissistic goldfish bowl society reporting, so I guess it makes sense.

He can wear sparkly shit forever for all I care, but telling the world that he likes it because it's 'being a girl' is bullshit.
posted by winna at 10:15 AM on October 13, 2012 [18 favorites]


As a humorous (to me) aside, recently in a Fetlife group the question was asked, "Why does it seem like crossdressers are only attracted to each other? Every photo they post is just a bunch of other crossdressers saying how sexy they are!" Why? Because if we didn't, who the hell would? Not that I mean to apply the label to the author, or anyone in particular.

I'm genuinely curious what will help fix this (in what is possibly the most general use of this ever) and am keen to read more that addresses that too. Most of the personal essays I've read from this perspective were relegated to backwater sites with pink backgrounds last updated in the late 90s, so an article by a tenured Harvard professor in a reputable journal was indeed surprising.
posted by Lorin at 10:29 AM on October 13, 2012


Lorin

The point is that he's making a statement about what being a woman is and linking that to being sparkly

If he was just talking about how he liked sparkly things, no one would care, or people would say hey, great for you, sparkly things are awesome.

He can't say this because it's not just about wearing sparkly things. There is very clearly a sexual aspect. In his own words: "The strictly erotic aspect of cross-dressing, including my own—the turn-on aspect—can’t be disentangled from the rest of it." The sparkly things are tied to an expression of his sexuality. So you can't say that it's just about wanting to wear sparkling things and nail polish. It's about thinking that women are attractive, that women with certain interests and certain personality traits are attractive, and wanting to be attractive himself to himself, again, in his own words (although citing others) "being transgender is about who you want to go to bed as, not who you want to go to bed with."

He can wear sparkly shit forever for all I care, but telling the world that he likes it because it's 'being a girl' is bullshit.

It's not just about "I like sparkly things, girls like sparkly things, therefore I want to be girly." It's much closer to "I like the sorts of women who like to wear sparkly things and are often referred to as girls. I want to like myself. Therefore, I want to wear sparkly things and refer to myself as a girl sometimes." Of course that's oversimplifying it as well, but that's why there's an essay to read. So when he says it's being a "girl", it's not bullshit, it's a critical part of his sexuality, his identity, and his whole motivation for wearing sparkly things.

The key difference is that he's not saying that all women like sparkly things or have to like sparkly things, he's saying he wants to be the sort of person that he is attracted to and that they tend to like sparkly things.

Now the side-effect of pressure on you to like sparkly things is real and is unfortunate, but it's not his fault. He is definitely not saying or implying that all women must like sparkly things. He's only talking about the subset of women that he finds attractive and aspires to be, which he calls "girls" because there really isn't a better way to say it in the context of what he's trying to explain. What other people read into that, and what other people pressure you to do is their problem, not his (and shouldn't be yours, either, although realistically and unfortunately, it is).

So I'm not saying you're wrong, I'm just saying that his motivations are much more complex and much more tied into issues of identity and sexuality that "ooh! shiny!"
posted by yeolcoatl at 10:49 AM on October 13, 2012 [6 favorites]



Maybe I've been around "too many" genderqueer people, but I found this quite boring and unoriginal. "I'm wearing a green cotton dress" and "I go shopping in the women's department at the GAP"? Who cares. This breaks no new ground. I mean, I respect the guy for living his life and sharing his thoughts, but is this really shocking or surprising to anyone here?


But not a lot of people have! Especially it can be rarer to meet older folks who've made lives for themselves with kids, etc. I am in a social circle with a reasonable number of genderqueer, gender-nonconforming and out trans people (and I am myself among that number), and it skews pretty young, and where it doesn't skew young it skews very poly and non-kid-having.

I did think about how much easier it is to sort all this stuff out when you're a white man from an upper middle class background with tenure - a trans woman of color would have a hell of a harder time, I suspect, and would write an incredibly different essay which probably wouldn't appear in this journal. And there's a certain privilege in being able to dip in and out of being read as trans when you want to - I think it's much, much harder for people who have to for personal or social reasons have one consistent gender presentation all the time.

Vis-a-vis the "reifying femininity" thing: trans women and feminine of center people wearing sparklies simply don't have the power to reify femininity. That happens in magazines and movies and on TV and in everyday discourse among gender-conforming cis people. If a trans woman feels like she's being a girl more when she's wearing a skirt or rings or whatever, that has far more to do with how society as a whole expects femininity to be than anything else. Also I expect based on friends' experience that it has to do with being treated as a woman, which is huge - in cis circles, I think women often feel that they have to really signal "I am a woman" in order to get treated as a woman, and the signifiers that most cis people read clearly as "I am a woman" are skirts and rings and stuff. I think that "being" a gender is social, not just in your head - being treated as the gender you feel you are is really important in how you perceive yourself.

I also notice that trans women come in for far more criticism for reifying femininity than cis women do, even though cis women (on the green even!) have often posted questions about wanting to dress and appear more "feminine", or expressed distress over not feeling feminine, or not being treated as womanly by others due to body, age, race, etc. Also, I'd far rather get worked up over things like Land's End's daft "feminine" polo shirts and "feminine" this and feminine that by which they mean "tight" "cap sleeves" and "ruffles" which are all fine but don't need to be labeled special dainty feminine things for girls IYAM...I'd rather start my "let's not reify gender" stuff there than by worrying about whether a trans woman feels better, is safer, passes better, is treated better when she wears a dress.

And if we're going to talk about trans women reifying femininity, someone needs to take it up with trans dudes reifying masculinity. Actually, this is something I think about a lot! When I am dressing in a 'masculine' manner, what the hell does that even mean except "clothes that most people associate with men"? But I like those close in part because they are associated with men - I like ties not for themselves alone but because when I wear one I see varies images of masculinity in the mirror. Technically, couldn't I just wear a tutu and high heels and say "I'm dressed in a masculine fashion because I feel masculine"? I mean, I certainly could - and I know people who do - but it would change the social experience of my gender a LOT.

I feel more like myself when I'm in a button-down and dress pants and brogues in part because I feel a kinship with a certain history of masculinity and in part because people treat me more like I want to be treated. In a way, I am reifying masculinity because I'm kind of romanticizing it - I'm not wearing a tie and thinking "Henry Kissinger also wears ties!" or "Sheriff Arpaio wears ties!" or even "that funny-looking dude in admissions wears ties"; I'm thinking of WH Auden or James Baldwin or some elegant cabaret dude from the 1930s.

I just think that because gender is social, the place to start in getting everyone maximum freedom is not criticizing how individuals feel about their own gender presentation.
posted by Frowner at 10:56 AM on October 13, 2012 [33 favorites]


I think women often feel that they have to really signal "I am a woman" in order to get treated as a woman, and the signifiers that most cis people read clearly as "I am a woman" are skirts and rings and stuff. I think that "being" a gender is social, not just in your head - being treated as the gender you feel you are is really important in how you perceive yourself.

I am a woman and not only is being "treated as a woman" not really important to me, I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.
posted by Wordwoman at 11:49 AM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am a woman and not only is being "treated as a woman" not really important to me, I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

Perhaps the problem was that I meant to write "trans women often feel" and did not realize that I had not...Or at least I hope that's the problem.

But I feel like in these conversations no one wants to admit that there's a diversity of women's experiences - and that the diversity can be purely personal (Sarah and Marie grew up very similarly but experience gender very differently) or marked by race, class, nationality, etc. I have read many, many accounts by black women writers, for example, of how they feel pushed into either a sexless-servant-maternal role or hypersexualized. For some of those women - who were mostly cis - being treated "as a woman" and feeling "feminine" became a big deal. I remember reading a piece about Michelle Obama, for example, by a black woman who talked about how powerful it was for her to see this 'feminine' woman with a bog-standard nicely-turned out gender-conforming family on the national stage, because that was something that black woman were just not represented in white/majority media as having. So something that white feminists critiqued - Michelle Obama's girlie clothes and family-centricness - was actually liberating and radical in this particular situation. I think it's really important to consider why and how some women want to be treated as "feminine" or "as a woman", not just say that it's nonsense.

People have really different gender-validation needs. I, for instance, care very little about what pronouns people use for me. There's positive and negative reasons for that - positively, I have some internal walls that support me; negatively, I'm used to feeling like an outsider who does not count, so I don't look to others for validation. But that doesn't mean I'm going to get pissed off if another trans or gender non-conforming person really hates being misgendered/has strong feelings about pronouns. We're different; we have different needs; neither of our needs is a big deal that needs a lot of feminist self-criticism.
posted by Frowner at 12:01 PM on October 13, 2012 [11 favorites]


Maybe I've been around "too many" genderqueer people, but I found this quite boring and unoriginal. "I'm wearing a green cotton dress" and "I go shopping in the women's department at the GAP"? Who cares. This breaks no new ground. I mean, I respect the guy for living his life and sharing his thoughts, but is this really shocking or surprising to anyone here?

Is shock-and-surprise the only worthwhile reaction here?

In fact, I like this story precisely because it's not so extreme. The standard trans narrative goes something like "Well, I was born looking entirely [male/female], but I've always known that I was really [female/male], and so I transitioned and never looked back." And that's brave and inspiring if you're trans or trans-friendly, or shocking and titillating if you're not, but either way it gets lots of eyeballs.

Still, it's not the only narrative. There are people who spend their whole life on the fence, gender-wise — not because they're too cowardly to come out, or too deeply in denial, but just because their feelings on the issue are complicated. I suppose there's a version of the standard heroic narrative there too, in which the hero says "....but I've always known that I was really [both/neither/none-of-the-above] and so I adopted a nonbinary identity and never looked back!" That's an admirable story, but also a pretty rare one. A lot of people just never make a once-and-for-all decision: don't come out as male, don't come out as female, don't come out into a firm well-defined genderqueer identity — just sort of keep muddling along.

I'm sure none of this is news to you. For all I know, you're thinking "Fuck, I'm just muddling along as best I can, gender-wise, and I don't insist on publishing an article about it."

I guess I'm just responding differently to the ordinariness of it. My take is, "Yeah, this is a pretty ordinary guy in a pretty ordinary situation. I've been there. A lot of people I know have been there. But we don't tend to talk about it a lot — partly because it doesn't fit the prefab transition narrative, partly because we don't understand our own situation very well, partly just because we're shy or nervous or inclined to be private." So I'm glad he decided to tell his story, precisely because it's so familiar to me.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:01 PM on October 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


For some of those women - who were mostly cis - being treated "as a woman" and feeling "feminine" became a big deal.

Sort of the other side of the coin - I'm a fat woman, and I definitely feel that sometimes I have to dress a certain way (hyper-'feminine') if I want to be viewed not only as a woman, but as a sexual woman.

And sure, I probably shouldn't care what other people think of me, right? But that's sort of bullshit, because 99% of us care, to some extent or another, whether our outsides 'match' how we feel inside. It's just easier for some to align their presentation with their internal state than for others.
posted by muddgirl at 12:31 PM on October 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am a transgender person, a lefty, and a feminist. But some of the comments in this thread remind me that my fellow lefties and feminists can be as repressive and hard to bear as the conservative, patriarchal swine.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:45 PM on October 13, 2012 [13 favorites]


It's shocking to hear so many people discuss the proper way for a stranger to express himself. Well, not shocking for Metafilter, maybe, but shocking in general.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 1:46 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


A lot of this made me smile. For some reason—maybe because of seeing the label mentioned more this week because of National Coming Out Day—I've had this train of thought in the back of my head the last few days about how genderqueer is actually probably a label that applies to me in some way. For as long as I can remember, I've had the feeling of being a girl/woman with a boy's/man's voice in my head. That comes out when I write—for as long as I've written pseudonymously on the Internet, people have tended to read me as a guy. I don't know what other women's voices sound like in their heads, but my thoughts to me don't feel like they're in a woman's voice. I don't feel like I have a woman's mind—though when the hormones really kick in for a day or so each month, it's clear that in some ways, of course, I do.

And yet, at the same time as I'm feeling...tingly...and vulnerable to even be talking about this, because I haven't talked about it to anyone very much (probably the last time I wrote about it explicitly was in one of my notebooks in high school), I also get how easy it is, in some ways, for me to be a woman saying these things, as opposed to the author expressing his genderqueerness. I almost feel like taking my own work advice right now: Keep your head down, my mind is shouting. I feel like I haven't thought enough about this to be telling you about it, and at the same time, I feel like I've really been thinking about it my whole life.

'Cause I get so much of what he's talking about. I, too, read the New York Times piece about the pink boys, and I loved it! As he quotes: "Why do you want to be a boy and not a girl?" she probed, and the eight-year-old answered: "Because I want to be who I am!" Exactly! I remember that resonating when I read it the first time. I know I'm a woman physically and I don't want to change that, but it's not the way my thoughts coalesce, and I've kind of found a hybrid way of dressing and doing my hair that lets me be who I am.

I loved this part, too:

W. H. Auden used to say that he always imagined he was the youngest person in any room. I have often felt the same way, and still have dreams in which I fear that my colleagues and friends will learn that I am really sixteen . . . or twelve . . . or fourteen.

At fourteen I wanted to live in a world where girls would like me, where I could take part in girls’ lives, become at least a confidante...

"I'd discovered the nature of my desire," the great trans writer Kate Bornstein recalls in her autobiography: "I wanted to be the kind of girl I was attracted to."


There was definitely a time in my childhood when I professed a desire to get a Luke Skywalker haircut, and there was another sort of desire wrapped up in that. Thankfully, my mom talked me out of it. (My parents raised me in a pretty gender-neutral way, with hand-me-down boys' clothes from friends and art supplies and LEGOs and blocks and playing outdoors in the mud for both me and my brother, but I'm still glad she didn't let me get my hair cut that way. It was kind of a bad haircut on Mark Hamill to begin with; it would've been awful on a little tomboy girl.)

But what that passage more immediately brought to mind for me was how my husband often tells me, with my comics and my Analog subscription and my slingshot and my jean jacket, my obsession with little knives and EDC stuff, my men's Adidas Gazelles and men's designer sweaters, my disco shirts and red dice collection, my not-shaving-my-legs, that I'm secretly (or not-so-secretly) a 12-year-old boy. (Note: He's secretly 12 years old, too, so as much as he teases me, he gets it. I got lucky.)

This, a bit later, also resonated with me:

The truth is that I don’t want to teach in a dress, because at this point in my life, and perhaps at all points, I’d be too distracted, and so would my students. I’d be making it harder for them to learn. I would be distracted by wondering what my students were thinking, distracted by thinking about how I look, and who I am rather than thinking about the text I’m teaching; distracted by wondering whether I’m doing it right.

THIS IS HOW I FEEL WHEN I WEAR A FANCY DRESS, TOO! The overt performance of femininity, especially in the form of dresses, tends to make me really nervous. I think the moment that epitomizes that for me was when I was in second grade, and I was wearing a rare fluffy new dress to school for the first time, and I got so distracted thinking about the dress that I walked straight into the boys' bathroom. Or the time I wore a cool vintage miniskirt to a job interview and got completely tongue-tied. (Luckily the interviewer knew me in my less tongue-tied moments and looked past that.)

And this made me grin: Treehouses seem important to trans self-conception; they are fake houses, pretend and private houses, where children can be themselves, but almost nobody sees them. I always wanted a treehouse. I'm thinking about the time I built a "treehouse" consisting of a couple sheets of scrap Masonite nailed high up in a backyard pine tree, then sat up there trying to chew the resulting gobs of pine sap, as detailed in the Boy Scout handbook. (It totally didn't work.)

But yeah...ultimately, like the writer, I don't want my life to revolve around this. I kind of try not to let my mind directly rest on this topic too much. As introspective and painfully self-aware as I can be, I've become pretty comfortable with my inner 12-year-old boy and my external twentysomething woman, and I try not to upset that equilibrium. That said, I'm glad you posted this, Artw, during a week when I already kind of had a half-buried train of thought going about this; I think this helped me think through something that was already trying to crystallize into words. Thanks for this.
posted by limeonaire at 5:31 PM on October 13, 2012 [12 favorites]


I almost feel like taking my own work advice right now: Keep your head down, my mind is shouting. I feel like I haven't thought enough about this to be telling you about it, and at the same time, I feel like I've really been thinking about it my whole life.

I don't think there's anything wrong about what you're thinking, or with you expressing it. My big beef with some of the feminist/lefty folks is that instead of being genuinely inclusive they'll too often pounce on people who don't/won't fit their particular idea of acceptable gender expression. Some of these people do want you to keep your head down, because you're asking questions and saying things that don't fit their agenda. They want people to police their sex fantasies, to stop wearing those embarrassing clothes, to stop discussing ideas they don't like, to stop being complicated and confused, to stop coloring outside the lines. To hell with that. If you're a big sparkly drag queen, a gruff little man with strapped-down boobs, or anywhere in between, it's all good. This stuff can actually be a lot of fun, if we don't waste our lives arguing about it.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:21 PM on October 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


Thanks for posting this, it means more than you can imagine.
posted by odinsdream at 7:53 PM on October 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Something like Anglophilia

Thanks for this - I DJed for a while at the same college radio station as Burt, and have a fond memory of spending part of an evening digging through twee pop 7"s he was selling off and trading related nerdery.

I've still got the first Boyracer single, which I got from him, around somewhere. I knew that he went on to teach at Macalaster, but nothing after that - not surprised to see that he's still a very interesting guy.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:01 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Then Jessie and I got married and moved to Minnesota, and my space for cross-dressing dried up.

Ha ha! That's not the Minneapolis I lived in!
posted by Twang at 4:35 AM on October 14, 2012


t I don't think it's fair to say the final word on dressing up is that it does nothing but reifies the patriarchy.

That's a serious oversimplification. I don't feel that way at all and appreciate what's counter to other genderqueer narratives here. Nor am I a tedious feminist as others have implied But I do hope and expect that someone who works as a literary critic might more fully consider, in an edited journal, how they discuss gender and what that discussion implies for other people.

And yeah, I do think the nominally male-identified person with a national platform and a job at Harvard has the "power" to reify ideas of the feminine.
posted by liketitanic at 6:19 AM on October 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


This stuff can actually be a lot of fun, if we don't waste our lives arguing about it.

Again, I don't give a shit what gender someone expresses. Nor do I give a shit about "policing their sex fantasies." I care how they talk about their choices on a fairly national stage because it affects the choices afforded to others.

Sure, sparkles can be transgressive. Right on, whatever.
posted by liketitanic at 6:27 AM on October 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hope that, in a very subtle discussion about the interior and exterior lives of people who are trans, we can get beyond the idea that when someone says, "It makes me feel girly," they actually mean "Girls are all like THIS and boys are all like THAT." Because that seems to be the main objection, right? That old tired trope that transsexualism de facto supports gender essentialism?

I don't know why we expect trans people to magically cast off the cultural indoctrination that the rest of us align ourselves to. I'm glad I'm not accused of reifying the patriarchy every time I shave my armpits. Cis privilege, I guess.
posted by muddgirl at 6:50 AM on October 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


(Or really, I'm not accused of reifying the patriarchy every time I say, "This dress makes me feel sexy")
posted by muddgirl at 6:55 AM on October 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't know why we expect trans people to magically cast off the cultural indoctrination that the rest of us align ourselves to. I'm glad I'm not accused of reifying the patriarchy every time I shave my armpits. Cis privilege, I guess.

Again, I don't think I expect magic! It has more to do with the forum and the speaker than the practices the speaker is talking about. I don't think it's crazy to say that privilege matters here. But yes, if you want to go there, when I shave my armpits I do think I am reifying certain kinds of femininity. That it can be consequential to/for others. My choices can be and are both "personal" and tied to larger cultural narratives.
posted by liketitanic at 6:59 AM on October 14, 2012


"Accusation" and "suggestion" are not the same. Not every gender performance is maaaaagically transgressssssive.
posted by liketitanic at 7:01 AM on October 14, 2012


How about this: I think Burt's thinking is lazy. His jewelry is probably great.
posted by liketitanic at 7:09 AM on October 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of course, if you are separating the concept of "girly" from having to have the set of meat that conventionally goes with it doesn't it necessarily follow that if you do happen to have been born with that set of meat you don't have to adopt that cultural package?
posted by Artw at 7:24 AM on October 14, 2012


Not every gender performance is maaaaagically transgressssssive.

And not every gender performance has to be transgressive! And I don't think Burt is arguing that any of his performances are transgressive! In fact, he's explicitly describing himself as someone who doesn't want to be seen as bold and transgressive.
posted by muddgirl at 7:59 AM on October 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wish I had the kind of friends and so on that something like this would be a boring ho hum story. I feel alone and it's nice to read a story from the complicated, compromised middle, even if it's boring.

I feel like an alien who only knows of Earth from the newspapers. One day, the alien is reading and says, "Dog bites man! That's new."

When he says he wants to dress "like a girl," what does that mean for me, when how I as a girl (woman) dress is quite different from what he means? It reifies patriarchy.

I think this was a lazy, bullshit read of the article.
posted by fleacircus at 2:06 PM on October 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's a whole lot of text just to explain that this guy likes to feel pretty.

That says more about society than it does him. This kind of thing should be a non-issue.
posted by Malice at 4:22 PM on October 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting this, it means more than you can imagine.
posted by odinsdream at 7:53 PM on October 13

I'm with odinsdream. I have a therapy session next week, to which I will bring a printed version of this article, with yellow-highlighted sentences.
posted by dwbrant at 8:25 AM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also thanks for posting this. And for folks who think that it's "boring and unoriginal", or that he should have used his power and privilege to counter patriarchal notions of prettiness ...

... well, the kindest thing I can come up with is that perhaps this article is not for you.
posted by feckless at 4:53 PM on October 21, 2012


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