The binary does not spark joy
February 27, 2019 5:48 AM   Subscribe

How Marie Kondo Helped Me Sort Out My Gender by Sandy Allen. More than an essay about emptying your closet out onto the floor.
posted by Gordafarin (23 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
 
I never used to picture myself in middle or old age, but now I do. That began happening after I came out. Another new thing I started to feel was that I love myself. Not just how I look, my haircut, my style, though I do love those things. I now love my body itself to an extent I’d never have imagined was possible. Before I hated everything about me, body included, totally, powerfully, if for reasons I couldn’t quite spell out.
it me

also the taking selfies more than once in a never
posted by anem0ne at 6:12 AM on February 27, 2019 [15 favorites]


I've largely ignored the Marie Kondo fandom because I like living in clutter and don't like cleaning. This is the best thing I have ever heard of coming out of someone employing her process. This is really sweet.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:17 AM on February 27, 2019 [6 favorites]


Yes, this spoke to me.

Some feelings of jealousy, I suppose, that Sandy can simply change presentation and be gendered more accurately. At 5'3", with curves and a FF cup chest, that doesn't happen for me--I wear all men's clothes including formal wear, have short hair, but still get read female, get told that I don't really look that different. I cut my hair once again even shorter yesterday, so maybe that will change. But as I said in another recent post, I refuse to trade one box for another and I like my boobs and don't feel they make me any less fundamentally masculine. And nothing can be done, really about the height. Still, discovering my gender really has been like re-discovering a fundamental joy I'd loss since the gender policing of puberty began. I went to a wedding last year in a suit and felt free enough to dance, for example. I catch glimpses of myself in the mirror and feel a surge of self-love that is absolutely euphoric. All this time, the little masculine child struggling to come out.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:30 AM on February 27, 2019 [37 favorites]


I've largely ignored the Marie Kondo fandom because I like living in clutter and don't like cleaning.

The thing is, it's not really about cleaning ultimately - it's about being honest with yourself. I've found that the simple question of "does it spark joy?" cuts through so much bullshit that we build up around what we own - and who we are. In many ways, the KonMari system is less about tidying one's domicile and more about tidying oneself, and asking what personal baggage is worth keeping.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:55 AM on February 27, 2019 [34 favorites]


I shared this on because it's brilliant and succinct and so fucking relatable. Thanks for posting.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:06 AM on February 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


I've found that the simple question of "does it spark joy?" cuts through so much bullshit that we build up around what we own - and who we are. In many ways, the KonMari system is less about tidying one's domicile and more about tidying oneself, and asking what personal baggage is worth keeping.

Yeah, I haven't caught up on her TV show, but what I found most revelatory about her book was the way that she discussed younger sisters of older sisters specifically--how we inherit clothing both from our mothers and sisters, and because of this, how we never develop tastes of our own. How we have the most trouble figuring out what sparks joy because there's always someone pushing something on us that is almost to our tastes, but not quite right. In retrospect I see the times when I was trying hardest to perform femininity well as times when I was also wearing a ton of my mother's old clothes, more or less to soften the more masculine and counter culture parts of myself. Here's a photo of me [center] in college wearing a deconstructed t-shirt dress, torn pants, kmart shoes . . . and a too-big pale green women's blazer that of course was my mother's on top. Add gender to the mix of it, and the way families can police gender (my mom was always telling me to add stuff to my appearance to femme it up, starting with telling me to get my ears pierced at age 8 because I had short hair and people mistook me for a boy), and I think no wonder it took me so long to figure it all out. My older sister is also genderqueer, but figured it out much sooner. She knew what she felt good in and did not. I had no idea from taste, much less dysphoria.

(Damn does looking at that photo make my skin crawl eeeeugh.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:18 AM on February 27, 2019 [11 favorites]


My experiences aren't exactly the same, but this article rings so true to me. I'm an afab woman, but ever since I was a kid, I've naturally gravitated toward more masculine clothing. In elementary and middle school it was all cargo pants and tees and sneakers, nothing girly or frilly. In high school I got more experimental with my clothing - fell in with the art kids who went to thrift stores constantly - and sometimes I would go for something more feminine, and sometimes I'd even really like how I looked. But those kinds of clothes felt more like costumes than outfits I would "naturally" wear.

At the time, it never occurred to me that this meant anything besides "I'm not good at being pretty, like some other girls are." If I felt out of place in a dress, it was because I could have used a trip to finishing school, not because the clothes weren't quite right for me.

In my 20s, I finally figured out that I was bi, and something shifted in my thinking. I looked at my clothes and I suddenly thought... hey, I can dress queer now! I can get rid of all my skirts and heels and just wear stuff I actually really like to wear, every day! I did some online research on queer presentation - there were so many variants! - and I found some blogs for "tomboy femme" style and it just felt like the fashion guidance I'd been looking for all my life.

Of course, I always could have dressed like that, and often did, but not in a conscious, "this is me" way. I had a lot of outfits with no coherent look to them, and on a given day I just wore whatever was clean and fit me. It took the realization that I had a claim to some kind of queer identity before I could admit to myself that dresses and heels weren't me, because I didn't know who "me" was before then.

These days, I might dress up super femme to go to a party once or twice a year, and I'll love how I look - but in my head, I'm doing drag.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:42 AM on February 27, 2019 [24 favorites]


Non normative wearing of dresses at the Oscars really spoke to me this time around. And also always happy to roll out the non-binary welcome wagon for new visitors and residents in the land of unicorns.
posted by kalessin at 7:57 AM on February 27, 2019 [18 favorites]


I loved how this essay unfurled, so quiet, gentle, introspective and eventually triumphant. It is good to be able to come home to yourself, find safety and home in your own body as it exists in a world that may not always offer sanctuary.
posted by wicked_sassy at 9:17 AM on February 27, 2019 [7 favorites]


I was profoundly moved by Sandy's description of Rob in this piece. The first words out of his mouth? “I love you,” he said, “I support you."

"I went into a dressing room and tried on item after item. Every time I emerged, Rob beamed."

"Sometimes I’d have to attend some event or occasion I hadn’t since the change, like a job interview or funeral. Attempting to dress, I’d fall apart, totally lose nerve. Rob would stand with me, tie my tie, wipe my tears."

I would really, really like to be more like Rob. To be that kind, thoughtful, and supportive seems like a deeply worthwhile life goal.
posted by cheapskatebay at 9:34 AM on February 27, 2019 [20 favorites]


I have so many feels about Billy Porter's gown at the Oscars. I'm probably going to open this weeks counseling session with it. (I just got a text that we have to reschedule for Friday, when I really want to talk about that gown!) I think now that it's at the Oscars or even in GQ (Ezra Miller) that doors going to open up for some conversations that we need to have. And I feel I need to do a shout-out for Pose as well. I've long felt that we're waking up from a period where "straight-passing" has been politically over-emphasized. Even though I'm not PoC and grew up in the midwest, Pose kind of validated my sense of the gender-diversity of LGBTQ spaces in that time period, that I'm not some creeper gloming onto a millennial fad. (I feel the need to watch Sense8 again, because it was just nice to see gender-nonconforming LGBTQ people cast from the community.)

Part of my difficulty is that I don't have the luxury right now to be self-employed, or to avoid professional and public space. So I see my day-to-day presentation as a combination of uniform, safety device, and medical crutch I've been leaning on to avoid dealing with abuse, harassment, and violence. It's taking some work to create safe space to choose to even like other things without the automatic self-censorship of internalized transphobia and homophobia. The passage about shopping really hit home to me.

I think I'll bring this article into that session as well. I probably can't get rid of the current uniform (yet), but I have a closet of backup shirts that probably should get sent on, and I need to have a talk with the supervisor about the once-a-year jacket that makes me feel like I'm wearing something like a mascot costume.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 9:45 AM on February 27, 2019 [15 favorites]


Please remember that it's not just "I support you in Thing you are doing" but also "If you did Thing I would absolutely support you."

Don't just walk through the door with your loves, relying on them to research the door, find the door, and be brave enough to make the attempt to go through it, hoping you'd be loving and accepting. Sometimes, also show them that you know there's a door and that if they did want to try going through it, that you'd be there for them (without pushing).

Sometimes people don't consider some angles, or they think about things and pass them by once upon a time and never revisit them, or they just worry a lot about making things complicated; but you can get out in front of that by declaring your support in advance.

Just saying, I mean, this is only like astonishingly relevant in my life right now. [ reels ]
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:48 AM on February 27, 2019 [10 favorites]


Damn, did this ever reflect so much of my experience. Marie Kondo hadn't published yet, let alone been translated, but clothing. The agony of it all being so. wrong. and not knowing what to do about it. The treasure of having a partner who supports you, uplifts you, nudges you to try something, tells you how amazing you are and how amazing your look while you test things and make changes and change. The joy of finding and being with people like you. Finding people who have shared your thoughts and feelings on gender.

And this!:
Sometimes people think I’m male at first and then realize I’m not, usually when I talk, and sometimes I then see a wild anger in them. In those moments, I feel my vulnerability.

My gender presentation has vacillated a fair amount in the past few years--sometimes read male, sometimes read female, sometimes confuse the hell out of people. It's easier to piss in public restrooms when I'm presenting female, but the misgendering that comes when I present that way digs out little pieces of my soul. But the looks I get when I haven't shaved in a few days but am wearing dangly earrings? And talking with the voice that didn't drop after 2 years on T? Those looks are painful and are terrifying and make me question everything I do.
posted by carrioncomfort at 10:00 AM on February 27, 2019 [8 favorites]


It's such a lovely piece. I'm so happy for them!

Reading this memoir reminds me how important Halloween is as a potential site of gender play. And it reminds this particular cis reader that sometimes, when a friend is tiptoeing into exploring their gender situation, it will look to me like they are saying a cryptic thing and would prefer not to unpack it, or they are saying something vulnerable about gender even while laughing and backing off from it, or they're making a joke that doesn't feel like it's meant to be funny. And, in order to try something they want to do, they might have to pretend it doesn't really matter to them, and try not to think about it consciously, or else they'd get too scared to do it. And so I should be careful and gentle when something like that seems to be happening.

Rob tweets affectionately: "I'm proud of @sealln for writing this of course but I'm also just a little bit proud of the transformative power of my unspeakably horrible nightstand."
posted by brainwane at 10:05 AM on February 27, 2019 [16 favorites]


I walked straight ahead, wanting to turn right but afraid. I broke left through the dresses, feeling immediately disappointed in myself, Rob following behind.

I swerved back to the right, hurriedly walking through the men’s things now, wondering if anyone was on to me. I looked at a pair of pants, willing myself to pick them up. How would I ever figure out my size? How could I ever work up the nerve to walk back to the dressing room? I felt like I was going to throw up or pass out. I marched back out the glass doors, with Rob behind me.


Holy shit. This is literally me every time I have to go clothes shopping. I swing around the women's section, and then look for what I really want in the boy's and men's sections, all the while making up this little fiction inside my head that I definitely look like a person who is shopping for her teenage son and/or husband. I usually even pick up a few women's things to take into the dressing room with me, to make the fiction more plausible in case someone, I don't know, the gender police? should stop me and ask where I thought I was going with that boy's size 14 t-shirt.

And the only way I ever figured out my size was because once my brother-in-law gave my husband a pair of his old jeans, which didn't fit my husband, who then handed them to me to put in the bag for the thrift store. I decided to try them on first, because, you know, why not, and they fit perfectly. I took a picture of the measurements on the tag, and now I know exactly what to get in the men's section without having to look like I'm actually trying things on.

Rarely have I ever felt so seen! Thank you so much for posting this.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 10:57 AM on February 27, 2019 [20 favorites]


The thing is, it's not really about cleaning ultimately - it's about being honest with yourself. I've found that the simple question of "does it spark joy?" cuts through so much bullshit that we build up around what we own - and who we are. In many ways, the KonMari system is less about tidying one's domicile and more about tidying oneself, and asking what personal baggage is worth keeping.

I totally get this, but my method of self-examination and dealing with baggage is by making art, which is why I have half of this clutter in the first place. I have emotional baggage around the expectations around tidying up, I guess.

To go back to the article, I have a reasonable grasp on my lack-of-gender identity, as in, I see gender as a thing other people are really into that I don't want to participate in, and I'm good with that but dealing with clothes is still hard. I wear a lot of jeans and t-shirts on my non-work time, with jeans and button downs for work, I have some skirts I like, a dress or two, and some makeup that I essentially see as a way to get away with drawing on my face as an adult. I dress on the butch side for work and have short hair, but I put off buying clothes for as long as I can unless it's a new shirt at a rock show. How do I dress for dead neutral gender presentation? How do I sort out what I want to wear out of what my options are, when the options are made by and for people who are invested in performing gender? In high school I was in the punk scene, which I gravitated toward for many reasons including the androgynous anti-fashion, but it's harder to deal with now - I'm older, I have a professional career, and I've had to take up wearing bras and women's trousers because having gained weight I am too luscious to avoid these things, but if I could - I miss being able to wear men's trousers so much. The women's ones never have adequate pockets and often have really terrible belt loops.
posted by bile and syntax at 12:03 PM on February 27, 2019 [7 favorites]


Nobody takes me for anything other than female, nor have they ever, no matter whether I wore makeup or not, no matter whether my hair was nearly a buzz cut or down to my waist, no matter that I wear pants and shirts that are cut for my shape but aren't per se female.

My kid, though, keeps getting asked "what are you?" by children, and my kid (grown up now) dresses much the same as I do.
posted by Peach at 1:10 PM on February 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


I see gender as a thing other people are really into that I don't want to participate in

Mostly, yeah. My gender is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I can barely articulate it in words when I have time to think about it, much less convey it at a glance to strangers in a fashion language designed to intentionally make a very clear distinction between two genders.

And my body is a pretty poor representation of who I feel like I am, so some different clothes wouldn't help that much anyway. (I tried, briefly; it was psychologically more uncomfortable than just letting people assume a gender and not correcting them.)

On the one hand, I feel like my gender isn't anyone else's business and not something I want to be interrogated about by hostile (or even friendly curious) strangers while I'm doing whatever. On the other: it sure would be nice if I could express it somehow that wouldn't be misinterpreted.
posted by Foosnark at 1:31 PM on February 27, 2019 [5 favorites]


Damn.

That hit home in so many ways.

It's hard to explain to people who haven't had to work through any of this just how much incentive there is to hide it from yourself, to lie to yourself, to do fucking anything but acknowledge that you can't be what other people expect of you, that you're inherently not that person.

The first time I bought women's clothing after admitting to myself I was a girl, I nearly threw up. It took me hours of sweating and wandering around an anonymous, dull kmart with automated checkouts, dipping into the women's sections, then back out, excruciatingly uncomfortable at the presence or assumed regard of anyone else nearby. Eventually I made it to the front with a couple of items and escaped, though I'm pretty sure store detectives followed me around for a bit due to my completely guilty and erratic behaviour. I'd love to know how I went down in their logs. I imagine it went something like "Closeted queer number 7 today. Why don't they order online?"

I remember as a child, the amazing amount I hated all men's formal wear, enforced costume on church visits. My mother never understood just why I hated dressing in those clothes so much. I felt pinned down. I felt as if I were performing. I felt fake and as if I were raw dough, squashed into a mold, with all the bits I cared about cut off by the boy cookie-cutter ruthlessly clamped down on me. I went into these experiences with a bunker mentality, watching everything in case I somehow slipped up. I felt literally unmade, as if I had no ownership of my self but were still forced to follow and watch anyways as this other person bounced between situations and followed scripts. I'm pretty sure I was depersonalising by this point.

As an adult, buying my clothes became a sort of torment not understood by anyone around me, and a source of annoyance to family. Every purchase felt like a denial of self, a nail I was willingly putting in a coffin. I'd steel myself to go in and come out suicidally depressed and usually disassociating.

To everyone else in this thread dealing with this kind of experience, I see you. You are not alone.
posted by allium cepa at 1:34 PM on February 27, 2019 [22 favorites]


A few months before Daniel Ortberg came out, I ended up having an extended conversation with him at a book reading. And somehow I had meandered into the fact that the last time I saw him, he was very awkwardly femme, and he looked so much more comfortable not doing that performative lady stuff. And I noticed it because that was a space that I was getting into - starting to feel comfortable with not performing gender.

I cringe in retrospect that I was oblivious to the possibility that he was performing gender. I've heard that complaint from transmasculine folks, that it's harder to be seen through clothing alone, since it easily reads as gender-neutral.

But there are lots of bits that speak to me. I remember the meltdowns of trying on clothes. And getting corrected if I would start to try on eyeglasses on the men's side, or look at men's haircuts because the short options for women were Audrey Hepburn pixie or the tall Old Lady hair.

I had a lovely moment with a friend about a year ago, where I finally said out loud "I don't feel trans, but I also don't have any internal sense of being a woman" And usually when I notice that feeling, my brain goes into high alert. It's a very second wave feminist definition of female identity, so it feels like unpacking that might suddenly unleash this terrible person I've been keeping at bay. But said out loud in a place where I didn't feel defensive, it felt obvious that a spectrum of identities could exist. That my feelings about myself were not actually in conflict with others. And the terrible thing about second wave feminism was the rigid policing that their feelings about gender were universal truths about gender.
posted by politikitty at 2:57 PM on February 27, 2019 [18 favorites]


In my 20s, I finally figured out that I was bi, and something shifted in my thinking. I looked at my clothes and I suddenly thought... hey, I can dress queer now! I can get rid of all my skirts and heels and just wear stuff I actually really like to wear, every day! I did some online research on queer presentation - there were so many variants! - and I found some blogs for "tomboy femme" style and it just felt like the fashion guidance I'd been looking for all my life.

This is approximately where I am, though without blog guidance. In the last year or so I've developed a leggings and long cardigan aesthetic (with the help of some Michelle West novels and the approximately six thrift stores in my neighborhood), and I think my gender is "wizard" now. (What blogs should I be following?)
posted by dialMforMara at 2:02 PM on February 28, 2019 [5 favorites]


I never really grew out of enjoying playing dress-up as a kid. I wear dresses sometimes, but the ones I enjoy the most are the ones where I'm doing drag. The ones that are just forgettable dresses a woman could wear, I don't see the point most of the time. Most of the time I'm most comfortable wearing androgynous clothing and being me. Every now and then I'm someone else for a time.
posted by Margalo Epps at 7:00 PM on March 1, 2019


I had this wonderful moment today where it was - not the I'm Checking You Out Look/Nod but the Queer Nod of I See Your Style And Same Exact Hat! - and it was just so nice. It's so nice to have those moments now. So much of what showbiz_liz said rang true to me emotionally. I always thought of myself as very feminine, but I've become more and also less traditionally feminine since coming out? High femme feels to me not like compensating for something, or a performance exactly, but like something I'm doing deliberately, something queer, and just as freeing and just as me as letting myself be someone who wears things I maybe wouldn't have worn before. I feel as if I carry myself differently now. It's hard to explain, but I thought for a very long time I wasn't policing anything about myself, when actually I was. It was just so subtle that I didn't notice. And as a person who loves fashion, noticing has now magnificently opened my world.
posted by colorblock sock at 11:14 PM on March 2, 2019


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