Navigating Masculinity on the Fence of the Gender Binary

Choice USA Staff 2 October 2013 | 3 Comments

I got up this morning and left my house, fully intending to get to the office and start working on a development plan for the new year. That’s what I should be doing right now. I should be working on a development plan.

Instead I’m writing this thing. I’m writing this thing because sometimes, for my own sanity – to slow down my crazy swirling brain – I just have to write stuff down. And because this morning, as seems to increasingly be the case since I moved from the country into the big city, I crashed into myself yet again. I crashed into the reality that my perception of myself – my inherent knowledge of myself, really – doesn’t always match the way(s) I’m perceived externally. And once again I’m faced with the dilemma of choosing between my own safety, and the struggle with what it means to be a feminist-kai-guy moving in the world.

If you don’t know what a feminist-kai-guy is, I’ll go ahead and tell you. It’s me. It’s a genderqueer, transmasculine, feminist, femme-boi. It’s a body with boobs and a vagina that NEVER wears an article of clothing purchased in the women’s department, other than the super- tight sports bras to smush these boobs into invisible non-existence. It’s a person that has ZERO desire to be a man, and also has ZERO desire to be a woman. It’s a feminist. It’s a constant exploration of expressions of masculinity and femininity. It’s androgynous.

And what I’m beginning to understand more and more, through increased interaction with random humans since moving to DC last December, is that feminist-kai-guy is perceived by the external world as both predator and prey.

As a person with a vagina raised in this world, I learned to experience myself as prey. As a queer person, I learned it even more. When I was in college, a truck pulled up alongside of me while I was riding my bike, and someone threw a bottle at me and shouted “dyke” as they drove away.  I don’t walk alone at night. I carry my keys between my fingers. I get cat-called by men. There’s a man that lives on the street near my office that regularly shouts homophobic (or maybe transphobic?) things at me when we pass each other.

I am hyper-vigilant and careful about my own safety. THIS is how I know myself – potential prey. And I move in the world accordingly.

But increasingly I’m being read/perceived/experienced as a man, and consequently, as a predator.

What a mind-fuck!

This morning on the bus I sat down next to a young woman. There were lots of empty seats. I chose this particular seat because it allowed me to see out the front of the bus, and therefore avoid motion sickness and bus-barfing.

I could tell as soon as I sat down that the woman was uncomfortable. She pulled her purse tight to her chest, and began scanning the bus for other empty seats.  A few stops later, she moved to a different seat. I understood immediately what was happening, because I have been her.

Yesterday I decided to walk the two miles home from the metro because it was a beautiful day and I didn’t have anywhere to be.  There was a woman in front of me for a good portion of the walk. At first she was about a block ahead of me. But I was walking a bit faster than her, and slowly got closer and closer to her. The closer I got, the more I noticed her regularly looking over her shoulder to see how close I was. Again, I understood immediately what was happening, because I have been her.

In neither case did I know what to do. I’m not used to being the threat. What should feminist-kai-guy do in these situations? Should I move to a seat where I’m more likely to bus-barf and cross to the other side of the street where I’m less safe because I’m walking alone? Is that the feminist-minded thing to do?

When I’m in public, I use the women’s restroom. I’m well-aware, based on the looks I get and the things that have been said to me, that I make women in the restroom VERY uncomfortable. Perhaps I even make women feel unsafe. I’ve chosen to keep using the women’s restroom for a few reasons. First, if ever confronted by law enforcement, I have the body parts to justify my decision. Second, I’m not super interested in walking into the men’s room and seeing a bunch of dudes standing at urinals with their dicks in their hands. Third, I’m really really really not super interested in walking into the men’s room and seeing a bunch of guys with their dicks in their hands, and having one or more of them notice my boobs, and having one or more of them have some kind of aggressive reaction to my being there. Also, men’s restrooms are filthy. So I use the women’s restroom.

But again, I’m choosing between my own safety, and potentially making women around me feel unsafe. What is feminist-kai-guy to do? I seriously don’t know the answer. Take it on a case-by-case basis, maybe? It’s a mystery wrapped in an enigma.

This all feels very personal and somewhat exposing to share in a public way. But the personal is political and all of that. And I do think there are some interesting things to be learned from folks that live on the fence of a gender binary, and who have the experience of embodying archetypes of femininity and masculinity at both ends of the spectrum.

I have some hopeful curiosity about Choice USA’s Bro-Choice programming as spaces for young men and young masculine-identified folks to begin exploring some of these questions in the context of masculinity, reproductive health, and sexual assault. I like the idea of dudes and transmasculine folks asking these questions of each other.

For my part, I’m venting my questions into the cyber-ether, and hoping the universe will respond. I will continue to sit with them. I will continue to try to find the balance between personal safety and taking up too much man-space in the world. I will remain a feminist-kai-guy, and stay open to learning from the other good feminist folks around me.

And now, I will make a development plan!

Kai Gurley is Choice USA’s Development Manager

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3 Responses on “Navigating Masculinity on the Fence of the Gender Binary”

  1. diana says:

    I don’t have any answers, just that reading this posed more questions for me. Thank you for writing this. I was thinking how every example you mentioned could be solved except for the bathroom issue. The bathroom issue always trip me up.

  2. Scott says:

    I’m pretty intolerant of intolerance, haha (not sure if that makes sense, yes and no). You’ve brought up an important particular identity that I was not really familiar with, nor previously saw. It’s sad that one person’s perceived problem morphs into being a real problem for both parties. It’s like a hostage situation. Continue being an advocate!, there are like minded people who support you. I think there is an overwhelming social/cultural conceptual illness within the U.S.: fear, intolerance, closed-minded, uncomfortable, selfish, materialistic, and minds easily malleable to oppress others and the environment. Why is there not a bathroom for people? Why the dualism? We live in a confused segregated society that lacks community support and security.

  3. al fair says:

    this is a really interesting article and I’m sorry you have to deal with so much harassment. and I don’t know the answers either. but honestly, I think you should not feel bad if women in the women’s room are uncomfortable with you. the actual potential physical danger you are in in the men’s room is more important to avoid.