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Mostly Harmless – Musings on my social presentation - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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December 14th, 2009


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01:18 am - Mostly Harmless – Musings on my social presentation
After seeing The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Aaron and I talked a bit about masculinity. This is of particular interest to Aaron, likely due to some combination of being trans and growing up in Nebraska in the 70s & 80s, where gender seemed even more fraught than on the coasts. As someone with no particular attachment to my sex and even less to my gender, such conversations are always a bit odd. However, we discussed one topic that I rarely talk about, but which is very much at the heart of my social persona – the appearance of harmlessness.

I dress as a fop and a dandy, and tend to come across as significantly non-masculine. In part, this is due to having Jon Pertwee’s wonderful Third Doctor as one of the more important media characters in my childhood, combined with an overall distain for mainstream style and culture. However, there’s well more than that going on. In my late teens, when I first began to become a social being, it became clear to me that traditional masculinity was not merely repellent to me, it very much got in the way of things that I considered to be vitally important. Shortly after I got away from my seriously touch-starved family, I found that I enjoyed hugs, cuddling, and all manner of friendly and positive physical contact with people I like, just as I value people opening up to me emotionally. I also noticed that one of the central masculine dynamics, that’s still present today, was all about threat, fear, power, and dominance.

I have no use for any of that sort of thing. I greatly enjoy having things go the way I want them to, but this is very different from being in charge of a situation or acting as any sort of leader, a state that I’m rarely all that comfortable with, especially if the alternative is someone I like being in charge. I most especially have no interest in anyone feeling afraid of me or being threatened by me, I can see no possible benefit to me from that state and it was also very obvious to me that being that way got in the way of people feeling comfortable with me. Thus, one of my goals has been to come across as a kind and harmless fop, with a strong emphasis on being harmless. Put in the very direct & house-cat-like psychology that is my norm, my underlying impulse is the awareness that individuals who are at all aggressive or dominant are typically not regarded as cuddly, approachable, or safe to talk to. It’s mostly quite easy for me, since I am not a particularly dominant individual and am both disinclined to violence and in fact recoil from much violence, so some of this is perfectly natural behavior, but other bits of the image and behavior set that I normally use were consciously constructed to help set people at ease and to signal to them that I am safe to talk to, spend time with, and touch. All this puts me well outside the bounds of standard US masculinity, and while it is partly a construct, it is my own construct, and all social presentations are inherently constructs. On a related note, I have no idea if most people think as much about their social persona or personas I as I – perhaps it’s due to the fact that in part mine is a conscious construct designed to accomplish certain goals.
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From:queen_in_autumn
Date:December 14th, 2009 12:54 pm (UTC)
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Thank you for sharing this.

Like Aaron, I had (and still have) a very strong sense of gender identity, even though my sense of being female includes an awareness of the ways in which my femaleness is shaded by characteristics often considered masculine.

It's hard for me to wrap my mind not having a strong sense of gender identity -- not in the sense of negative judgment, but in a failure of my own imagination. I appreciate the insight into what this is like.

Edited at 2009-12-14 12:56 pm (UTC)
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From:heron61
Date:December 14th, 2009 10:19 pm (UTC)
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My partner Becca is exactly the same way - making her one of only a tiny number of people I'm close to who is both born female and also strongly attached to her female gender identity (with, like you, a number of characteristics not typically ascribed to mainstream views of femaleness).
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From:mieva_r
Date:December 14th, 2009 03:57 pm (UTC)
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I find that I don't think of myself as having a gender (or a biological sex for that matter; I'm constantly thrown when I realize that people see me as female, a girl), hovering close to neutral most of the time, with a slight bias towards masculine. (My flavor of masculine, which does not at all match up with the mainstream idea.)
On the few occasions where I've intentionally 'tried on' being feminine as perhaps the mainstream sees it, complete with a dress that reached my knees and makeup and two-inch heels, I found myself very uncomfortable, and it wasn't just the shoes. It was apparent to me that I was trying to fit into a role I didn't naturally fit into, and while I could kinda successfully pull it off, I don't think it was worth it...
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From:heron61
Date:December 14th, 2009 10:16 pm (UTC)
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My flavor of masculine, which does not at all match up with the mainstream idea.

Which you do quite well and which comes across quite strongly (at least to me), and seems very positive indeed. Your particular variation seems to be most clearly defined as "elf masculinity", which is not particularly a surprise :)

On the few occasions where I've intentionally 'tried on' being feminine as perhaps the mainstream sees it, complete with a dress that reached my knees and makeup and two-inch heels, I found myself very uncomfortable, and it wasn't just the shoes. It was apparent to me that I was trying to fit into a role I didn't naturally fit into, and while I could kinda successfully pull it off, I don't think it was worth it...

That's rather exactly how I feel in male formal gear. Add onto that the fact that I object to many of the aspects of this role, and the result is that it's been a very long time indeed since I've worn a suit and tie.

[User Picture]
From:mieva_r
Date:December 14th, 2009 10:30 pm (UTC)
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*laughs* See, I [i]like[/i] male formal wear. Well, only if I can twitch it towards Goth Victorian... Which again isn't mainstream masculine... Heh. ^^;
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From:krinndnz
Date:December 14th, 2009 05:57 pm (UTC)
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It's always a relief to see more people noticing this, that the gender model of mainstream US culture is broken. That on top of the problems with rigid hierarchy, especially when you start getting into it for its own sake. Can be interesting as recreation, but as a way to run a society? Deeply toxic and problematic. The Singularity-ish thing that I'm most looking forward is a way to eliminate as much hierarchy as possible so that, cf. Celine's Second Law, we can get more accurate information flows. The gender angle is super-important to me, but I also wouldn't want to lose sight of the fact that the model that says "masculinity is dominance" causes problems with keeping the world running without us humans exploding ourselves.
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From:bodlon
Date:December 14th, 2009 07:49 pm (UTC)
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As someone who daily reflects on constructing his own masculinity and struggles with his body being at odds with it (oh, transness), this is kind of familiar and not. I remember really liking a certain period in my pre-outness when I was living as a not-exactly butch, but definitely...I don't know. Fae? Post-apocalyptic? Post-human? Some kind of person that looked like something my imagination liked.

When my body is more in line with me -- specifically when I'm done with chest surgery -- I am looking to going back to being someone more like that. Right now, though, I'm sort of in this mundane box that isn't all bad, but isn't really me either. It's like having a dayjob for an aesthetic.

Do not like or want.

But yes, there's nothing like a bit of Pertwee to make everything fabulous.
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From:heron61
Date:December 14th, 2009 10:21 pm (UTC)
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When my body is more in line with me -- specifically when I'm done with chest surgery -- I am looking to going back to being someone more like that.

*nods* That is in my experience a common response, in large part because post surgery the pressure is off having to pass, because it's so much easier. That's very much what happened with Aaron.
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:December 18th, 2009 12:00 am (UTC)
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My social persona is constructed to make my immaturity an asset instead of a defect.

I play the role of a sweet and innocent little girl most of the time - I wear my hair in braids, prefer dresses and skirts to pants, don't wear heels or makeup, and am always deferential towards everyone. This actually works very well in my office, because my team is all-female and most of the them are mothers. I even have had people call me "a nice young lady" and warn the manager "don't corrupt her" in reference to me.

Outside of the office, that routine doesn't go over so well, because most of my friends outside of work are pagan and value intelligence and assertive in everyone. There is no point in having people think I'm innocent.
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From:rjgrady
Date:December 19th, 2009 06:04 pm (UTC)
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When Alison refers to me as her "husband," I sometimes feel as if she must be talking about someone else. Generally speaking, I adopt a very harmless, quiet, cool persona. Definitely, though, I can "turn it on" when I need to be a tiger.

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