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Lingering Among Lingerie

My cross purpose
Among the padding
To seek the opposite
For the days when less
Is right

We are guided to think
I discover, by selection
If a majority shouts pretend
To have larger breasts
Women will

I can’t forage for bargains
Choice is no longer spoilt
Instead you are precious
I, a treasure hunter. New
Role to play

Revealed in the practice
A body chafes, sweats, itches
Needs care in the fabric
That dresses her in their
Other form

I feel freshly apprenticed
Finished the introduction
This shopping trip only
Chapter two of much
Studying

Gender expression, even
Broken into body parts
Is scales, not binaries
I seek to buy inbetweens
Today

Days curves displease
Flesh resists the binding
Form and comfort meet
In layers of cotton
Compromise

I happen upon you
One department over
Advertised as sportswear
But I will buy you to sleep
Easier

What Masculinity?

I come across a mental barrier in my exploration of gender. Namely, that when I ask myself “how about exploring masculinity?” my brain comes back with “what masculinity?” and throws up a handful of examples of toxic instances of masculinity I do not even wish to touch. Yet, this is the road I see before me, to pick up elements of masculinity to see if they suit.

Riley J. Dennis mentions in her “Everyday Feminism” series* that the word ‘gender’ comes from the same root as ‘genre’. This was a productive thought for me, one that I brought me a little further in this dilemma. Genres, after all, have some characteristics that would be well-suited to helping me understand genders as non-binary:

  • They are distinct, but not mutually exclusive
  • They are based on, but not limited to, a set of tropes
  • They are suited to telling, and classifying, particular stories or experiences
  • New ones may be introduced
  • Existing ones often evolve
  • These categories are constructed for the market, the classroom and to talk about sets of stories
  • They can be subverted or critiqued
  • They have gatekeepers

If masculinity, or rather masculinities, is a genre with a set of subgenres, then one may be found that I am comfortable exploring and it would add to, rather than contradict, the rest of my sense of gender. However, I think about gender as genre and complications immediately come to mind:

  • Stories often present a rigid binary
  • Essentialism prevails
  • Classifications are prescriptive, not descriptive of lived experiences
  • Modern masculinities seem not to exist, in stories
  • Existing masculinities do not seem allowed to evolve
  • Gender is presented as ‘natural’ and conflated with biological sex
  • Any subversion or critique is met with hostility and violence
  • Online, the alt-right is setting itself up as the one true gatekeeper

Note that the above describe my personal experience through the lens of this particular conceit, not fact. But I do believe it is sufficient to illustrate a trend. One that I find singularly counterproductive, dammit.

The irony is that I have started to see surprisingly parallels between what’s prescribed for ‘woman’ and ‘man’, among self-proclaimed defenders of binary gender roles, especially that of ‘man’. It’s perhaps most easily illustrated by their attitude towards sexuality. The campaign for control over women’s bodies is matched by a campaign for control over men’s bodies by other men. Centred on forbidding masturbation and forcing sexual conquest, rather than forcing reproduction and forbidding sexual activity. Hatred of the other, whether that’s women, queer persons, persons of other countries or religions, is matched by self-hatred.

Can you see the inversion of the great commandment (love others as you love yourself), or the golden rule, if you will?

This leaves me hesitant to even enter that politicised poisoned mental minefield.

Feminist thought isn’t much help, since it seems more concerned with circumscribing traditional masculinity than proposing a new masculinity.

Neither does circumspectly asking men what being a good man is like, since the answer often boils down to “I grew up and became less of an impulsive idiot.” A surprising problem with straight, white men (which all of the ones I can ask are) being the default is that they regard their lived experience as just that of people, not men. Which means it doesn’t tell me much about where their stories may be distinct.

So here I am, the trailing end of the spectrum of my gender in hand, unexplored territory ahead of me, with no good map for guidance. I cannot leave these thoughts alone because I have first-hand stake in this now, even if it’s only with a part of myself, even if it’s new, even if it’s small and secret and private.

So I keep asking, what masculinity?

*I do not remember the particular video, but it’s an educational series: https://everydayfeminism.com/author/rileyd/

A Private Performance

You sit on your bed, stalling
Here, here is the line
You have swung, before
Across the full spectrum of womanhood
Found it wide and wild and good but
An end, trailing
Of the spectrum that is you

Do I cross to follow?

Butler and you were wrong
You were bound up in performance
Clothes according to the feeling of the day
Manners and fantasies and thoughts
Did you disregard the start
The feeling
From inside, calling

Do I cross to follow?

I am woman, have been
Forever settled, yet unsettlingly
Not full
The moon she is not full
She is gibbous
After first quarter, growing

Do I cross to follow?

You sit on your bed, stalling
It’s so small in your hands
Will it even fit over your head
Wrestling hook by hook by hook
A minute later, familiar
A sports bra without foam triangles
Instead, one panel across the front

I pause

You sit on your bed, breathing
Let your belly blow up, balloon
And hold and let it smooth out
Deep. Your feet on the floor, rooted
Deep. To the bottom of your lungs
Down. The exhale streaming
Shoulders sag

I wobble

You stand beside your bed, breathing
Today seemed like a good day
Home sick, the rain unceasing
If you were going to be miserable
You were already miserable today
It’s not a vest, not a corset
Familiar elastic cradles your ribs
Until

I cross my arms

No soft round flesh presses down, oh
So odd, this space above your forearms
You mimic drawing a bow and arrow
Amazonians bubbling to the surface
Mind collecting new connections
For new sense memory, new
Excuses and disguises, the enabler
If you dare go outside at all

I cross the hallway to the bathroom

Far enough today, the sight
Amusing all of the sudden, pecs
When you have never worked out
The gym the slim woman’s domain
Clothes, chosen with ritual care
As you do for formal occasions
Jeans, a unisex T-shirt you hate
Normally, no good on a woman

This is as far as I cross

You do not look at your face today
But your shoulders are fascinating
Broader, bracketing a flat surface
Below the fat distribution’s a bit…
That’s work for another day
No constriction. Deep breath

I back down

In the bedroom you undress
Pyjamas and blankets pressing down
You burrow. It was fine. Surprisingly
Familiar. Surprisingly fine.

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