November 27, 2012

Dapper Fashion Guide Roundup

Oh hey there gender blenders,

Today I bring you a dapper fashion guide roundup from socks to skivvies.

Part I: There's no place like... your feet.
Love a good oxford? Here's a dress shoe 101: Masculine Shoes in My Size?
Dig fun socks? Ask dapperQ: How to Wear Cool Socks?

Part II: Bottoms 
Curves can be dapper too! Ask dapperQ: Trousers for Curves?
In depth guide to finding jeans that fit. Jeans 101: Tips on Fit, Brands, Color

Part III: Tops
Differentiate your jackets: Blazers, Sport Coats, & Suit Jackets: Same?
The always essential button-down:
Part IV: That suit suits you!
The Style Manual: Suits 101
The Style Manual: Suits 201

Part V: Splish, splash, for when you're not swimming in the bath
Because we can't all be mermaids: The Butch & The Beach
Beyond the pin-up: Vintage Swimwear for Grrls & Bois
Who has short swim shorts? The Hottest Summer Swim Boyshorts for the Hottest Summer Bois and Grrrls

Part VI: Underneath it all
Shh, perhaps we have boobs too... How To: Find A Bra That Fits Your Dapper Bod & The Bra Issue: Queer Fashion Guide For Various Shapes, Sizes and Gender Expressions
Because who wants unsuccessful underpants? Boyshorts 101: Your Complete Guide to Successful Underpants

Part VII: Ties
Eeep! How To Wear Skinny Ties, For Femmes and Bois and Everyone In Between

November 10, 2012

Cha-cha-changes: On election results, identity, and bad ass plans

Oh hey gender blenders,

Election night I was so excited about the results that I slid down half a flight of stairs like I was tobogganing--minus one toboggan. Cute, right? Equality has taken a huge step forward with the re-election of President Obama, two states legalizing same-sex marriage by popular vote for the first time in history, and the election of the first openly lesbian senator. My state even had ways of shutting that whole Todd Akin thing down. With the country moving forward, I feel more secure with my own acceleration.

Lately my gender/s and I have been having some discussions. We've been feeling funny about our propensities for femme-y presentation. We have the significant laydee curves, and it is oh so much simpler just to femme it. But it feels a little like we're putting on gaudy costume jewelry--cheapening our gendered reality. Lace suddenly seems ridiculous on anything but skivvies.

I've realized that the femme part of genderqueer femme has been a transitional identity for me--my history of femme presentation made it hard for me to feel confident enough to let it go even though it no longer felt a part of me. Lately it has been delightfully freeing to wear button downs, sweater vests, and ties. Obviously, gender identity comes down to a lot more than clothes, but feeling comfortable in my skin is greatly affected by what I put on; and what I put on, in turn, affects how I am read. "Put on" is playful here, as gender itself is in many ways "put on" both consciously and unconsciously.

My attraction to queer femmes also had me fumbling to preserve some femme-ness in my own presentation because I admire their gender(s) even if it isn't mine. This effort seemed a requirement of my curvaceousness as well--I thought I was too curvy to pull off anything androgynous. Oh, but I was wrong--I am dapper.

Accordingly, The Androgynous Femme blog is going to go through some changes. I am going to play with both parts of the name and focus on androgynous/gender bending grrrls and an appreciation for queer femmes and visibility.

In other news--I am applying to a gender studies PhD program! I took the GRE last week and am waiting on my official scores that should come next week.

August 28, 2012

Underneath it All: thoughts on the history of women's skivvies

Oh hi there gender blenders,

Over the weekend I went to an exhibit at the Missouri History Museum called, Underneath it All, about the history of women's underclothes. Now, before your eyes bug out too far with excitement--it was not all that sexy. Sure there were lots of frills and lace, but it was all underwritten by heavy echoes of pain. Women's underclothes have been used to force or disguise women's bodies into ever-shifting idealizations. From wasp-waists to bustle-butts to pointy breasts--we have squeezed flattened, crushed, and caged ourselves because society has told us our bodies aren't good enough, our bodies are wildness that must be tamed and punished. We are still doing it, and not just with our underwear.

Canvas stays stiffened with paste, ca. 1775

One of the most unsettling artifacts was a long piece of carved whale bone that was inserted into the front of a corset to flatten the abdomen, and were often given to women as a lover's gift. "Here darling, something to keep your stomach flat." Wouldn't you like your special someone to give you a girdle as a love token--sort of a keep me close but keep your stomach closer? Romantic isn't it?

By no means am I arguing lingerie (and all that jazz) is bad. Why shouldn't we have pretty skivvies?  I'm just saying we shouldn't hurt ourselves and instead work to love our bodies as they are.

July 25, 2012

Queer Space: Feeling home in an Indigo Girls concert

Oh hey there gender blenders,

Sometimes I feel as if my investment in public spaces, my participation in them, is slightly off kilter and uncomfortable. I didn't quite grasp why until I went to an Indigo Girls concert the other night. My relationship to many spaces is complicated by the way I am "othered" by them. Generally, by nature of the city I live in, most public spaces are "straight" by default. In default straight spaces most everyone assumes most everyone else is straight, and it definitely feels like the assumptions are correct. It is more difficult to be out because one usually has to actively "come out" to be recognized as queer.

I have often been in such an environment and slyly looked to see if I could identify any other queers in the room. More than once I've felt a tiny bit betrayed when the people I thought could be queer turn out not to be, not by the people themselves, but by a society that makes me painfully recognize the loneliness of my difference. I don't mind being different, I embrace it, but I don't know anyone that enjoys feeling lonely. The probability of mutual queer recognition shifts because individual presentations of queerness change in straight-dominant spaces. For if we are recognized as queer by the straight people in the room, will they hate us? Will they be indifferent? Are they allies? If we are part of a couple, public displays of affection could out us and we could be targeted for harassment or violence. Fear is lonely.

The "space" of the Indigo Girls concert was pretty obviously queer. I wasn't shoved back in the closet by people's assumptions or fear. I was assumed queer until proven otherwise. I felt at home. There were singled and coupled les-bi-queer women everywhere, and I was elated at the automatic outness and visibility.

June 28, 2012

No, you get off the elevator: gendered body language

Hi there gender blenders,

I hold my arm toward the doors indicating to the man on the elevator with me to exit first. He does the same, no you first. I want to continue the argument, but the doors are threatening to close. I give in, feeling a little ruffled--
  • He was closer to the door.
  • He was carrying more stuff.
Logic follows that he should go first. But I am read as a woman. The social rules of gender therefore make itimperative (at least in U.S. society) that I exit first. (What's the elevator going to do? Eat me if he leaves me on it for a second?)

Now, I'm not someone who feels righteously pissed off about the whole male courtesy thing--not exactly. It's more of a private annoyance. I personally want to break down the binary of gendered behaviors, which sometimes manifests in wanting to invite men to get off the elevator first and women too. Women will accept this from another woman because they are expected to accept it as a general rule. Men, in my experience, will nearly always refuse the offer from a woman. Does it threaten their masculinity? What about my masculinity? Do I not have equal right to mine? Must I defer to the importance of theirs simply because I am a woman?

It's about more than deconstructing gendered behaviors for me--it's also about public recognition of my gender identity. Just because I answer to female pronouns and am socially read as a woman should not mean I always have to get off the elevator first. 

June 27, 2012

My gender in two faces

Oh hey there gender blenders,

This morning when the alarm went off I sat up and announced, "I had a dream I was an androgynous person!" I don't remember the plot whatsoever, but I do remember by body being split head to toe with one side feminine and the other side masculine. Having a visibly split gender, one femme grrl and the other dapper/fancy boi felt really liberating--that is the sense I was left with upon waking up: gender liberation.

I don't have a static dream persona--I tend to shift between "actors"/"characters" and am rarely actually myself. So to be myself literally wearing the two faces of my gender identity simultaneously with a body that was still distinctly mine felt like coming home.

Dear reader, you may be asking yourself how it's possible to have two genders. If I'm honest, I have to admit it isn't possible to have only two genders. Gender is always already performative, and because no two performances can be identical in content, it follows that an individual will take on a constant fluctuation of gendered meaning. Identities function a little differently in that they can represent a range of gendered performances; but they aren't particularly stable either, and definitely not satisfactorily inclusive (hence my need for at least two gender identities).

May 27, 2012

Learning to tie a bow tie

Oh hey there gender blenders,

The other day I bought myself a bow tie at a clothing resale shop, all the while thinking my dad and I could have that special moment where he stands next to me in the mirror and teaches me how to tie it. Of course, in my moment of glee, I neglected to remember that I've never seen my dad wear a bow tie (even though he is the type of man who could rock the shit out of that). Well, that experience was just going to be a bonus anyway--I suppose I can always youtube it.

I actually wanted a bow tie because more and more I really like looking dapper. My girlfriend suggested it to me, and I said, "You know what? I am the type of grrl who could rock the shit out of a bow tie." Now I just have to learn how tie it.

May 5, 2012

On Georgia O'Keeffe and the flowers that dare not speak their names: A coming out story

Oh hello there gender blenders,

As I drafted this during snatches of down time at my desk job, the floor under my cubicle shudders intermittently like there are small earthquakes happening every few minutes. The first time the shaking happened I was sure it was the real thing and was about to hit the deck when I noticed no one else had any reaction whatsoever. But I have suspicions that everyone who works here is secretly a robot. Work is one of the only places where I am still in the closet--a lie of omission. Art postcards are pinned to the most visible wall of my cubicle, two of which depict Georgia O'Keeffe paintings. No one asks me about them.

Black Iris by Georgia O'Keeffe, 1926
In third grade I saw my first O'Keeffe painting--a print on the wall of the classroom where some of us had our experimental "enrichment" class. It was an iris, and as are many of O'Keeffe's flower paintings, rather suggestive--a distinction I didn't consciously identify at the time. My fascination with it felt dangerous in such a delicious way that I kept it to and for myself. 

When the irises in our garden came up that spring I remember examining the blooms when I was sure no one was around, a curiosity that soon extended to other flowers. The duality of female and male parts being encapsulated in the same flower was enthralling to me, as was the folding back of the petals. I already understood the concept of pollination and appointed myself the human equivalent of a bee. 

This is my coming out story, even though I didn't begin to consciously question until college. It is my earliest memory of queer identity.

March 17, 2012

Androgynous Femmes in History: Christine de Pizan (1363 to circa 1430)

Oh hey there gender blenders,

Recently, via feminist historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's book Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History, I was introduced to the 14th-15th century scribe/artist/translator/poet/essayist Christine de Pizan, who also qualifies as a bit of a gender blending lady. I habitually find it really hard to make much of a connection to historical and literary figures who predate approximately pre 19th century. (Shakespeare's cross-dressing women and other such people/characters being the exceptions--Twelfth Night's Viola anyone?) But Ulrich's chronicle of Christine's life somehow hit me differently.

Christine de Pizan was born in Italy in 1365, but from the age of three grew up in the French royal court of Charles V after her father became a philosopher/counselor therein. Ulrich describes Charles V's court as being deeply invested in learning, philosophy, and the arts, so that Christine, under her father's direction, had an "unusually fine education," not only for a woman, but for a person of the time.

Married at 15 and widowed at 25, Christine made use of her education to support her mother, two brothers, and her own three children, her father having died not long before her husband. Ulrich writes, "scholars have identified at least fifty-five manuscripts written in whole or in part in her hand" (11). The printing press was not invented until circa 1440, so books were rare works of art produced painstakingly by hand. To be a scribe was to be an artist.

No wonder she wasn't satisfied with the male representation of women in the books she read: "I could hardly find a book on morals where, even before I had read it entirely, I did not find several chapters or certain or certain selections attacking women" (3-4). This realization sparked her to write The City Ladies in 1405, a chronicle of historical, mythology, and biblical women enlivened by a female perspective.

A page from the opening of Cites des dames (The City Ladies):
Christine receives her guides Reason, Rectitude, and Justice (left)
& Reason helps Christine build the walls of the city of ladies (right).
Christine was a woman defined by more than her domestic position as a widow and mother. Ulrich echoes scholar Jacqueline Cerquiglini when she writes that Christine transforms into "the son of her father" as she claims the identity of a scribe/artist/writer and "redifin[es] the boundaries of womanhood" (13). Her presence in the public sphere, her artistic influence over the manuscripts she produced, and the expression of her voice in her own writing were all things almost exclusively reserved for the domain of men. Christine's presence in this domain challenges the binary conditions imposed on gender roles and identities. She was something other-than-woman in a time when "woman" was defined as domestic, voiceless, and often illiterate.

February 18, 2012

Albert Nobbs: A tale of two women shifting through gender

Why hello there gender blenders,

**The review of Albert Nobbs below contains light spoilers.**

I've read numerous reviews of Albert Nobbs, but as I sat blinking the rush of post-film lights out of my eyes, I keenly realized how pale a portrait those reviews painted of Albert Nobbs (Glen Close), and even more so in the case of Hubert Page (Janet McTeer). Furthermore, the friendship between Nobbs and Page is mysteriously glossed over and ignored, despite it being indispensable to Nobbs' moments of epiphany.

Nobbs' gender bending completely isolates her--the fear of discovery pushing her into a kind of stasis of work, secret money counting, and the unrealized dream of her own shop. She has learned it is dangerous to be a woman, so she stunts herself into he. She flails into a cowering terror when she is discovered by a chance visitor-turned-roommate, the house painter Hubert Page. Page is disgusted, not because Nobbs is a woman, but rather with the state of her terror. Several awkward scenes follow in which Nobbs tries to ensure Page will not tell, which culminate in Page opening her shirt to reveal her breasts and that she too is a woman. It is at this moment that we begin to compare the two women-as-men as foils of each other.

Hubert Page (McTeer) & Albert Nobbs (Close)

Even the scene in which Page reveals herself to Nobbs is a sharp contrast to Nobbs panicking after a flea and accidentally giving herself away. Page casually glances around and opens her shirt like it's nothing. There is no strictly confining corset, just several layers of bulky clothes. She utterly changes Nobbs' world in a downstairs room of the hotel, not in a locked bedroom by accident. Nobbs is sent into a whirlwind of realizations--that she is not alone, that she does not have to be a solitary woman-as-man against the whole world. Page is married, and "her name is Cathleen."

It is Page's confidence, her happiness with her wife Cathleen, and her ability to forge an identity that is authentic to her own sense of self that so intrigues Nobbs, and ultimately gives her hope that she too can make her own haven--a haven with another woman.

Albert Nobbs lets us glimpse the lives of two very different women living as men in 19th century Ireland. As their paths cross, we see an unusual relationship form--a true foiling in which our understanding of each woman is deepened through our knowledge of the other.

January 29, 2012

Androgynous Femme art observations: John Stezaker's split faces

Oh hey there gender blenders,

This weekend I went to the opening of the John Stezaker exhibit at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University, and guess what I found? Some amazing examples of androgynous art!

Marriage (Film Portrait Collage) LXI, 2010
Marriage (Film Portrait Collage) XLIII, 2007 
But the most interesting discovery I made was in the comparison between the photograph collages that were split male/female faces and those that were split male/male or female/female faces--it was not the gender difference, but the face difference, that made these images startling. That is, all three gender combinations were equally eerie because they were made up of two different faces.

He (Film Portrait Collage) III, 2008
She (Film Portrait Collage) V, 2007
I wonder if this observation would hold true for split body collages as well. The exhibit did include some of these; however, they were only split male/female combinations. Somehow, these did not seem as startling as the faces.

January 24, 2012

Not enough vests, too many pretty girls / sex kittens / mothers

Oh hi there gender blenders,

You know what? I've been having vest drama. I'll be out on the town and some dude will walk by looking all dapper in a snaz-tastic vest. Something terrible comes over me, and I eye that vest like it has spurned me.

"Why, you beautiful thing, would you choose him over me?" 

Surely I can just ask him where he got it?


These dudes are habitually rail-like, tall maybe, but all bones. 

And I have lady shit going on.

When dressing like "your boyfriend" is in, why is it that said boyish clothes are not made in sizes that would fit those of us on the curvaceous side? So-called plus-sized clothing merchants seem to go in three directions--ultra-feminine, pin-up, or matronly. The full-figured female body then has three options:
  • The pretty girl
  • The sex kitten
  • The mother
This sounds a lot like the maiden/whore/mother trifecta without much exaggeration on my part. That's all well and good if your peg happens to fit nicely into one of those holes--mine doesn't. (Is your mind in the gutter now? Mine too. With the sex kitten. Jealous? You should be.) I'm not saying I don't wear clothes that fall into the pretty girl and pin-up categories because I do; however, there is always this feeling that I'm all "done up," that I am somehow putting on a show. I am exaggerating something I'm not sure is really mine. But that doesn't sound quite right either.

Maybe it is only a little bit of me, and so the other parts of me see it all as a big farce. And in many ways it is. Gender expression can't be one true thing, or even three.