I’m not tenured. I’ve said that a few times.
That means that, when some issues come up in the classroom, I’m not necessarily prepared to deal with them head-on. Some classes show some latent homophobic attitudes, and I do my best to put a stop to that. It also helps that our attitudes towards sexual orientation are lightyears more enlightened than they were even a decade ago. The social tide is on my side in that fight.
It isn’t, however, when it comes to gender identity.
Again, how I view myself is still in flux. I’m biologically male, but I feel somewhere in the middle of the gender spectrum, leaning just slightly to the feminine side. When I reflect on myself that way, it’s exactly how I feel.
But a few times already this semester, sentiments showing from mockery to hostility toward those not of the standard gender identities has popped up
(Note: I know the term cisgender has become more popular, but I just don’t like how the word itself sounds. No opposition to the concept; as a writer, I just don’t like the word.)
The first time came up the second week of one of my classes. Pardon the language that follows. The conversation came around to Caitlyn Jenner. First was the insistence on male pronouns and continually referring to Jenner as Bruce. Then came the implication that Caitlyn should still be Bruce and be okay with being gay—as though gender identity and sexual orientation are interchangeable. Finally, as is so often the case in transgender conversations, came the bogeyman reference to how this affects *dramatic voice* your family.
“If that were your dad coming to the table in a dress, how the fuck would you feel?”
“I’d beat his ass for that. That’s fucking humiliating. It’s sick.”
“I mean, he’s just fucked up is all. It’s probably all for show, for attention.”
I steered the conversation away from this, but I also resisted the urge to let out all of my rage and call everyone on the carpet. Not because I shouldn’t have—I absolutely should have. But I felt like that would have been advocating for myself, that much of that anger was from the mocking of part of my own gender identity.
Then there was a different class today. Somehow we got to talking about clothes shopping, and I made a comment about a dress in an ad that came up online (we were looking at some sample writing on a news site). I made a comment about the colour (I really didn’t like it), and then the conversation just sort of went. Thankfully with cleaner language.
“Uh, you shouldn’t be thinking about wearing a dress anyhow.”
“Hey, take it easy: he could be gay or bi or whatever.”
“But he’s a guy. Guys don’t wear dresses.”
This one fizzled rather than needing to be redirected.
Again, I didn’t lay into them as I could have for this one. For one thing, I’ll take ignorance over animosity any day, but I also felt like I would be advocating for myself. It doesn’t match with my teaching ethos or my pedagogy.
Which is frustrating as hell.
So I sit here, in a rather nice blue stripey dress from Old Navy, getting ready for bed, and find myself looking at the door again. I’ll wear some of my feminine tops out and about, but that door feels like a prison door sometimes, others like a protective gate. I don’t express myself as terribly feminine out in the real world. I don’t feel safe doing so.
Yes, the movement towards tolerance in gender identity and expression needs heroes. But I’m not tenured. I’m not sure I can be the hero I should be.