As an angry brown queer high femme switch grrl *breath* I am a role model. I didn’t sign up for the job, the pay is not all that great to be honest, but be that as it may, it’s my blessing.
There are many ways in which this plays out in my life, some more rewarding than others.
One way in which my job burdens me, tires me out, and, as jobs can do, oppresses me, is as a Queer High Femme. I have struggled with my identity as Femme, and if you don’t know what that means and you are reading this post, I invite you to do some research because we are magical creatures. I struggle with the privilege that being perceived as a cisgendered heteronormative feminine female brings and with the invisibility that it inevitably imposes on me with, a curse that weighs heavy. As a Femme, I am hyperconscious of the stereotypes, the misogyny and the ways in which my femininity will be read, how I participate in gendered interactions and how they appear given my gender presentation.
This weekend I was made conscious of this by my interactions with a Butch and a babybutch who was watching us hawk-eyed. The babybutch is 19 and was clearly fascinated by the Butch and I. The Butch who is transgendered and uses male pronouns was managing the grill while I cooked some stuff up inside. Already this is gendered and not so queer on the surface. He asks me for a beer and I run in and get it. This just doesn’t look good. He says please and thank you, which in our usual interactions is not as important. We have history, we have service, we have communication. And, if he said ‘bitch get me a beer’ I wouldn’t blink. Or I might. And it might turn into ‘get it yourself boy.’ But either way, it’s all good. But, because we had an audience we are both careful. I help him, hand him shit, get him stuff before he asks for it. And then it gets queerer. He gets me stuff, he jumps up to get me a chair, he checks in to make sure I am okay, anticipates my needs. Interesting show isn’t it?
Later when the baby butch was acting the fool, trying to be a player, trying to get my attention, the Butch was kneeling at my feet being petted. The baby got schooled and told how she wishes she were so lucky, but she’s busy being a player and doesn’t know her proper place. So, in ways subtle and unsubtle, the Butch and I were showing our moves, what the dance looks like. Showing that respect and consent were involved. Showing that the dynamic is more complicated than heteronormative patterns that reinforce the binary, reinforce the valuing of masculinity over femininity.
And while it is a blessing to be a fierce femme, a queer high femme, a conscious angry grrl, and be SEEN, be able to provide that modeling and support… it constrains me and oppresses me. I don’t want to think about what my interactions look like to a 19 year old. I want to get the Butch a beer because I. Fucking. Feel. Like. It. I want agency. And on the one hand, yes, that’s very queer. On the other hand, it all depends on the lens you look at it through. And, what to me feels comfortable, non-normative, queer, and right, looks not so queer. By being so aware of how interactions look, by trying to ensure that do not mimic oppressive structures, I am participating in my own oppression, I am letting my interactions be determined by the resistance and modeling rather than by what is comfortable and okay to me.
At my last job, I always took my position as a Role Model as a sacred duty. Whether I was in a middle school or at camp with high school youth, I discussed my social identity as a queer openly, comfortably, and affirmatively. And, more often than not, this led to other people, adults as well as youth, being able to express their own social identities comfortably in the group. I’m hoping it also helped break down some of those barriers that keep us from being seen, that keep othering us. I thought it was critically important for me to allow myself to be seen, to provide the model of a different sort of queer, the more invisible kind who is still unashamed, affirmative, comfortable and open. This was a source of conflict at my work, but that’s a whole nutha story and a whole nutha mess of homophobia.
Another way in which I am a role model is more specific to my role as a SOFFA (Significant Other, Friends, Family and Allies) to the trans community. Back to the Butch. He identifies with male pronouns. Hearing him addressed by female pronouns is uncomfortable for me. And yet, I know the amount of energy it would take to correct every single person would just be exhausting and disheartening. I know that when it matters he has the conversation with people, I know that people don’t always “get it,” and I know that for some people it isn’t natural and they slip. Sometimes I go beyond the modeling and actually break it down for someone and put on my educator hat for a while to have the gender conversation. Other times though, I simply proceed as usual. And sometimes I get to see that pay off. I am not calling anyone out, not putting the focus on the Butch, just being, just leading by example, one that conveniently is completely effortless and natural. And then suddenly, the one who was all ‘she’ a minute ago is saying ‘he.’ Suddenly, questions are asked in a curious non-threatened way, suddenly they realize they are wrong in assumptions and vision is queered. It’s nice when it plays out that way and I can model in a way that is completely natural to me.
As with any modeling job *ahem* the ways in which I participate and present are entirely circumstantial. What might be okay in one context is inappropriate to another. I never know when my example will be leading. The dissonance is part of it. And I hope that it’s worth it. I hope this is one of the small ways in which I can make a difference.