Sunday, May 11, 2014

unintelligibea*le

This week I've made some important headway in figuring out how to maintain a positive sense of body image.  

As you can perhaps imagine, living in a body that most people gender the wrong way by virtue of its unalterable physical properties (pecs rather than breasts, the squareness of the jaw, that ever-peppering stubble) can be frustrating, to say the least.  I identify with feminine pronouns, and no matter how much makeup and jewelry I adorn, no matter if I'm rocking the highest of heels and the swirliest of dresses, even my closest of friends still sometimes call me "he."  

This is exhausting.

And I try to make up for the differences as best I can: I raise my vocal pitch around strangers—especially in public bathrooms, for safety's sake—or I just avoid speaking, if possible; I put extra effort into maneuvering my already-delicate wrists in dainty figure eights; I cross my arms over my pecs rather than breasts.

But something was different this week, suddenly, and I didn't feel the need to do so much anymore.

I blame it on the weather.

* * *

A Sampling of Appellations People have Appointed Me over the Past Few Months, or: Mostly Microaggressions:
  • "miss"
  • "sir"
  • "ma'am"
  • "he—she..."
  • "Are you in that cabaret show?"
  • "someone who's doing something with gender"
  • "DAMNNN"
  • or this lovely little interaction I had one day:
    "Is there a drag show going on right now?"
    "No?"
    "Oh.  Is there a rehearsal going on for a drag show right now?"
    "No..."
    "Oh.  OH..."
  • and most recently:
    "bro"
* * *

Spring finally arrived in Chicago this week.  After an incredibly ambivalent beginning, cool and wet, the Sun emerged in the skies, replete with her warm and cheerful splendor, and all the world came out to see it.

You forget how many people live within a one-mile radius of you packed in like livestock until the first real day of spring.  The streets buzz with young parents pushing their young children in their new strollers, their parents strolling slowly down another block with their walkers, students, the homeless, stuffed shirts on their smoke break, women shopping, large men drinking beer too early in the afternoon, and everyone else who can manage to get away from whatever it is they should be doing in order to enjoy the glory of the day.

The other thing that happens on the first day of spring is that everyone digs down deep into the depths of their wardrobe for that favorite tank or that cute top they bought last summer at that sidewalk sale.  Gender surges onto the streets in a realer and more obvious way.  Bodies wear less, leave less to the imagination.  Beneath what remains can be approximated without saying so—that body has a penis; that body has breasts, we know without thinking, that body looks like the kind of body with which I'd like to bump bodies; that body does not—and those of us living outside easily intelligible gender suddenly find ourselves grappling with much more naked surroundings that are bound to misread us all the more.

And what to do, therefore, importantly, about the fast-approaching beach season: do I wear bikinis or one-pieces even though my pecs rather than breasts will surely fill them poorly?  How else could I even begin to hope that people would use the right pronouns with me on first, half-nude glance?

* * *

A couple days ago I went for a run.  The heat of the past few days had made me lively and adventurous again.  I've been wearing loose-fitting athletic clothes that are more conducive to a day of classes and sweaty bicycle riding.  I haven't been putting on makeup.  I've liked feeling in my own body, a body that is ever at the ready to pick up and keep moving, getting covered in dirt and cuts along the way and all the happier for it.*

And on this most beautiful of days, with the Sun out and radiant, and the prospect of concrete beneath my feet only shortly ahead, I could not wear my usual running apparel.  I grabbed the bootiest of booty shorts in my collection, strapped on my knee braces, slipped into my Vibrams, threw on a bandana to tame my long and not long enough hair, and went out the door without a top on.

The Sun felt good on my skin.  It took me longer to start sweating than normal what with the wind whispering along the contours of my surface, my body-husk, my blood-pelt, my organ-rind, my pecs rather than breasts.

"You're topless!" exclaimed one friend as I whizzed by.

"Yep!" I replied, grinning.

I didn't care anymore that people would probably use "he" first upon seeing me.  It still sucks, of course, but what did I expect before?  I have a beautiful body: thick in places, with enough room to hold; wide-set ribs that make fitting into dresses often difficult; slender and delicate in other places—my wrists, for instance.  Most people still read this body as "male" and wrongly assume that such a clinical distinction reserves for me only the most masculine of pronouns, but I know better, and those that get to know me will soon enough learn.

* * *

I am a new category.  I am the correct answer to the SAT questions that ask you to find the one that does not belong.  It's scary sometimes to be out here, but only because it's so much freer: I don't have to subscribe to body ideals for men or women; I get to be bea.  And if I want to run by the lake wearing as little as legally possible, to celebrate the Sun that shines and my body that moves, then I'm going to put on my bootiest of booty shorts, take off my shirt, and show off my pecs.

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