Beautiful

Recently, I’ve started contributing to the awesome site Genderfork, which tries to be a safe, welcoming space for genderqueer, transgender and genderfluid folks, among others. I’m a Genderfork volunteer, and part of my volunteering is finding photos of genderqueer / transsexual people and reblogging them (with permission) . These photos are part celebrating gender diversity, part helping make Genderfork a welcoming place for anyone who doesn’t want to be binned into maleness / femaleness as a discrete, binary category.

Quick aside: I am going to be talking about gender in a non-binary way in this post, and for me that includes using gender-neutral pronouns. I realize that folks have differing opinions on these pronouns, and some people don’t like them at all. I totally respect that. These pronouns are how I choose to talk about non-binary genders now, and they may not fit for other people, or even for me in the future.

Putting up these photos is a) extremely rewarding, and feels very good, and also b) highly thought-provoking. When I search for photos to reblog online, I find myself thinking about gender, expression, and beauty. Beauty is such a loaded word that I don’t explicitly look for “beautiful” photos to post. However, more often than not, one of the criteria that will make me submit a photo for review is “this person is beautiful.” So of necessity I’ve been thinking about beauty and gender-fluidity a lot.

There is a social standard of beauty, especially female beauty, that other people have written volumes about so I won’t mention it much here. I only want to say that this standard is both highly unrealistic, in the sense that few, if any, actual people match it; and annoyingly persistent, in the sense that I find it burrowing into my head when I look at people. There’s an easy trap I sometimes fall into: when looking at gender-queer and gender-fluid and transsexual people, I catch myself judging them by socially normative, cis-sexual standards. I can look at a picture and say, “oh, ze is beautiful because there is this maleness that’s rugged and strong but also this femaleness that’s soft and curvy and they’re sort of together here.” But when I do that, it feels wrong.

What feels right, then? Well, it feels right when I don’t try to break down and analyze beauty in terms of gender and norm. The way ze wears stripy socks is beautiful. The way ze sticks hir hands awkwardly in hir pockets is beautiful. The way hir hair falls all over hir face is amazing, and so is the light in this picture. The smile, the skin, the pose, the eyes, all those things that people of any and all gender have and express themselves with, those make some inner beauty shine through. The sum result may be a fierce rejection of gender norms, or a fierce expression of the same, or anywhere in between.

I want to emphasize that I’m talking about a continuum here, not a binary acceptance/rejection of cis-sexual presentations, or even of what I internalize as cis-sexual ideas about beauty. To put it simply, some folk like to be cis-sexual. Some folk are trans-sexual, but like to present as cis-sexual. Some folk have trans days and cis days and days when they don’t want to present in any particular way, and all of that is totally cool. Also, I want to say that I’m talking primarily about visual stimuli, which offer only a narrow window into someone’s identity. I can’t *for sure* tell if a person is trans or cis or *anything* from looking at one photo; thinking that I can is equivalent to stereotyping. So, really, I’m sharing my impressions and ideas, but I’m aware that those impressions and ideas can be, and often are, wrong.

Still, I feel that even if I stumble on particulars, my general point is worth expressing: Genderqueer folk come through as genderqueer without having to build themselves out of normative-gender Lego bricks. They can throw out the whole set, or keep any part of it they want, and be beautiful all the same.

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