"When I found out the patriarchy wasn't about horses,
I lost interest anyway."
- Ken, BARBIE
Here’s something I have never talked about publicly much…
Not because I have anything to hide, more because making my private life the centre of attention isn’t very appealing to me.
I don’t think anything I’m sharing is going to be particularly radical or fresh, but I’m writing it here catalysed by a conversation with a friend over the weekend who suggested sharing it publicly might help add nuance to a wider conversation.
I’m not sure about that.
Let’s see. You can make that call.
Today seems a good moment to do it.
It was Pride weekend here in the UK and i just took the family to watch the Barbie movie. So it stirred this territory up freshly.
Here it goes...
I don’t feel very gendered.
I never have
I feel non-binary. Non-dual. I feel multiply gendered.
I don’t even know if it is interesting, or relevant to say out loud. It isn’t something I’ve been keeping a secret or waiting for the right moment to come out of the closet about.
I guess another reason I don't talk about it much is the fear of disappearing too far up my own arsehole.
Yet here we are!
I experience myself as someone whom the masculine and feminine energies dance around in very dynamically and interchangeably. They change / exchange expression in me very comfortably. - though not perhaps in an extroverted way. It is something very private in me that has always known this.
It is not like a switch that goes on and off. It is not a polarity. It is a very fluid and shape shifting thing that doesn’t like being trapped or made to fit anyone’s gender definition.
It has little to do with what I wear or how I appear. In some cases it has felt at odds with how I appear - at odds with what other people see or assume from looking at me.
This has always been the case for me for as long as I can remember.
Whilst it isn’t something I feel any inclination to hide, it neither seems very interesting to talk about. I hope writing about it here adds value, rather than yet more din to the already big noise.
One of the times i felt most seen in this way was when a friend said they saw an interplay of masculine and feminine happening in me inter-chageably. He said - they morph in you, sometimes i see one, sometimes i see the other.
It felt really true and kind of shockingly exposing at the same time. To have something so private and potentially ‘invisible’ about me, identified so accurately from someone outside myself felt vulnerable. but it went in really deeply. It was a mirror.
Another person said ‘you go as far in as you go out’. And that felt true too.
Half in. Half out.
Half Yin. Half Yang.
I feel male and female at different times and in different ways. And i feel comfortable with that.
I am cis - in the sense that i feel mostly at home in the form I have been biologically allocated. I tick ‘F’ on my medical forms. I’m fine if you naturally want to call me ‘she’. It is how I look and how culture sees me. I am mostly at peace working with the materials I have to play with. I’m ok with it. It is more comfortable for people to call me ‘she’ and it makes things socially way more straight forwards.
It is the most externally obvious choice.
But I don’t feel identified with it and it doesn’t represent my experience of gender. So I feel some dissonance asking you to call me 'she'.
I used to hate the attention my ‘femaleness’ attracted when I was younger without my participation, or my ‘doing’ anything. Being less visible in this later phase of life is a blessing and something I have found enormous liberation in.
Writing ‘she’ after my name feels only partially true and - if i’m being honest - not illustrative of my experience and therefore mildly uncomfortable. But I happily do it for others.
It is maybe the least ‘wrong’ option. But it doesn’t feel right.
If you called me ‘he’, I would be surprised, because i don’t carry many of the visible cultural markers of masculinity, but i wouldn’t make you wrong for it.
I’m fine for you to call me ‘they’, but I don’t especially love it.
‘They’ feels ambiguous or ambivalent to me and I don’t feel ambiguous with in myself. I feel non-binary. I feel fluid. I feel very clear in my fluidity. Like fluidity is my home. Gender fluid is my base camp.
‘She’ feels like the least culturally inconvenient maybe.
I feel non-binary and I don’t really care what you call me as long as it doesn’t become something that gets in the way of us being able to get on with the stuff that brings us alive.
A non binary person who doesn’t prefer being called ‘they’ perhaps.
If i write ‘she/he’ it feels closest to the way I privately feel. But it confuses people and forces conversations I can’t really be bothered to have. I look female, so people don’t know what I mean. Fair enough.
Recently a student had ‘all pronouns’ after their name in a zoom call and it felt like a relief for me. It feels closer to the truth. So I tried that on for a few weeks.
This week I am choosing she/they. It’s ok.
I'm interested in it being about how I feel on the day. Which, I get is confusing for people, but it feels good to allow myself space to experiment.
Choosing pronouns to write at the end of my name feels privately complicated for me.
I feel like I want a different way of being called, but I don’t know what that is.
On the other hand, gender isn’t an interesting enough subject to me to have to explain it to you, or begin a very long conversation around it. It is perhaps one of the reason that the Barbie movie furore has been surprising to me.
For a film about girl dolls, boy dolls and gender non-specific dolls, none of whom have genitals, there was little heteronormative about it.
Whilst we are on the subject, I have never felt identified with the term ‘heterosexual’.
I’m definitely not gay. That’s clear.
I have mostly fallen in love with heterosexual cis men who have a lot of feminine in them. I have also fallen in love with women. But it doesn’t feel like it is because they are a man or a woman.
I tick the ‘bi-sexual’ box on the Arts Council form because it feels closer to my experience, but it doesn’t feel completely right. I’m not bisexual.
I fall in love with a person, not their gender. Most of those people have been male bodied people who like women. A handful of them have been different to that.
If they had a ‘pansexual’ box, i’d tick that.
No one has a flipping ‘pansexual’ box.
I find many predominantly heterosexually oriented social spaces oppressive. And some exclusively queer oriented ones too. I have always felt uncomfortable when spaces organise themselves around gender or sexuality in any exclusive or homogenous way. I find it difficult to settle and I don’t know where to put myself. I don’t feel at home in monocultures, human or otherwise. I feel most comfortable in a biodiversity of humanness and biodiversity generally.
I feel queer.
I have a suspicion that everyone is - in some way - queer, but maybe that is me projecting my queerness on the world...?
I have met people who are super identified with their gender or sexual orientation. Very clear, strong and specifically identified in that way and need it to be expressed. They prefer you to know it.
Some strongly identified people, have fought very hard to stand proudly and gloriously in their difference. To face up to the dominant, heteronormative gaze, often against fear, hatred, and violence (it still happens). Some folk find themselves having been gendered from birth in a way that simply doesn't feel like who they are in anyway. Feel into that for a moment - it must be a fucking nightmare. The pressure for gender to look certain ways in our culture is still alive and well. This takes phenomenal courage, to dare to stand / come out in this way. It still carries with it great risk and heavy discrimination.
To stand visibly in your difference in the face of the monolith of 'normal' is a brave act. I wish huge courage and kindness to you if this is your experience.
Being discriminated against on the basis of gender or your sexual orientation feels very unjust and I will defend equity and justice for all bodies, ferociously.
A different group of strongly identified people had very strong opinions about the Barbie movie.
I am 'fortunate' that my queerness, slips silently beneath the cultural heteronormative radar, which suits me well.
I'm not sure 'fortunate' is the right word... but let's let it sit there for now.
My queerness is not extroverted. It is half inwards, half outwards and always changing. Like I am in many aspects.
I prefer for part of me to remain a mystery to myself and the world. Not known. I always want to allow space for the unknowable to be a part of things.
My queerness is not something i need you to know or ‘get’ about me.
I don’t feel the need to change how I look to accommodate it, but respect that some people really do feel that need. And I don’t feel the need to make it more visible.
Looping back to the Barbie movie again for a moment -
So my experience of Pride this year was seeing the Barbie movie with my family.
It was the second time i saw it and i will probably go again. I love Greta Gerwig's work and Noah Baumbauch's too. They know what they are doing and were well aware this was an opportunity to craft an alternative mythology via a mass pop-culture context..
*spoilers ahead -
I loved that the whole first third of the film was from the perspective of the inner life of a little girl playing with dolls. I have never seen that perspective brought to life before with such joy, silliness and visionary excellence.
A big part of my childhood was spent living in, hanging out in and giving private expression to my inner life. It still is the main place I go for rest, enjoyment and entertainment.
As a kid, dolls and animals were a big part of that. They were a way I could make the world interactive and practice relationships from the safety and privacy of my bedroom. My universe was always a highly subjective and florid one and one in which gender didn’t play much of a part. Everyone was welcome including the Barbies, who usually got mashed up and gothy pretty quickly.
In terms of my identification - I have never been the one comparing hair, outfits or shoes. I have however, been the Ken enthusing about The Godfather when you say you haven’t seen it before. I have also probably been guilty of trying to fix your problem and singing at you from time to time. If I identify with any of the Barbies it is Kate McKinnon’s weird Barbie. I have never been interested in the regular cultural markers of the feminine and tend to be instantly bored by conversations about it.
I was curious how the movie was going to land in the members of my family whose bodies haven’t been gendered female… especially after all the reactive fragility being expressed in the right wing media about it. (Who knew a film about dolls could touch on such a raw wound! - the power of mythology, see?!)
My nearly 16 year old step son said out loud as we left the cinema ‘that was brilliant’.
My husband said ‘yeah! That was great!'
I asked him what his favourite bit was, he said the Kubrick sequence at the start with the little girls smashing the Victorian dolls. My step daughter particularly loved the bit where the barbies were pretend vomiting at the thought of having flat feet.
I just loved how much fun Ryan Gosling was having with Ken.
We all wondered how could anyone be offended by this movie?!
One of my gay pals said the Ken fighting sequence was 'one of the gayest things I've seen.'
We all agreed that the music was pretty rough. Though if you were a 9 year old girl, it was likely AWESOME.
So all this to say - this naming your pronouns thing - is a tricky thing for me and I suspect I am not alone. I’d rather you just experience me and choose for yourself. I don’t care enough to make it a thing. You are not wrong what ever you say.
I feel seen and loved by those whom I care about and who care about me. My favourite people don’t make me an object, they don't gender me much and are comfortable allowing some mystery. I am utterly grateful I get to be myself in all my glorious weirdness with people who let me be me.
If I had a wish for you & for all people it would be that you get to feel fully yourself around those who love you and whom you love. And that the atmosphere of love around you has enough air and space in it for you to grow, follow your curiosity and change.
Maybe that is loving someone best.
Letting another be gloriously themselves and allowing some space for the emergent and the unfolding mystery.
Happy Pride Everyone.
Post script -
Last night, me and the guys went up to watch the new Tim Minchin musical at the Old Vic. There was a train strike, so we decided to drive. We parked our car in a space in Kennington and got the tube the rest of the way. The show was pretty good.
On the way home Akash (soon to be 16 yo) started spontaneously singing one of the songs from the Barbie film.
'Is that the Ken theme tune?' I asked.
'Yeah' he said - 'It's coz we are parked in Kennington.'
writings on states of being, being in a body and being human.