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Saturday, November 25, 2017

Land of Androgyny: And I’m the Odd Man Out

Written by  Tess Mullins
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"While checking out a book on Thomas More, she checked into...the Twilight Zone."

I enthusiastically thumped up to the cashier and tossed my keys on the counter where they made a satisfying clatter. “I need Life of Thomas More, by Peter Ackroyd –you carry that?”.  The cashier moved with the speed and agility of a gecko in winter. It took her fully five seconds to bring her eyes up from the phone at her navel to meet my expectant gaze. And during that time I realized that I wasn’t actually looking at a “her”. Well, maybe. I did a quick bustline check; didn’t seem to be any, but they make some pretty efficient binds these days, I’d imagine.

This person looked roughly my age; features more on the feminine side, but no makeup; chopped, asymmetrical haircut that everyone’s doing who wants to be “edgy”; black polo shirt, skinny jeans, ear gauges… There’s the clue! Blingy diamond on the left ring finger.  Along with relief I wondered if the fiancé was having a similar identity crisis, and if two broken pieces taped together would ever actually amount to a working unit.

“I like your ring!” I blurted as she finished looking up. “Very sparkly.”

“…Thanks. What’s the name of the book again?”

Recalculating! The voice was definitely masculine. And the eyebrows, now that I could see them, would have made Frida Kahlo jealous. Nothing about this kid made sense.

But I wasn’t about to be weirded out by that. Every used bookstore has its outcast. It searched for my book for two minutes of stony silence, during which I fidgeted with my keys and whipped out my phone so I could open random apps without actually looking at them. I was still trying to decide this person’s gender; I’d never been so stumped.

“Customer Service to the register, please,” the enigma voiced over the loudspeaker. Customer Service was going to escort me to the world history section and help me find my book. Customer Service ambled up from the back of the store, and I turned to find that Cashier worked with friends.

Customer Service was a head taller than me, all gender-neutral angles and lines – no predominately feminine characteristics besides a really long, luxurious, hot-pink mohawk. (Somebody please tell me there’s another word for “mohawk” that made it new and trendy again, because the mohawk and the mullet have got to be two of the most misguided, least thought-out things to come out of the eighties. Does anyone even know how they happened? Must have been some totally tubular crack.)

Anyhow, so Customer Service didn’t say a word to me, but jerked its head for me to follow. It walked like there was something wrong between its knees and hips; the strides were profoundly slow and calculated, giving concrete context to the phrase “awkward nonchalance”. It refused to pick up its feet and shuffled in the most self-conscious way possible all the way to the back wall. It did find my book, and I thanked it. It rolled its eyes at me and stalked away very slowly.  Not big on making a great exit, that one.

As I made my way back toward the storefront, I was flagged down by another androgynous employee to ask if there was anything I needed help finding. “Nope, but thanks,” I told the third question mark.

The last employee I saw was a large man with an extremely well-manicured handlebar mustache and suspenders, shelving books. First in four who wasn’t a question mark, and I wanted to thank him for being him. One more awkward encounter with the cashier “person”, and I was sitting in my car, clutching my book and feeling a little bit odd.

I don’t want to run down my peers who have acceptance issues already, but I’m a little sick of being expected to guess at your sex. I’m sure it’s fun for you and all, but you’re taking liberties with my own delicate sensibilities. At least save me the mental strain and pin your chosen gender identity to your shirt. Or, if you’re still unsure or in transition, label it “Not in the position to judge others”.

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We’re not going to talk about your bizarre need to look like you came from a Tim Burton set, or the really idiotic misconception that “carelessness” equals “cool”. I want to address how transgender has become a fashion, mostly among outcasts; those who feel alienated from society. Today you're encouraged to think that your alienation is because you're not completely identifying with your inherited gender definition. But its true meaning is much more sinister than a convenient label for young people who feel like outcasts for a myriad of reasons.

I know it can be rough! It’s hella hard to be a woman today. If you pay attention to the media, you come to the conclusion that the ideal woman ought to have the combined talents of a CEO, a stripper, and a super-mom. So, I get it if some girls feel like rebelling from that pressure, but temper your reaction, please. Don’t listen to the bureaucratic machinery which goads you toward the raging, butch wailers at a Women’s March, because you’re only aiding the assault on masculinity. Everything is about expanding women's rights and terminating men's; defining men out of existence. Meanwhile, the two sexes appear to be morphing into each other. Is that really what we want?

This fascination with androgyny has a historical precedent, and tends to happen in the later phases of culture; it gains in popularity as the culture unravels. Take, for example, the fall of the Roman Empire, the “Mode” decade that produced Oscar Wilde in the 1890s, or the infamous Roaring Twenties of Hemingway, Stein, and Fitzgerald—all the sweeping, avant-garde decadence which cataclysmically crashed into one of the darkest eras in U.S. history, The Great Depression and a couple of pretty nasty world wars.

The people who live in these late phases of culture don’t realize the drop they’re headed for, and tend to feel very sophisticated and cosmopolitan, with the attitude that anything goes and morals are for the haters. From the perspective of historical distance, you can see that these are cultures which no longer believe in themselves, have lost all order and restraint, are totally clueless about their past, or actively hate it (looking at you, statue-wrecking idiots). And, frightening in the extreme, is that at the same time as the urban culture unravels into foppish impotence, you invariably will see groups rise up along the edges of that society, who are convinced of the power of fanatic masculinity. Whether they be the Vandals, the Huns… or the barbarians of ISIS.

There are connections to be drawn all over the place, and an unsettling lack of answers to the problems manifesting themselves. But as I settle into the couch with my new book, that’s about as far as I’d like to go for now. I’m going to dive into the Life of Thomas More, who’s a hero for any “season”—right? see what I did there?—and take comfort from the fact that he weathered something as frightening, messed up and immoral as the Tudor dynasty, and became a Saint.

 

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