Wednesday, February 17, 2010

No One's Performer

Growing up, there was a definite construction of how gender was to be performed, as illustrated, verbally and experientially, through my parents. My mother performed all household tasks such as cleaning, laundry, preparing meals, and taking care of my sister and I. In addition, she worked with my father, is an incredibly strong woman, physically, and performed more of the labor tasks than he did, both in their professional job and on our farm. She also managed our finances. My father, on the other hand, performed his professional job alongside my mother and when they arrived home for the evening, he would tinker with things our barn, sit outside and watch the cattle, drive around the farm, or hunt. My sister, whens he was old enough to begin chores, was taught how to do the same jobs as my mother in the house while my father attempted to take me with him hunter or to do outside activities on the farm. From a young age I hated those activities and much preferred to be inside. In truth, I preferred being near my mother over my father. As I grew old, I began demanding to do the same tasks that my sister desperately hated because I was better at them and enjoyed them, to an advanced degree more than I liked outside chores. In fact, I loved to cook, clean, and do laundry. I also showed aptitude for things like arranging flowers, gardening, and childcare. Still, my father insisted I do ‘boy activities’ and my sister do ‘girl activities.’ Our parents were teaching us to perform gender, despite each of us resisting it heavily as children. Generation to generation force their children into gender roles at early ages, creating a sharp contrast between what is perceived to be masculine and feminine.

Happily, my mother eventually saw reason in the complaints from my sister and I. When I was around ten I started doing inside chores and gradually learned to manage our household as my parents professional career became increasingly more time consuming by my senior year in highs school. After all, how could they complain: my sister mowed our 5 acre lawn in perfect patterns, kept our pool clean and joined me in taking care of our cattle many evenings. My cooking progressed beyond the skill of my parents until I turned the skill into a catering business, my mother rarely had to perform household tasks, and most importantly, my sister and I were happy in our roles.

In high school, my skin was less than perfect and I had the strong urge to make it appear better using makeup. My mother questioned me about it, but explaining to her that it made me more confident, she allowed me to do what I pleased and often would tell me if I had a makeup line from foundation or if my coloring looked abnormal when I had gotten heavy with bronzer in the summer. My father never noticed, though I am quite sure he would have had an opinion. When I arrived at college, when friends found out that I often wore makeup and sometimes one of my favorite fragrances, Chanel number 5, a women’s fragrance, they criticized me for being feminine. I even painted my fingernails regularly, beginning with clear coats and progressing to blues and blacks. Certainly I received many stares for that, but I enjoyed seeing my nails shine in lacquered colors as I furiously typed or practiced at the piano. Eventually I gave up the feminine practices as I felt more people were commenting on these things. I felt uncomfortable, very different. Now I realize that I felt different because others were uncomfortable with how I performed my gender outside the stereotypical, heterosexist male role. Happily, if I have time and feel the need, I wear foundation, Chanel number 5, and even this amazing necklace a friend gave me last year (see photo). Feminine and masculine are constructs. I will wear what I want, and live my life as I see fit. I am no one’s performer.

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