Saturday, December 23, 2006

Gender Bender

I am convinced that if my mother had been able to pursue an education beyond grade four she would have been an engineer or at the least a forewoman. My childhood memories are peppered with instances of my mother sitting with a toolbox fixing and repairing some household item. I.e. The VCR which my father opened and left in a million separate pieces is assembled and brought back to proper functionality by my mother. Since my parents bought their house about four years ago, my mother has concocted and executed several complicated renovation projects. Refusing many a time to hire someone, she would observe men at work, in a similar fashion to how she observed a recipe for the first time, and would replicate their efforts herself. So, if you had driven by our home earlier this summer, you would have witnessed my mother squatting in her cotton shalwar kameez assembling the stone tiles for our front patio and walkway.

“Why do we have to do this?” I would ask my mother.

“Be quiet. You should know how to do this. A man should know how to handy-work around his house”. My mother would retort, huffing as she was making sure a stone slab was level.

“Why, when you can always hire someone to help.”

It is this very advice that I follow to solve my own current home décor challenges that I am confronted by. My designs on my apartment were virtually finished, except for a few touches which were proving difficult to complete. The wall in my new apartment appears to be immune to penetration from my drill and so I had drapes, a mirror, and some shelves which were floundering in the corner. I search on craigslist for a handyman to come and solve my current renovation challenges. A person by the name of Stormy responds and I assume the name is some sort of e-pseudonym and contact the number provided. I am caught off guard when I realize that Stormy is the name this person uses for interaction, and that Stormy is a woman.

"So, I called someone to help me put up my stuff.” I am telling my co-worker Sun King.

“You might as well,” he responds.

“I’m so embarrassed though.” I pause. “It’s a woman. I feel so gay.”

“I bet you ten-dollars that she drives a pick-up”.

When I had first realized that Stormy was a woman I hesitated, I was not sure if I trusted a woman to do the job properly. Still, the other guys that I had found were proving to be more expensive, and so I found myself making arrangements for Stormy to come over the next day to do the job. I do feel a sense of disappointment at not being able to complete the jobs myself. Having watched my mother complete all sorts of jobs, I thought these small installations would be a piece of cake. I felt failure at my inability to drill a hole through the ceiling as my boyfriend sits on the couch and watches. Many a time my boyfriend gently reminds me that he is the lady and that entails me having to worry or take care of certain details. The last time he reminded me I relieved him of his heavy bags and walked them from the car to the apartment. So, if he is the lady, I am the man, and therefore I should be able to drill holes to install my drapes.

My mind travels back to my second year of university to my Philosophy of Gender class. Our professor spent the semester attempting to show how gender, sexuality, and sex were constructed via discourses; where males and females enacted binary codes of behaviour based on subject/object positions. Translating this ivory league jargon, basically what is being said is that what it means to be male and female is not based on biology but rather through social interactions we have had since we were children. So, for example the idea that men are supposed to be strong and aggressive, is something that our society cultivates through popular imagery, myths and various narratives that we tell ourselves. I recall that I play with my little boy cousin differently, making playfull boxing gestures, versus how I play with my little girl cousin who I coo at and keep commenting on her beauty.

“So, if our behaviour as men and woman is regulated by discourses, well couldn’t we solve problems like sexism and homophobia if we tried to get rid of discourses?” I pose this question in our class. The professor contemplates the question, in her usual fashion, with her head cocked to one side and her eyebrow raised in interest.

“But if we were to do away with discourses, how would we construct identity, as identity as we understand it is based on the binary of subject/object positions.” She responds in a cool collected manner.

The answer was a typical post modern response. Answer a question with a question. Revel in deconstructing something, but do not seek solution or resolution to the problem, just make it more problematic. However frustrating her response is, I do see her point. While the theory of social construction to me initially translates into a possibility of a utopian gender free society, I realize it to be just that a utopian dream. Being in relationship, especially gay relationships, I see that we still unwittingly re-enact all sorts of male-female bullshit expectations. Hence, I don’t feel like a “man” for being to drill some holes, and I feel uneasy about a woman doing the work for me.

I eventually grow curious to have Stormy come over and do the handy work. At this point I just want to see what she looks like. Initially the name Stormy recalls to my mind some character from a sordid historical romance novel, who would be presented on the cover of the book in an outfit that would have her bosom hanging out and her hair as flowing tendrils in the wind. But, as she is a handy woman, I realize this imagine is not appropriate, and so imagine her to look like Charlize Theron in Monster. I am mildly excited when there is a knock on the door and I jump to the door and peep through the hole.

I am confused as there appears to be a man standing at my door with a big toolbox. I open the door and am shocked. What stands before me appears like an adolescent young male, with peach fuzz for a moustache and goatee. Stormy is wearing white and orange Reebok basketball kicks, vintage plaid dress pants which hang loosely off her undeniably feminine hips, exposing her black Fruit of the Loom male jockey underwear. For her top, she is wearing a long sleeve red shirt with a faded Pixies concert t-shirt with just the faintest showing of breasts underneath. Her face is covered in unfortunate acne and her short unevenly chopped hair is covered by a bright multicoloured cap. I am left speechless. Stormy is a trans male. I welcome her into the apartment and she starts accessing the work that needs to be done. I am dying to ask her if she is post-op or pre-op, but figure that is a tacky question to ask.

She produces her professional tools and gets to work, while I stand to the side, my arms crossed across my chest, inspecting the work being done. I do like this better, inspecting someone do the work for me, rather than do it myself; I always fancied myself more of a Victor Newman than a Dan Arnold. The ceiling proves to be a challenge to her also, she informs me it has to do with this being such an old building, and the ceiling and walls being cement and something about a lack of leverage. I nod at this information, tapping my cigarette in the ashtray, with a sense of relief. I am not incompetent. It is the building and my lack of proper tools that caused the entire problem. This job is a challenge to a professional; I feel somewhat vindicated.

“Excuse me, I hope you don’t mind, I just want to make sure the shelf is level.” I say as I jump in before she makes permanent holes in my wall. I feel that she is not being exact and careful enough as she is installing things. “I just want to make sure it’s exactly right, or it will slowly drive me nuts.” I say to justify the third time I pull the leveler to ensure accuracy.

“No problem I understand you want to make these things perfect. These are the things in life that you can control,” she says pointing to the one shelf which is already installed. “The other stuff that life throws at you, you can’t control, but this, you have in your power to make sure is just right.” I love this rationale. It justifies my neurotic attention to detail in my interior decorating project.

Late in the evening, I slowly inhale from a joint that I have rolled, and let my eyes lazily roll over the finished living/dining room. I like the effect I have achieved. I stare at the shelf and Stormy’s words come back to me; these are the things in life that you can control. I am high and I imbue this words with more significance than they probably warrant and feel that this is indeed a profound statement. I feel that her statement doesn’t just have to reference my shelves and wanting them straight and perfect, but could also apply to problems that arise out of gender relations. While I may feel caught up in discourses; social expectations of what it means to be a man, I do have agency. While these discourses may be necessary in formation of identity and can not be abandoned, they need not control and bind me. Indeed, just by virtue of me being in a gay relationship is subversive. While me and my boyfriend enact dynamics of heterosexual relationships, we are at the same time fucking with those dynamics by being two dudes in a relationship. There is nothing wrong with him wanting to be treated like a lady and have his bags carried by me, and conversely me sitting on the couch with one hand done my pants hogging the remote control is also fine. When we let such patterns blindly control us, and more specifically lead us to hurt or compromise someone else is when we have a problem. But then again, these are the things in life that you can control.


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