So, after listening to a recording of a panel from PantheaCon this past week with a topic revolving around “queer” paganism, deities, myths, legends, and the like I began wondering aloud to myself about how gender, gender identity and sexuality have played-out in my life and why my experiences and behavior have been starkly different from the experiences of my peers within the overall gay and bisexual community. (I’ll be tackling gay/queer paganism in another post.)
To begin, defining my understanding of the phrases “gender”, “gender identity”, and “sexuality” is fairly easy and straight-forward (no pun intended). “Gender” is defined by the biological or physical representation of the sex of the individual; i.e. whether a person possesses a penis or a vagina (or in extremely rare cases, both or none). “Gender identity” can comprise one of two different topics, depending on the context of the discussion; the first meaning relating to the gender with which the individual in-question most closely identifies with psychologically (i.e. transsexuality/transgenderism), the second meaning relating to the outward expression of the gender that the individual (i.e. masculine, feminine, androgynous, etc.). “Sexuality” is defined in my mind as what gender of human you are physically aroused by and desire to be in intimate contact with (i.e. heterosexual [straight], homosexual [gay], bisexual, pansexual, etc.).
For me, “gender” has been a non-issue, and that has not been a question in my mind in the least. What’s of the most concern to me in this particular thought-exercise are the topics of gender identity and sexuality. There have been a number of individuals that I have been in contact with both in the past and in my current life-situation who embody a gender identity, gender expression, or gender behavior that is either opposite or in stark contrast to their biological gender. For example, I have known plenty of gay men whose behavioral patterns more closely resemble women than men in terms of social interaction, mannerisms, grooming, hygiene, mode of dress, and other miscellaneous behaviors. Simultaneously, I have known many gay men whose behaviors border on hyper-masculinity, including but not limited to engaging in rough-housing, vulgar conversation or social behaviors, or a general lack of respect for those deemed “subordinate” or “lesser” to the individual in-question. My personal behavior has hovered nearest the masculine end of the spectrum for the entirety of my sexual life for various reasons, mostly for reasons relating specifically to potential stigma associated with not maintaining masculine behavior patterns. For example, engaging in behavior unbecoming of a male such as cross-dressing or “submitting” to another individual without that person having proven themselves or given sufficient reason to do so is a betrayal of masculinity and is not desirable behavior. Bearing the potential “stigma” in-mind as well as the established behavior patterns, questions come-up fairly quickly.
- What does it mean to be “masculine” as a core concept?
- Do isolated instances or incidents of “less-than-masculine behavior” (such as cross-dressing for specific events or “submitting” in public situations) truly have stigma attached to them or are they all in my head?
- Does fully-integrating one’s homosexuality mean that only selected individuals have the subject broached with or is it an open topic? Must “gay behavior” be suppressed outside of specific social structures?
These are all questions that have come-up at one point or another in my life, and being where I am in my life-situation where I am relatively “out” and independent has made them all the more poignant. Combined with the difference in cultural experience, the difference in perceived maturity between myself and others of my age-group (not tooting my own horn on this one, the history speaks for itself), and the severe difference in interests and life-goals of those within my age-group as compared to those that are older than I has made integrating into the greater gay community interesting while at the same time very scary. I’ve always said to people that to me, it doesn’t matter how old you are, merely how old you feel… but then there’s always these thoughts in the back of my head: “What if they asked to be something more than just friends with me? What would I do in that situation? What would other people say about this situation? How would I explain this kind of thing to my parents?”
Welcome to my inner world of perpetual perplexity. Comments welcomed and encouraged.