What do you see when you look at this tintype? Who is this person standing there?
Do you wonder where they’ve been or where they are going? Do you wonder at their countenance, their time period, their life story? Are those the first things that go through your mind? Or, do you wonder if they are male or female? Do you automatically assign them one or the other? If so, what clues do you use to make those decisions? How do you know?
We all do it. We’ve been trained since an early age to do it. We do gender and we categorize the people we meet based on the boy/girl binary. It’s how we “know” how to treat someone.
If they are a boy we’ve been trained to treat them one way and if they are a girl, another. But what about folks where it’s not quite clear?
Why does it make us uneasy or uncomfortable to not quite know or to take a guess and guess wrongly?
Being a kid was a wonderful thing. I remember playing in the woods with my dog and picking blackberries and climbing trees. My canopy bed would transform into a magic carpet and a rocket ship and a race car. The basement of our house became caves for exploring with secret passage-ways carved out of constantly rearranging boxes. I remember playing “school” with my cousins and taking care of the kittens in the barn and playing “dress up” with Sunday hats and bowties. Riding my bike and playing “Evel Knievel” with the neighborhood kids, as we’d race up and down the street and build ramps and jumps, was always fun. Looking for crawdads in the creek and trips to Florida with my relatives and going fishing at the pier, along with the requisite sunburns, will always define “vacation” for me. I don’t remember when or how those activities became girl activities or boy activities, in my world, as a kid, they were simply activities – at least, until they weren’t.
As I grew older, the pressure began. The subtle cues that one activity was somehow more appropriate than another crept into a kid’s world.
It was ok to play with dolls but GI Joe, not so much. It was ok to ride a bike, but making racetracks or ramps or jumps was too dangerous. Hair length and clothing became battle grounds of identity. One’s movement through the world was critiqued with comments about walking in a certain way or behaving differently, or not being too loud, or too rambunctious. It became clear that being a kid, being in-between, was something awkward and uncomfortable.
Growing older and being in-between continued to be awkward. Simple things, like checking out at the grocery store, are not so simple. “Have a nice day” goes from a taken-for-granted pleasantry to an uncomfortable moment when the “sir” or “ma’am” get tacked on. The cashier feels embarrassed when the cues they’re used to reading don’t quite align and they either go with their first impression or they have to guess. What if they’re wrong? Can they even be right? Do they even see me? Don’t even get started on public restrooms. I gave up using those years ago. One learns to time their excursions into, what often feels like, enemy territory so they can avoid the glare at the bathroom door or the full-blown back-track and double-check of the sign.
I know, I know, if I’d just conform everything would be easier, for both of us. If I’d just wear the right clothes and behave the right way we could all avoid the awkward uncomfortableness. If I’d just choose, surely it would be easier. You know, I tried. I really did. But, I was never successful at conformity, in either direction. You probably don’t even have to think about it so the fact that I’d spend hours practicing walking, and talking, and dressing, and doing everything just right, never occurred to you.
It never occurred to you that I worked really hard and invested a lot of energy into trying to be what you expect me to be because, after all, why wouldn’t I want it to be easier?
Not only easier for you but easier for me, too. And yet, despite such hard work and so much energy invested, there was still something just off. Something would always give away my kid-ness and, despite my best efforts, I’m still in-between.
Which leads to the real question – why does it matter? Why do we need to be one or the other? Why do we need others to be one or the other?What is it about in-between-ness that feels so awkward and uncomfortable? I ask not only for you, but for me, too. Like I said before, we all do it. We all glance up and pop the person in a box and file them into our rolodex and treat them accordingly. Even I, having spent half a century in the in-between, stumble over pronouns and struggle with sir and ma’am, not only when addressed to myself but in addressing others as well.
And so I go back to where I started. What do you see when you look at this person? What do I see when I look at you?
How do we unlearn seeing the cues and learn to see the person? How do we go back to just being a kid hanging out with other kids?
© Tantus, Inc. 2019. All Rights Reserved.
Raven Darknights Raven Darknights was the first person to run for and win an International Mx title as 2018 Mx International Olympus Leather. During their title year, Raven worked towards greater Mx visibility by advocating for the Pantheon of Leather Awards to add Mx of the Year. They founded the MxLeatherFamily, a group to encourage Mx folkx at events to get a group photo, share their images, take up space, and be seen. With the full support of Olympus Leather, Raven has founded International Mx Leather and Bootblack, to create equity on the International level, with the first contest scheduled for 2020. Raven has spent several decades in the BDSM and Leather scene exploring techniques for spirit connection, shifting energies, intention, and focus through ritual practice. Over the past decade they have shared their knowledge and passion in dynamic workshops at Leather and BDSM events. Their classes are often described as "life changing" by participants. Raven is also known for shiny blades and razors. Beginning 20 years ago with the acquisition of a vintage 1960 Gillette Fat Boy adjustable double edge razor, a fascination has blossomed into an extensive cut-throat razor collection along with the skills in their care and use. These 100 year old razors are available for sale and still offer an exceptional shave with incredible energy. Raven’s passion for the alchemy of heat, steel, water, stone and flesh turns a simple daily routine into a ritualized spiritual journey not to be missed. Even as a very young child Raven identified as non-binary and insisted on being called a kid. Raven identifies as a kid, even today.