Kevin Camp

Genderqueer and Other Difficult Concepts

"If you wanna know something and he won't tell you, cut off one of [the manager’s] fingers. The little one. Then tell him his thumb's next. After that he'll tell you if he wears ladies' underwear."- Reservoir Dogs


The passage above is from director Quentin Tarantino’s critically acclaimed first film, Reservoir Dogs. It is a film that I estimate I've watched at least one hundred times, though the passage included above doesn't make the same impact today as it did upon first viewing. I've included it here because it includes as its epigraph why I have been very reluctant to share certain aspects of myself. The movie quote questions the masculinity of a man whose style of dress is not effectively male enough, a dark secret he hides.

We may live in a time where homosexuality or even that which is conspicuously non-heterosexual is accepted, but I’m not exactly sure about how deeply this tolerance takes root. I’ve consciously held fast to an important part of myself willingly, though I’ve longed for the day that how I dress is a completely unimportant detail. It may be sooner than I think, but for the duration it causes me pain.

I don’t want to be seen as a freak of nature, which is honestly how I have viewed myself at times. I don’t want to feel ashamed or belittled. For a time, I believed that I was simply mentally ill and that my behavior was due to a kind of harmless insanity. Now, I look at things very differently, and I’m thankful for the groundbreaking men and women that came before me. I could not speak my truth without their courage. Words alone, nor actions cannot express my gratitude

I wear women’s underwear and sometimes other aspects of clothing designed for women. I’ve dressed like this off and on since my teens, but it has become a daily routine for at least the last decade. I stopped completely once before because a particular relationship partner did not approve. Where I fall is somewhere underneath the the transgender umbrella. This is made even more confusing because I decided, after long debate, not to pursue transition and have never stated a particular preference towards one gender or the other.

Evidence of increased visibility for genderqueer people is beginning to regularly show up everywhere. One particular person arrived a few weeks ago at my Meeting’s Worship wearing a skirt. We were, at their request, to refer to said individual as “they” and we did.

I’m somewhere in the same neighborhood as such people, though I feel much more comfortable being referred to as he. If I lived in a commune or an isolated, close-knit community, there’s no telling to what lengths I’d explore gender. I know I would make sure all my toenails and fingernails were painted. I might even be bolder with my choice of garments, asking others to suggest how I might wish to look. Part of my reluctance goes back a few years.

I lived at home during part of college, and my mother deliberately threw away every piece of clothing I had purchased, with my own money, no less, that was normally worn by women. Every pair of underwear was thrown into the trash can as well as the glossy pornographic magazines I purchased at one of the city's two major sex shops, magazines that gave me the opportunity to understand the logistics of homosexual sex, a very new thing for me at that time.

At a conference, long ago, I lost twenty pounds in a matter of days because of the high elevation of the site. We were close to two miles straight up and the effect kicked my metabolism into high gear. Now my pants drooped and sagged, enough that I mistakenly flashed other people the straps of my thong underwear while bending over. This caused a dramatic increase in gossip and good natured laughter. I had outed myself as genderqueer without even meaning to do it. No one was hurtful and everyone was respectful, but I’d never intended to make my gender identity a topic of conversation.

The shame was considerable. If the same thing happened today, god forbid, I know I’d feel identical to the way I felt back then. Gender-wise, I feel somewhere in between male and female, but I choose to embrace no particular gender pronoun. It doesn’t matter what other people believe about me, or at least it shouldn’t. I’m comfortable this way and have reached a resolution within myself, even if I’m still unsure whether sharing it more openly is a good thing. Though in some respects this is a secret I largely continue to keep within myself, I'm sure that most of my friends wouldn’t think of me any differently if they knew.

Having now admitted this in a public forum, I intend to reach others who feel the same way, if I can. As I’ve written about before, I realized how surprisingly commonplace are the behaviors and presentation that take similar form to my own, especially so among queer men. At an LGBT conference, the man I bunked with wore a slip and a nightgown to bed, having told me earlier in the day that that he had never fit well into anyone’s definition of what a man was supposed to be. I observed him make a phone call to his wife while clad from head-to-toe in feminine sleeping attire, a slip concealing female underwear underneath.

For the first time in my life, I knew I had absolutely nothing to fear. Instead of waiting for everyone in the entire cabin to leave before I changed clothes, showered, and then put on new clothes, I boldly made my way to one of the showers wearing women’s undergarments, even carrying a fresh pair in my hands. Walking there and back, no one batted so much as an eyelash. My relief was considerable.

In a perfect, ideal world, this would be how issues of gender would always manifest themselves. But in the outside world where everyone is not queer, nor gender bending, I make sure to keep the straps of my underwear tucked reassuringly into my pants. I worry about bending over when my belt is not tight enough. Men’s pants now ride as low as women’s pants have for a while, meaning that baring underwear every now and then is to be expected unless one is obsessive about it.

I already have to regiment my life enough due to chronic illnesses. It annoys me that I have to do extra work where my gender identity is concerned. I know that I get off relatively easy for some, particularly the people who do go through transition and then struggle mightily to pass. Nevertheless, I am normally shy and disinclined to reveal a vulnerable part of myself, one which by turns torments me and elates me. Others who feel this way have nothing to fear, though my advice to them would be to nevertheless share this information with as much discretion as they find comfortable.

Transgender identity and presentation is poorly understood, even today. Trans folks can expect to be thought of as unforgivably weird, a description that has been applied to me from time to time, for related, but somewhat different reasons. I do not court those descriptions and have tried to avoid them whenever possible. Nothing hurts me more than to be called eccentric and strange. Though I may not have sought to clothe myself in terms of strict normality, I never want to be thought of in such strongly negative terms at any time, for any reason.

One of the questions I asked myself, when this whole thing began, was whether or not I could live with myself as I was. Even though I experience feelings collectively called gender dysphoria, I feel that I pull a little from column A and a little from column B. I admit, as well, that I sometimes I've looked longingly at a female close friend or two, wishing I was her, though I would never tell her that. I admit as well that passing random women on the street does usually make me envious. Though I want to look like they do, I know never will. But I can finally live with it.

Maybe in my next life I’ll be born into female form. For now, I’m something close to male, though not exactly. Relationship partners have been understanding at times, but have also been made uncomfortable in my company for being who I am. I’m not willing to hide it anymore. This is my life and if I’m strange or crazy to someone else, then I guess that’s how it’s going to be. This doesn't need to be anyone's deal breaker, and I do encourage men and women both to not feel threatened by the complexities of sexual orientation and gender presentation. Be yourself.

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