[CREATIVE NONFICTION] gender failure: on letting go of what no longer fits
gender used to be a language i spoke frequently and comfortably. i was girl, woman, monthly leaky periods, oppressed by patriarchy, bound to my soft white skin and appearance. and even though there were points of being a white girl that made me want to leap out of my skin, i was comfortable flirting with men, effacing my intellect and asking my dad to fix my broken dresser. patriarchy was uncomfortable but not enough to make me look for more, to find the language or capacity to name it. i was oppressed enough to complain about it but not enough that i would grow tired or be dead from it.
after i took an introduction to women’s studies class, i really believed that i understood oppression and its herstory. i thought that because of the brief knowledge i had been exposed to about the industrial complex built on the selling, exploiting and sexualizing of women’s white bodies, i knew oppression. i thought that because i was secretly dating a white woman in high school, that i knew seclusion—and in a profound way i did, mostly because of the shame i carried from only existing with her in behind the silence of our thighs and closed doors. and even though i cringe over my keyboard as i expose my liberal feminist tendencies, i am grateful for that mini, naïve, fresh-faced teenager because her fire unshackled me from not-knowing. i needed a way into feminism, into critique, into unearthing my pain. white liberal feminist theory gave me relatable language and frameworks. i also needed liberal feminism to stand against one day. there is something to be said about our trajectories of learning; they are curved, negating and contradicting. a continuous shedding of what no longer fits.
at this age, i had already grown up submerged in myself: my white face was everywhere. i was represented in media outlets with a personality and certain facets of humanity. in some modes of popular representation, i was shown as interesting, flawed, angry, sometimes intelligent and always happy—white women are always happy. in the representation of white women, i was allotted to privilege of seeing myself as a homeowner; as rich, liberated, full, content and alive. i saw myself with children in one arm and dreams in the other. the privilege and distinct comfort that i accumulated through the consumption of white supremacist media—that is, the relentless perpetuation and selling of images of (skinny able-bodied) white people as superior— is that there was a gamut of questions i did not have to ask myself, questions that people who are not represented in this way must ask every day. i learned that representation inculcates a kind of thinking that means you don’t have to ask any questions. to be represented is to be validated: capitalism whispering to you “we will sell you but we acknowledge your existence”. i know that people with disabilities and unfungible queers do not have this; queer trans people of color are not given this; i know when any person of color looks at the same billboard with two straight white people, there is a slice of themselves that question where they fit. when i see a white thin able-bodied cis-lady’s face on a billboard, i do not have to wonder the same things that people who are relentless erased from popular, public media does. i am validated by structures of oppressions, by capitalism, by the white beauty ideal. i do not have to wonder about my importance, my worth or even question the fact that it is okay that i am alive. i also don’t have to care for myself in the same fortitude as the marginalized do. there is less work to do when tending my wounds or regaining my humanity. and at the end of each day, i don’t have to hold my heart for longer.
i see now how growing up in tight dresses, (albeit with broad shoulders) and a gender of cis-girlhood, i was allotted the bounty of white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. even though i carried a plethora of bodily dysphoria, undiagnosed depression and a band of demons itching on the edges of my throat, i could also see myself in beauty products, movies and porn; in the kind of romantic love that is packaged, branded and sold. i had hollywood and Gloria Steinem on my side.
a part of younger me also understood through growing up a bit and learning about liberal feminism that i was a culmination of struggle: years and lineages and bones and shoulders of feminist resistance. the kind that assured their liberation through political, social and economic means—by smoking cigarettes; ticking a ballot; gaining property rights as a married woman; not changing every diaper; being able to exhale from institutionalized abortion procedures; the free allocation of contraception, and other liberal heteronormative achievements. i thought that as an 18-year-old feminist, the battle of my lifetime would be to show up at work with dreams and a briefcase, ready to fight for equal pay gap for women in the workplace. i thought it was that simple.
until i read bell hooks (all about love, Feminism is for Everyone, Teaching to Transgress) and Audre Lorde’s biomythography Zami, i happily swam in my white middle-class liberal feminism. it wasn’t until these two black american feminist writers that my flavor of feminism was problematized. it quickly became obvious that the same racist, capitalist, ableist and transphobic rhetoric existed in this same feminism i had found refuge in. in the margins of all the linguistic, theoretical, herstorical, poetic, revolutionary, critical and literary tools i had developed. looking back i know i needed liberal feminism to crawl out of my closet of being a survivor of sexual violence, of catcalling, of unwanted blowjobs and using apologies as the punctuation of who i was. as an angry closeted queer, i was thirsty for theory, as hooks has often said in reference to her own pedagogical awakenings. i did not recognize the deeply racist, classist, myopic and trans-exclusive theory and application of liberal feminism.
and so i guess it was necessary for me until it wasn’t. i needed to use my white womanhood as an entry point to feminism but it quickly grew redundant. it no longer fit. Gloria Steinem and Simone de Beauvoir sang hymns to me and healed scars in me as someone who had been interrupted, effaced, silenced and abused by patriarchs in such overt and insidious ways. but when i read the leaking wounds of Lorde writing about her life as a 30-year-old fat black lesbian in new york in the 60s, i knew none of it worked anymore. the beliefs i held were now paternalistic and inflated. what i filled my mind with was the same voice that hired black working class women to watch their children as they pranced away, liberated and employed. it was the same voice that denied the raw subjectivity of poor or working class women who had not been versed and trained with the same academic verbosity as white middle-class women. i was a fresher faced racist who alleviated their conscience by sleeping with and loving black men. and only once i started questioning the ivory pillars of my feminism did i heavily realize that my liberation praxis was standing on, bound to, ridden from the violent dehumanization of people of color, of queers, of people with disabilities, of working class folks, of genderqueer, trans, and gender non-binary people. Lorde held power in her stories of living in a world that despised her, one that was plastic, anti-human as she puts it. she wove me out of my own pop-consumerist feminism when she wrote about having sex with another fat black lesbian, sweaty thighs, damp summer afternoon. a kind of eroticism that made me feel, in the very limited i can as a white person, that there was deep, systematized red violence launched against her vulnerability and fullness.
this trajectory played intimately into my gender identity. when i learned about patriarchy, i instinctively associated it as men against women. the more i dated men who stuffed themselves in me, without question or apology, the more i thought men produced patriarchy and women carried it. in my mind, it was a neatly split divide of men are patriarchy, women are targets. but as i experienced varying facets of my own internalized patriarchy and understood how we are all individuals existing and floating as the machinery of this ideology—of white supremacist colonial-capitalist cis heteropatriarchy— i realized that it was all much more complex than this. i did not have to be a straight woman to experience patriarchy. i could experience it as a queer, too; i could taste it as someone who is gender non-conforming, too. it wasn’t bound to location or context either. patriarchy seemed to creep between my cutlery and the sanitized conversation over holiday dinners with my family, headed by a neo-conservative and (not-so) closeted racist patriarch commenting on my body weight like it was a compliment. and it could also find me late at night, whispering things to me as i squeezed and pinched different parts of my body. i learned while wishing away slices of my stomach that patriarchy was not just in the men that sexually assaulted me but that it lived in me, as well. and as i began unearthing the unwanted guests of patriarchy—of objectification, violent effacement, female competition, body obsession, gendered inadequacy, politeness and nonchalant blowjobs—i began to think of the textures and manifestations patriarchy took in me. and through shelves of white lady self-help books, broken tears, wild arguments with lovers and myself; through boundary setting, drugs, reckless communication, sex/fucking/love making; through meditation and writing, i began to acknowledge the bounty of my queerness. my love of both cunt eating and sucking dick, of god child, of woodland creature. out of living out an expansive and honest way of loving, i realized that maybe like the ruptures found in my liberal white feminism, i could be also question and re-moulded other parts of me too. if i could reclaim my sexuality as a pansexual polyamorous queer, which decisively drifts far and away from the heteronormative, monogamous, capitalist cisnormative forms of loving that we have been taught, maybe there would also be other pieces of me i could unbury (read: femininity, forgiveness, failure, curated families, orgasms, purpose, revolution).
while i was at a meditation course during the summer, i started to explore the truth under what i now understand to be my long-lived and stale gender performance. during this course, we were given instructions that we could not speak or communicate to any other student for the ten days we would be sitting. this silence was one of the most transformative aspects of the course for me. it allowed me to understand the gears and patterns of my thinking; the multitude of selves that live in me. it also taught me how to tend an ear to old selves: my twelve-year-old self, negated and backward; my eight-year-old teary blue eyed self, who was still gripping at daddy’s jeans; my fifteen-year-old self, so full of acidic and fizzing red anger. i learned about my neuroses and my organic inclination to worry and antagonize. and i also met the fullness of my creative, kind and hopeful self; my capacity to revel in otherworld, juicy dreams.
it was also through this silence that i began having elaborate conversations with god. it told me many things that i had always wished to be true: the body is a fleshed illusion; that i am made of bubbling, golden love (“far beyond your physical iteration” it said to me); it told me that i am whole, kind and pulsing. that gender was a joke, a collective falling of human consciousness—a series of choices where we chose to capitalize, profit, exploit, categorize our differences instead of celebrating them. in these days of silence, i felt that i was more golden than i was gender, more fleshed and wild than i was woman. i was a dreamer with a cunt—the channel where my dreams and fears and intuition leaked from. one of the more lucid memories i had was me at 5-year old, telling my mom that i was done wearing dresses and that i wanted spikey hair. telling truth before i was addicted of hiding it. i also remembered all the times i would be getting ready with some friends, who were all socialized as women, and feeling like a bulging performer in a type black dress going out dancing. it was a really fucked up melange of feeling comfortable because i was conforming to the aesthetic, performance and identity that cisgender heteronormativity wanted from me while feeling a kind of visceral itch in my skin from it just not being right. my shoulders were always too big, too bulging, too heavy for t-shirts; my mouth too obscene for complicit femininity. and the more i sat within myself during this meditation course, the more i came to realize that both body and gender were ornamental expressions of who i really was, which was a trying revolutionary, a dreaming artist, a femme lumberjack who likes fucking shower heads. a human who prays and names brilliance in other people, all while breathing in the whites of their eyes.
Nicole Lachance and is a queer, gender non-binary white person who finds refuge from white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy in poems, community, writing and getting lost in the whites of eyes.