Monday, January 21, 2008

Perceptions of Masculinity

Growing up in western North America in the 1990's has left many imprints of time and place on my character. I remember the conversations of my conservative family members, generations rooted in resource based industry, loggers, ranchers, farmers, and trades peoples, around the dinner table as a child. I remember the attitudes of anti-francophone, western Canadians during the Quebec referendum. I remember the internal conflicts created between my own budding activist and conservationist politics, with the familiarity with irresponsible forest management. My young vegetarian tendencies clashing with the meat and potatoes of a working family. I have grown and despite how much of a head-spin it may have caused me at 17 to be told that within ten years I wouldn't be as "left" as I was then, I can see my extremism settling into attitudes built up from a whole different set of influences, a queer feminist politic that considers the environment, but also critically analyzes class and privilege and doesn't necessarily make all of the most "socially-responsible" decisions, but does help me do whats right for me. Self care. I was also raised with an idea of self care that has evolved, and is no longer so centered around fear. Other childhood dinner table memories I have include the kidnapping of Michael Dunahee, and the constant awareness that a young girl like myself shouldn't be out alone, especially at night, if I didn't want to get raped. Rape was a constant threat, I think I was afraid of being raped long before I understood what rape was or had any idea about sex, sexuality, consent, abuse, etc. As my appearance to the world has changed, and rather rapidly, my role within the Rape victim/potential rapist street theater has reversed. I started noticing the different attitudes of women around me long before I started medically transitioning, but the reactions that now remind me of how much I have changed are those of the men. I was walking down the street the other night, amped from derby practice and going over to a friends house when the man I was following on the street, an older guy, maybe 35-40, suit and briefcase, turned and asked over his shoulder, "you aren't going to mug me are you?"
I was shocked, I suppose I was larger and younger than him, dressed in a lower income bracket's uniform of a plaid loggers jacket and jeans, but I was so surprised. I just sort of laughed and said, "well no, are you gonna mug me?".
I can't seem to shake some of the lessons that I absorbed as a child, and even the ones I never fully adopted, but heard, took into consideration, criticized and lived with in the back of my mind. My grandfathers racism, my uncles belligerence to environmentalists, and the word of every woman around me; that women are too often victims, and that we'd best live with fear. A fear that keeps my grandmother in her apartment, even in fear there, that some young punks will break in and steal her belongings and beat her up. A fear of young, rough looking men, especially in groups, or if they are wandering, smoking, lurking, looking, running, wearing working clothes, people of colour, listening to music, carrying anything, looking stoked, looking suspicious, looking alternative, among scores of other profiles that we learn as children. The villain has a moustache. The villain has broad shoulders. The villain is wearing black. The villain is out to get you, beat you up, rape you, violate you and make the night a time to sit in front of the television or carry mace. I am the villain. I have learned to fear him, I have feared him for years. And now all of sudden, despite my kind caring compassionate character and soft inside, and biologically female body, I have become HIM. The one that carries your fear through the night. And I recognize that we all have a lot to un-learn.

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