Thursday, April 12, 2012

Processes of Feminization: Becoming Myself

Eva Rivera is a proud lesbian Chicana, daughter, sister and sex worker who can walk in 6 inch heels and twirl naked on a pole in front of total strangers but is still viciously afraid of moths. She hails from Fresno, CA and is a poet and aspiring film maker. You can find her more personal writing on her blog.  

I watched my father’s expressions carefully as he explained how important it was to know how the Founding Fathers shaped America. He stood up for this lecture, held the Federalist Papers in his hand and pronounced his words slowly and carefully and with so much pride. I was maybe twelve and blooming into a nerd who didn’t really fit into any clique at school and was unsure about where I was going. The only thing I was really certain of, was that Men were smarter, better at most things and leaders of pretty much everything. Women were good at raising kids and thought with our hearts instead of our brains. After his lecture I retreated back into my bedroom and glared at the short row of blonde dolls on my floor. I had three and they were all named Jessica. I kicked them into the closet and started writing a poem in my diary. That day I decided I wanted to be someone that people were proud to talk about and who did important things and I couldn’t do that being a girl.

I don’t blame my father for this pattern of thinking. I heard about all the wonderful things white men did in school, church and the media too. My parents were just one source of information. I’m not sure at what point I just gave up the whole girly thing. I just remember making a very conscious decision to not act, look, talk in a feminine way at a young age and that meant erasing and destroying some parts of myself that came naturally to me. That definitely messed with my self image and fed into my severe depression growing up. When I finally realized that I could actually be smart, funny, a leader, and good at most things I do and still be feminine I was thrilled. But the process of getting back to that place where I felt most at home in my skin was terrifying at times and challenging always.

The trouble was that my definition of what feminine meant and how that felt to me as a lesbian, working class, Chicana (and now as a sex worker) was different than what I was being told to do and be. On one hand, the media and society-in-general was showing me images of feminine beauty that didn’t work for me and trying to pretzel myself into those images was damaging. On the other hand, many of my friends and acquaintances who were all part of social justice groups, attended rallies and claimed to be fighting oppression had their own rules on how a woman should act. It was all very confusing. Instead of simply embracing the feminine aspects that I liked, rejecting those that felt contrived to me and going about life like I was in charge of my own body, I had to dodge bullets from both sides. My friends thought I was changing (I was! Becoming yourself can really change you) and scoffed when I started wearing makeup or dressing up in bright bold colors and “girly” clothes. I started to avoid them or act like “my old self” around them so they would be comfortable.

Then I moved and though I miss them dearly, I’ve been able to step back and decide what makes me comfortable and what doesn’t. I am able to experiment with ideas, actions, my physical appearance now without feeling like I’m betraying anyone. By the time I go back home, I’ll be confident enough in myself to not shape my actions and image to fit anyone else’s ideas of how I should act and look.

Sex is on a whole new level. Sex is so much more fun when you are totally comfortable with yourself, your body and your desires. My rediscovery of my femininity has allowed me to play with fantasies that I considered exciting but taboo because I wasn’t sure that I could emotionally handle the roles that I badly wanted to embody. I had too much to unpack back then but now I wear my sexuality comfortably.

As a lesbian, femininity is proving daily how queer you really are. If I’m not butch or alternative looking then I’m trying to pass as straight. If I wear high heels and curl my hair then I’m dressing up for the male gaze. To the straight world, being a feminine lesbian just doesn’t make sense at all. How many times a week do I hear “what a waste” when I say that I’m not interested in dating men or passing by holding my butch girlfriend’s hand?  The privilege that I do have is not being targeted for harassment for being obviously queer like so many of my lesbian sisters. That doesn’t make hearing dismissive comments any less painful though.

Being feminine is being desired and hated at the same time. A feminine body or mind is expected to be open and receiving to everything from others’ emotional baggage to sexual fantasies of total strangers. At the same time, receptivity (not that this defines femininity by any means) is considered weak and inferior. The result of this is often violence. Femininity is to be present for other’s needs and then destroyed for its perceived weaknesses.

Being feminine and of color is especially dangerous. Not just because we are a walking target for racist, stereotyped sexual fantasies but because so often we are blamed for being that. I am Latina so I shouldn’t press my luck by acting and dressing too “spicy” too provocative. I can’t be a femme as I want to be because then I am acting out my own stereotype and perpetuating it further and drawing in potential violence. I cannot act, speak, dress or think feminine on my own accord or because I am being myself. Being a woman of color means that whatever I do, I do on account of being Latina. If I am femme, it’s because that’s how I was raised to be in that culture.

Being feminine and a sex worker is something new. I’ve explored aspects of it and have thought about the ways it collides with my own definition of femininity and the ways it contradicts it and the ways it has nothing to do with it at all. This will be the subject of my next post.