There was just a fad going around on Facebook for a gender swapping photo utility. I tried it twice. The first time I got a male version who looks like an uptight churchy type that just got busted for something unwholesome.
I didn’t like that guy at all, so I tried it again and got an old hippie surf bum who lives in a restored Airstream and makes handcrafted pottery while listening to Neil Young, and he seems a little friendlier.
I have a very relaxed concept of gender. I’m straight, but a lesbian friend used to call me a “straight butch,” meaning that I’m more about the video games and cheeseburgers than the housekeeping and matching towels, and I tend to fall for long-haired boys who like music and literature and cooking.
I grew up in the crazy Bay Area, though. I’ve always tended to have more gay and lesbian friends than straight ones, due to my refusal to conform to gender norms. I’ve had a few trans friends, and although I tend to get along with them on a one-to-one level, I find their orientation utterly incomprehensible, because if I was a guy I’d be the same science fiction reading, Converse sneaker wearing, pizza eating, video game afficionado that I am as a girl. Sure, I might be better at opening pickle jars. I might even have some rudimentary sports knowledge to replace my rudimentary makeup knowledge. To me, going around emphasizing your gender all the time is like dancing the Charleston – something people used to be into, and take very seriously, which can be entertaining if skillfully executed and stupid if not.
Gender is not really a big deal in my life, and I don’t really understand the perspective of someone deeply affected by it. Anyway, this has to do with why I don’t tend to write about trans people and their experiences; I’d probably do an awkward job. Gender nonconformists, a-gender characters, asexual people, people whose private lives are none of our beeswax – that I do get, and I always try to include characters in those categories.
If I were a guy I’d have a whole different set of social experiences, but there’s no way to tell whether they’d be better or worse. Maybe I’d have a wife, or a husband, who would look after my Oscar Madison tendencies or maybe I would have a string of divorces and child support payments – that’s another area that depends entirely on the people I meet. Gender is a social thing and I’m an introvert.
I’m not uncomfortable with the concept of femininity, mind you. I own several dresses and skirts, plus I indulge in romance novels and girly pop music and pictures of adorable kitties. I never met a small fluffy animal I didn’t like. I’d probably be that way even if I were a guy.
This whole exaggerated hard-style (as they call it in anime, that super machismo display where you never smile or eat cake or register emotion) masculinity performance that kids are doing these days is sort of goofy to those of us who didn’t grow up with it. In an atmosphere of rigid gender pressure, no wonder some people are in rebellion. And I realize that sounds all smug and superior and I’m sorry; I do realize people undergo a lot of suffering over gender. Which is why it’s a situation I try not to approach in a head-on collision sort of way.
These gender swap photos fascinate me because my story involves a bunch of rather narcissistic clones … and one girl version, one of a few, resulting from a test of whether they could. The difference between a pretty girl face and a rugged man face is pretty close, and at the same time, worlds apart. Female faces can be like brightly painted masks that shine everyone on, while male faces invite us to speculate about their status and personality and experiences. My character, accustomed to her male counterparts, learns how to do the gender performance thing from another woman – with amazing success.
As far as teenage romance, the kind the rock stars sing about, the kind where you fall passionately in love and then have a big dramatic breakup after a little while so you can do it again with someone else – I grasp that very well. And I’m having a blast writing about it. Mostly about opposite-gender kids so far, but there might be same-gender kids in my future, all depending on where my characters lead me.