Childhood Lessons

Gender is the sharpest playground I know.  It is a space we move through, we play on it, with it, some of us have our favorite thing: monkey bars or seesaws or slides, male, female, both, neither, other.  Some of us don’t.  If you fall, you can be cut.  We play, and some of us come away with bruises.  It’s dizzying, though, the freedom.  It’s stunning what you can see just on the horizon as you swing higher and higher.  It has taught me something very valuable.  Don’t throw rocks.  Never throw rocks.  The world is dangerous enough as it is.

Gender and the Notion of a Wedding

So, I’m taking part in this this odd cultural institution that seems to be present in all societies across the globe, though it’s conceived of differently in each one.  I’m going to be getting married.

Now, just saying that comes with a host of assumptions.  Being female-bodied and vaguely identifying in that direction (making me an uncozily cisgendered person), people have asked me about things like flowers and dresses and all that nonsense.  But the fact is, not only are these things that don’t interest me in the least, I’m not the person in this couple whom you should be asking.

My future spouse, male-bodied, and queer identifying, is.  We are sewing him a dress.  With ruffles.  We are pulling out all the stops for him to get to look pretty: sugaring his body, purchasing makeup, investing in more peacock feathers than I can comprehend.  This is all for him to wear.  As a result, we both kind of think of him as the bride.  It’s his day, after all.  No one should be prettier than him.  Or I’ll punch them.

Me?  I’m stitching a skirt out of a rainbow of neckties, that I think of more as a kilt than a skirt.  In more ways than one, I’m really the groom here.  It’s a not so odd reversal for two people who sit oddly with the gender roles they’ve been handed, neither fully accepting nor rejecting them.  It’s one way out of many to address the demands that such roles create.  Our relationship has been one of fluid boundaries and exploration of these ideas because, well, they’re pretty strict boundaries, confusing and uncomfortable because of their rigidity.

The real trouble comes in when our play and redefinitions and restructuring— according to what in all practicality works best for us— butt up against the law.  Or sometimes the lack thereof.  When we applied for our marriage license, there were spaces for the groom and bride.  On the surface, it makes sense.  Floridians went ahead and passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a contract between one man and one woman.  My feelings toward that aside, I had to list myself as the bride on the form or risk invalidating the entire process.  In all matters up to this point, I had been addressed by close friends as the “guy” here.  The magical grill lighter.  She-who-fixes-shit.  The one who gets the bachelor party.  With strippers.  Probably some queer burlesque thing; you’ll either have to ask my best man about what he’s planning, or inquire after the party.  Suddenly, signing a form that asked about a maiden name and labeling me as “bride” made me feel about two inches tall.

There’s also the matter of a name.  Not only am I keeping mine, my bride-to-be is taking this name as well.  We’ll be the “Boyle” household.  But here’s the rub: Florida has no law one way or the other about gender and name change.  It just states that a marriage license is one of the documents that can be furnished when getting a new name on a driver’s license.  No mention of gender.  No language that says “man” or “woman.”  This doesn’t stop employees of the DMV from denying new licenses to recently married men on the grounds that they have to do the lengthy paid name change process.  It’s a matter of desk clerk law.  Whoever sits on the other side of that desk holds the fate of the Boyle household in their hands… well, maybe not fate, but whether this process is easy or becomes stupidly difficult.

In the sea of terrible injustices out there, yes, these are small matters.  I am well aware that there are those who will point out all the people who can’t marry, people who face jail or death for being gay or trans in countries with bigoted leaders and queerphobic cultures, because they have pointed it out already.  That I shouldn’t complain or talk about my experiences at all because they are “trivial.”

But perhaps it’s more useful to look at it this way: that like anything else regarding boxes, identities, and how people fit, there are firm cultural edifices.  They are walls that we are personally scraped against.  Some people are dashed into them headlong, some people lose limbs dragged across their surface.  My spouse-to-be and I?  We’ve gotten a few bloody scrapes.  They’re ouchy.  We’re not doing it to make a statement, we’re not pretending to be a certain way to stand out.  We, like everyone else, are getting by in ways that work for us.  That fact that we fit somewhere in between gives us certain privileges; it’s closer to the rigid model.  There are parts of us that can squeeze by, only grazing the wall.  There’s less that has to be shorn off in order to jam us in.  But parts have to be shorn off.  That doesn’t make any of it right or pleasant or fun.