Who (should) wear(s) makeup? Perhaps the immediate answer produced by the swiftness of brain signals between neurons would say that women should (or perhaps inherently just do) wear makeup. But what happens when a Man wears makeup? The brain will automatically create a series of associations when it sees a Man wearing makeup. He (might) is gay. He is a Drag Queen. He wants to be a girl. He is confused.
In the same way, if a Woman then dons an aesthetic that is (supposedly) intrinsically reserved for men, the brain creates another series of associations. While the absence of makeup may not be what signals “Man”, if a Woman wears clothes that are traditionally/historically masculine, she is suddenly seen as a lesbian, butch, wants to be a boy, confused.
But this is how the world is, right? As are all things, our world is far more complicated.
I recently attended a party where the aim was to disrupt our hegemonic societal understanding of the “Genders”, which are the Man/Woman binary. Part of the Invitation reads (from the hosts),
“TROUBLE that gender binary so it no longer knows which way is up – or male, or female, or straight, or gay, or ‘real’! Efface boundaries, displace them or sit on them! “
What does this mean? The space that was created in this party was done so with the purpose to disrupt the automatic assumptions we make when we see someone, in every regard. Does a man that wears makeup have his sexuality determined by it? Are they Gay? Are they trying to be a girl? The answers aren’t simple, because they aren’t meant to be. Why can’t anyone, regardless of gender (or sexuality), wear makeup? Why is it that only Men can rock a tuxedo or “male attire”? Why can a Man not wear a dress and be heterosexual, or bisexual, or asexual? Why can’t men wear heels and that not be an indication of their gender identity as Man, Woman, or genderless? Why are we bound by our ideas of what is “natural” for a Man/Woman to do, wear, express?
I went to the party intending to disrupt this false binary. I rocked a summer sports blazer, some swagger shorts, and some A-game leather shoes.. To trouble Gender, I got some skilled homies to swag out my face w/ some fierce-as-fuck makeup. I was looking fly (see the picture of me in the series). Shocking? To some of you reading, probably, but lets talk about how “shocking” me having some makeup on is.
I identify as a Man. I identify as Heterosexual (although I believe sexuality is fluid, we’ll keep it here for now). But these two identification should not, and do not, define how I decide to express those identities. My applying makeup did not suddenly make me a Woman or Gay/Bisexial/Pansexual/Asexual. But this is the point. What if tomorrow I decided to rock makeup everyday or when I felt like it. Does that make me less of a man or change my sexual orientation? If your answer is yes – then please, enlighten me. Why does makeup do that? Seriously, come at me bro!
The reason this space is necessary, to trouble gender, is because we are unable to express ourselves as we see fit in our everyday lives. As you go through the series, think about wether or not you could see everyone walking outside as they appear without experiencing a form of violence. Because this is what it gets down to. Some of us who do not express ourselves in the ways that match up with the Man/Woman binary as hegemonic patriarchy defines it aren’t safe to walk the streets or enter certain spaces. They/we experience discrimination, hate, and are even murdered for “troubling gender”. Troubling gender comes at the cost of (potentially) losing your humanity.
That is not to say that those of us who express ourselves in a way that aligns with heteronormativity should suddenly trouble gender just because (well, we should – #counterNarratives), because as you will see in the series, some do embody that heteronormative expression. But the point is that troubling gender realizes that gender identity, and how we decide to express it, exists on a spectrum, and a Woman rocking makeup and a dress and heels exists on that spectrum alongside the dude who rocks a suit and makeup, and so on. The binary isn’t real. It is imposed, violently .This space was a challenge to that hegemony.
We should also realize that this doesn’t mean identity isn’t important. Identities that are linked to the aesthetic productions of our bodies, are in many ways political, and serve the purpose of building community, organizing, and creating solidarity. But again, the point to stress here is that these identities need to exist on a spectrum that the binary doesn’t allow to exist. And thus we return to “Gender Trouble!” and the reason I and the homies who came to this party decided to create this mini-series of portraits.
When you go through the series, question your assumptions about what you see and how these assumptions may not translate unto reality. What can you tell from just looking at these photographs? Can you identify sexual orientation, sex, gender? But perhaps more importantly, should you? Part of this discussion is engaging with what agency means. Part one of this is simply to question your assumptions. Part two is to allow for people to self identify and accept that identification. When you come across my picture, accept my identifying as a Man and as Heterosexual, don’t invalidate it only because I have some makeup on.
To bring in some theory into the fold – it may be helpful to think about Gender as a “Performance” (shoutout to Judith Butler!). Gender expression is not static – we have history to prove it. Our performance should not be relegated to the binary. It should be what one decides to make of it. Essentially, you do you!
Let us change them brain signals!
Enjoy! And share away. (Click on photo for Flickr Album!)
Here are some quotes from the people who attended the party that are helpful in understanding (at greater depth) what was being done.
“To me, troubling gender is to prevent categorization and classification, because we should have no further label than ‘human’. It’s saying ‘fuck you’ to what is expected and living in the gorgeous, inescapable chaos of what is true to you. And for me yesterday, it was realizing and mocking the laughability of stereotypes and hegemonic ideals.”
“Troubling gender for me means not ony challenging patriarchal, capitalsit and imperialist power, but it also implies showing this power, subverting, mocking, ridiculising it, showing overtly its very impossibility, un-credibility and rendering it inauthoritative. it fucks power up. also, i just wanna say that the space that was created yesterday was incredible, i think that something really happened at that moment – love!”
“Gender troubling is liberating. I used to see gender as a “loss”, constraint, oppression.I’ve grown to see gender as possibilities, endless possibilities. I wore my half scrubbed-off beard on the underground home, and I’ve never held my head higher.”
“wearing’ two exaggerated genders on my face, both loathed and loved, made me confront my own gender performance… ‘troubeling gender’ as challenging the self and liberating us to flower out fully, self-reflected, true and uncompromising.”
” ‘ “I want to break free” – Freddie Mercury’ “
“The gender binary is as essentialising as any other binaries, they prescribe behaviour, looks, and attitude, so only certain bodies conform to the norm and passes unnoticed. That is not good enough.”
“Yesterday I had the space and the amazing people to express what I have in my head. Troubling gender is not following a prescription. It is combining categories, playing with them and not belonging. It is that people have a hard time telling “what” you are. Once you play with your gender identity and labels, you’re playing with patriarchy and its heteronormativity.”