Gender: The Final Frontier

3.24.2008

By Josh Kilmer-Purcell

Ten years ago, the then-editor in chief of this very magazine declared himself to be 'post-gay.' He was also soon, perhaps not coincidentally, declared 'post-editor.'

So it's with a little hesitation (I have two mortgages) that I'm using this trans issue to declare myself 'post-gender.'

From this day forward I'm not going to use the words masculine, feminine, or any of their derivations. They're meaningless, useless, and far too often meant as weapons rather than compliments.

Over the years, I've been introduced as everything from a 'former drag queen' (correct) to an 'it' (on a conservative radio show). It's true that I spent a good part of my 20s wearing heels and wigs. It's also true that I've spent a good deal of my 30s sporting a beard and receding hairline. But truest of all is that people are far more obsessed with this duality than I ever was.

Don't get me wrong, I've exploited gender identity every chance I've gotten. In my work life I've butched it up for corporate meetings and femmed it up when I needed to appear 'artsy.' I've been called effeminate, masculine, nelly, straight-acting, and even -- shudder -- matronly. From the first time I used my costume to pick up a straight guy at a club to the first time I used my ex'drag queen status to draw mainstream PR attention to my writing, I've been an avowed gender legerdemainist.

Maybe the fact that I've straddled the spectrum of 'man' and 'woman' (sometimes literally) makes me more skeptical of the definition of each. Straight or gay, most humans define their gender by their genitalia and what they prefer to do with it. Many are obsessed with it. Hands down, the most oft-asked question of drag queens is 'Where do you put your dick?' My answer, of course: 'Wherever the hell you want it.'

My penis has a fairly extensive r'sum'. It's slept with other drag queens and been fondled by butch lesbians. It has orgasmed both in and out of women's panties -- often someplace halfway between. Although it's been a long time, my penis at one time made itself at home in vaginas -- and it doesn't remember it to be at all unpleasurable. It has been jerked off to straight porn and offered to straight jerks. None of my penis's accomplishments or failures make me less of a man or more of a woman, or more manly or less femmy. They just make me a person very happy to live in an age of antibiotics.

I've found that pretty much the only people who don't define themselves and others by their genitalia are trans people. Probably because they've spent more than a passing minute contemplating the existence of their hoo-has and ha-hoos.

So if it's not our crotches and their playgrounds that define masculinity and femininity, what is it? This is where time as a drag queen pays off. I've learned that the dick does not make the man -- or the woman -- the performance does. Having the smoothest tuck on the planet means nothing without the moves and mind-set.

And that's where many problems of a gender-obsessed society lie. We tend to ascribe gender terms to aspects of our day-to-day performances that have nothing, in actuality, to do with gender at all. We describe the ability to share feelings as 'feminine.' We label forthrightness as 'masculine.' Are you empathetic? You're a woman. Strong-willed? A man. Unless you're a bitch.

We gays are often the worst offenders. We bristle when straights consider us 'just one of the girls,' yet we have no problem insisting upon 'no fems' in our personal ads. And what is our definition of 'fem'? Lisping? Think of all the women you know. Do any of them lisp? We sometimes stoop to come up with artificial constructs merely to be sure that we can put everyone, including our own queer selves, into a comfortably binary world.

Attaching behaviors to gender just doesn't work. As I look at all the men and women and trans people in my life, I honestly cannot pick out any behavioral trend that doesn't cross borders as easily as some of us cross-dress.

So I'm done with it. I'm post-gender. Let other people worry about whether I'm fem, manly, queeny, butch, whatever. I'm tired of my day-to-day performance being presented as a sort of cultural quiz show: Name That Chromosome.

Then again, maybe I'm just emo.

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