I want to show straight men and gay men alike that self-care and grooming isn’t mutually exclusive with, like, femininity or masculinity.
~ Jonathan Van Ness
People talk a lot about how ideas, personality traits, political and religious world views—and more—are filled with mutually exclusive ideas. Even, in my book, Living with Crossdressing: Discovering your True Identity, I stated on so many of the pages the ideology the components of the human body and psyche can be mutually exclusive tenants… that our biology, our gender identity, our gender expression, our use of personal pronouns (for ourselves), and our sexual and romantic attractions are all their own separate forms and not hinged on one or more of the others. But, I, also, wrote about the fact that many of the expressions that define us do happen to fall in line with each other. For me, while my gender expression is prototypically either masculine or feminine when dressed as my male self or as Savannah, respectively, my gender identity is more of an amalgam of both masculinity and femininity. I find myself as more empathetic. I can cry easier. I am more of a romantic and optimistic in my worldviews of people, in general. On the other hand, I’m not a fan of gardening or housework (although, I do find washing dishes relaxing).
How often are you surprised or taken aback after making wrongful assumptions about a person based on your own previous experiences? I expected all citizens here in the South to be intolerant of a dual-gender individual such as myself. That was not the case. I expected myself to be the only crossdressing man to exist here in the great Upstate of South Carolina. That is also proving to be false. There is, in fact, a vibrant LGBTQ+ community here growing stronger all the time. Yes, I did bear witness to the fervor of protesters at the Drag Queen Story Hour at the Five Forks Library in Greenville, South Carolina. But, at the same event, I met a woman from the opposition who was tearful and distraught as she witnessed the hateful rhetoric of the members of her congregation, apologizing to me for them. She demonstrated, in my opinion, what being a loving Christian was truly all about. If she is reading this, I want her to know that I carry her grace with me, always.
We have been born and bred to believe that we have distinct roles and responsibilities. We have been conditioned with the expectation, for ourselves and from others, to conduct ourselves in a certain manner. If we are biologically male, we are meant to behave “like men”. To act more feminine is to lower our role and standard to a weaker and lesser “sex”. Conversely, it is accepted practice that women act and dress more like men—but only to the point where they are not in direct competition with men. What these generalized examples convey is that we are all victims of long-developed gender standards and roles. Luckily, those “defined” gender roles are slowly blurring and unravelling, allowing for anyone to pursue whatever vocation, career and lifestyle they deem best for themselves. It is a slowly-moving train, but it is moving.
Along with the practical nature of how the sexes are adapting to roles previously assigned to a specific biological gender, there is the matter of understanding ourselves on a much more personal and deeper level. My good friend, Walter, upon meeting Savannah for the first time, led me (and his wife, Dotty) on an amazing conversation to find out more about who Savannah was and how she fit into the totality of my life. At one point, he asked, “how did you get so brave?” I balked, never considering myself fearless, especially when expressing myself in my feminine form. Here was a man, though, with whom I had just met, making a judgement call on my supposed vast capacity for bravery. What I had forgotten was the old adages that “… bravery is not the absence of fear, but the actions taken in spite of it…” and “… there is no bravery without fear…”.
The point is… fear is not mutually exclusive of bravery. Femininity is not the absence of masculinity. Love is not the opposite of hate. Strength and vulnerability are not mutually exclusive. While I stand behind my words stating the psychological and physical components of self can all live mutually exclusive from social “norms” expectations and assumptions, the true note to take away from that statement is that our birth biology or gender identity is not a presupposition or limiter of who we are at our true hearts and minds as individuals. What this article touches on is our belief systems. While we aspire to show strength, we shake our heads at our recurring vulnerabilities. We find our anger is easier to illicit than our compassion. These supposed opposite emotional concepts are, in fact, not distinct opposites that cannot be experienced in the same breath. We cannot have strength without weakness. We have been conditioned, though, to believe weakness, in itself, is a weakness. To open your heart and be vulnerable to others… to ignore our quick tempers in favor of understanding, compassion, and selflessness… these are a show of strength. To go out into the world as the authentic person you know yourself to be takes bravery and strength, especially in the face of intolerance, ignorance, misinformation, and misunderstanding.
Do not be limited in your belief of who you truly are. Do not be a mindless and easily-led cow through the metal chutes to the slaughter, believing that we can only live our lives in one specific and homogenized manner. Do not be so critical of the supposed missteps of our own intolerances or assume failings. What makes us “us” is the amalgam of emotion and intellect from our minds, hearts, and souls—all wrapped up in a sturdy—but, moldable—shell transparent enough to allow us to radiant out our best selves to the world.