I just checked and seven out of nine of my most recent posts came across as 'male'. Particularly odd because I thought the last week's subject matter, detoxes, writing, cooking, pole dancing has all been deeply girlie, (unusually so for me.) I checked out some other posts from the 'best bits' sidebar - all 'male' too. Then I stuck a few chapters from the book into the Genie. It comes out 'male' as well, though only just - about 52% male and 48% female, whereas the blog posts are much more definitely male. So when I write, I am mostly a bloke, it seems. How confusing.
I'm not sure that people must remain 'in gender' at all times - that their gender informs and affects and defines every aspect of their life, the internal as well as the external. It has never occured to me that gender defines how people think and write and communicate. Maybe for some people it does, and I may have underestimated quite how much, but for so many people, myself included, it seems to be a lot more fluid. I certainly don't think of myself as writing 'as a woman' or 'as a man' when I start typing: I just write.
I was talking about this recently to a female friend who is a professional writer, and she was saying that one of the publications she writes for has a policy of not giving writers' bylines but simply listing all the contributors at the end in alphabetical order. This, she said, gave her a great sense of freedom, as people could read her work (which, for this publication, is is political commentary and satire) without filtering it through a 'oooh, a woman wrote this' lens first. She says she writes 'like a man' anyway and that everybody she knows thinks so too. (I will put some of her stuff through the gender genie and find out if the programme agrees.)
There are some people who do seem to make a very conscious effort to write 'as a woman' or 'as a man': having just read the Sunday Times I was particularly annoyed by the inane twitterings of colunist India Knight who was banging on this week about women and shoes. Again. Are women all really obsessed with shoes? (Or with chocolate for that matter, the other great cliche that keeps doing the rounds in opinion columns?) I know quite a few men whom I would say are pretty damn fixated with trainers, one guy I know posseses over fifty pairs kept in their original boxes. I know plenty of men who are obsessed with records, owning thousands and thousands of them and spending hours on the decks mixing them.
I cannot ever recall meeting a woman who is fixated or fascinated with shoes, or who buys shoes as 'therapy'. Yet this 'all women love shoes' thing keeps appearing in print. But could it be just me? It could be that the women-shoes-chocs-thing is actually true, not just lazy journalism. Perhaps my habit of forgetting that I have been given a box of chocolates (I tend to shove them in a cupboard ''for when visitors come round'' only to find them years later when moving house), means I am an anomaly amongst my female peers, who according to the popular wisdom of columnists, are unable to get a box of All Gold without devouring them all in one go, preferably whilst reading a magazine about a celebrity's cellulite problem. (Though when Allan at Green River chocolates sent me a wonderfully kind gift of some of his wares, my friends - male and female - and colleagues - feasted with much joy and gratitude. They were quite spectacular.)
Maybe the fact that I habitually buy two pairs of knee length boots each winter, one pair with a heel, one flat pair, and wear them day in, day out, with everything - until it gets warm enough to go back to wearing sandals - means I am not a proper woman. Possibly that is why no woman has confessed to me that she lies awake at night fantasising about malibou mules: I must give off an air of being a lost cause to the shoe-fetishising secret sisterhood. I like clothes, but I absolutely hate shopping for them. I know what suits me, I work out where I can probably find it, and then I go in and get it and come straight out again. I tend to find one shop which has a lot of stuff I like and get what I need from there all in one go, then belt straight home. Sorted for six months. Apparently this is ''how men shop''. (I thought it was just how people who don't like shopping, shop. ) Perhaps I am in denial and a trite newspaper column and a linguistics software programme has made me start to realise a truth about myself that I never recognised until now. Perhaps I am not a normal woman.
And yet, I absolutely feel like a woman, and I love being a woman. A woman who dislikes shopping for clothes and shoes and who is not very interested in chocolate. A woman who apparently writes like a man. Argh.
This is all is making me explore my attitudes towards what I understand by 'gender'. I have never understood the taboo about the crossing from one gender to another, whether as a playful experimental visit, or a desire to find and honour one's true self. Gender has always seemed a label, one of many labels, rather than the main definition of who a person is.
Pondering it, I think that I have always seen something magical and powerful about moving between genders, and it has just occurred to me that since I was a teenager I have constantly had one or more friends in my life who are TV or TG ( transvestite or trans-gender). I never really thought about it until now, but it's possible that my 'masculine' writing style is a clue. Perhaps I have a masculine thinking style too? Mind of a man, body of a woman? Do I like mixing up the kaleidescope of gender and sexuality and labels because I am somewhat 'mixed up' myself? But it doesn't feel like that at all. It just feels like I don't fit a bunch of popular stereotypes. And, frankly, nor does any else one I know. Surely the definition of gender and sexuality is far more interesting and complex than how it is usually presented to us, and, to use a well-worn phrase, we can 'think in colour not black and white. And maybe that is why I've always had friends who are from all the shades of the spectrum; and I think of myself as lucky, and honoured, to know so many interesting and wonderful people.
Last night I was out with J and my friend Jane, and a good friend of ours, whom we have known for about eight years, and who has recently started being more public about his desire to dress up. So 'Deborah' my friend's alter-ego has been making more appearances recently, first at parties or meals at friend's houses, then in public. We went to the Black Cap ( a gay pub) in Camden, where it turned out that there was a Halloween party going on ( damn, I could have dressed up as well in my fallen angel outfit with my red feathered wings and my ace wig, if I'd known). Afterwards, J, Jane, and Deborah came back to our flat and drank tea and gassed on 'til about 3am. Deborah bemoaned her lack of money and wardrobe, asked if Jane or I were thinking of taking any clothes to charity shops, if so, could she have a look first? So I had a rummage, and I found Deborah some clothes which were too big for me - a beautiful black trouser suit, a black skirt with a knee-flounce, a couple of V necked sweaters, two dresses, and also some Clarins and Boots makeup and skin care samples which were not my skin type or colour but which were just right for my friend. And Deborah was absolutely delighted and went home in a new outfit and swinging a big bag of goodies. And I was delighted to see my friend so happy ( and to see my clothes looking so good on someone else!)
For Deborah, dressing up in feminine clothes and wearing make up is something compelling, frightening and wonderful. It's about freedom and self-expression and playfulness and courage. Being Deborah is a means of expressing something very powerful. I feel honoured that Deborah feels she can express herself so happily in my company. I enjoy being with Deborah and I also enjoy being with my friend when he is in his everyday identity ( earlier in the day we went to Arsenal together to watch the team play in the new stadium and drank lager and sang along with the chants, drinking in the atmosphere of blokeish bonhomie).
So it's all mixed up, and I think that is a good thing. I am glad that it is this way, my life feels richer and more truthful and satisfying for not conforming to these media stereotypes and for being full of friendships with people who do not conform either. If the price I pay is getting utterly fed up with columns in Sunday newspapers, and being regularly puzzled by published definitions of ''masculine'' and ''feminine'' self-expression - art, music, writing, whatever - then it is a price worth paying, to live happily in a rainbow world.