my gender is cowardice.

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remember kisschasey? that’s where it started.

it was the first year of school, so we would’ve all been five years old. The way the game works is that girls get a head-start then the boys take off to catch and kiss a girl each, after which the pursuit reverses, with the girl chasing the boy to kiss him back. No-one was sure whether I should be on the boys’ team, or the girls’ team. No-one, including me. Many of the girls were my friends, so I naturally wanted to be pack with them, and I certainly didn’t want to kiss them. There would never really be a decision about which side I was on, the game would usually just begin because the problem was too complicated for five-year-olds to resolve. Once everyone had taken off running and giggling and feigning disinterest in being kissed, I would at some point run into the boys’ bathroom and hide in a cubicle, imagining that someone was coming to kiss me. Looking back writing this, I realise the game has not changed much. Not for the negotiation of courtship and consent between men and women, and certainly not for me.

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Growing up in the 90s when being gay was still only discreetly cool in the upper echelons of celebrity-shadowing, being called “gay” or “faggot” wasn’t common but being called a “girl” as a form of denigration was frequent. The way I walked, that I wore my hair long, my mannerisms, the things I liked, and of course my choice of friends didn’t do much to deter that harassment.

When I was three, the childcare staff told my parents I’d been put in time out for losing my temper at a girl who had dared to wear a gold dress from the dress up box which was indisputably “mine”.

As young as twelve I fell into such a dislike of my body’s gender presentation I began binding myself in too-small underwear and by fourteen I had considered self-mutilation.

At home, wearing dresses continued right through to mid-adolescence, when I took a brief hiatus – that’s a lie, I continued to shop from the women’s side of the Cotton On for many years, but dresses were out for a while until I started wearing them again a couple of years ago and went public with a high-waisted skirt and a beard. I’ll to this day regularly say things like “I’m more of a Divinyls gal”, or “I don’t vote Liberal, I’m not that kind of girl”. I’ll never baulk at being referred to in the collective noun of “ladies” or thought of fondly as “one of the girls”.

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What’s it all about? Over the years I think the hard times might have given me cause to cling desperately to a vision of myself that didn’t lose their innocence so roughly, and that sincere sense of self I possess is easily encapsulated by that stereotype of sweetness, sixteen-ness, stillness of girlhood.

As recently as last year I’ve hit patches where thinking too deeply about my gender identity causes me too much confusion and sorrow to continue – and I confess that one of the biggest factors in backing out of this thinking is my conflicted feelings about how many social challenges I’ve been socialised to believe and have witnessed myself that trans and gender-diverse people face; in finding love, in succeeding in the workplace, in achieving whatever physical actualisation of their gender they desire, in receiving healthcare, in being able to travel. My gender identity is informed by my fear of losing something I didn’t think I had: male privilege. My gender identity is informed by my fear of what my loved ones would say, how they would adapt. So, I find myself thinking that my gender is terror, my gender is cowardice.

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My gender is constantly in a state of conviction, being bartered back and forth between fierce femininity and penile privilege. Sliding along the spectrum in one direction because I’m not masculine enough for manhood, then scaling along another slant because I respect womanhood and gender diversity as experiences I do not live and wouldn’t do the disservice or disregard of appropriating any further than colloquially. I am under no false illusions that this is a to-ing and fro-ing I’ll live on the trajectory of for a great deal of time, if not all my life.

Here’s where I’m at now. That in my thoughts about gender, I still feel room for choice and that is what sets several of the incredibly brave and beautiful humans I have been given the joyous gift of knowing apart in their experience from mine. For many of them there is not choice, there is simply the fact of who they are outside the double-edged sword of male and female; the inherent knowledge of difference and a resonance with alternatives and terms of identity I have yet to feel for anything other than “man”.

I grew up in a time where being transgender was a way to describe someone who was moving or had moved from one side of the binary of male and female to the other and once there that person was still known as either – being trans was not its own identity far as I knew then. Within a decade I find myself trying to comprehend what being tri-gender and enby means when I’m still stuck on what being a man means, and how I occupy that.

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Every time I step into darkness to battle with the binary, I have continually emerged male because I cannot get past believing that’s my fight; I feel it’s important for those like me to challenge and broaden what manhood is and wish to lead manhood forward out of toxic masculinity further from the patriarchal systems we are tightly bound to because its built from our gender presentation. For men to develop a compassion, and an empathy and a freedom to explore the roots of being men beyond clothing or interests or sexual exploits, that’s an image of men I want to perpetuate. I don’t want to leave my manhood behind, I want to make more of it, I want manhood – how it’s understood and talked about to adapt to include my kind of expression. To me, it matters to be a good man, and it matters that I identify as male as a means of demonstrating the room for diversity therein.

The fear I speak of is the same that paralyses me in moments where I’m in an environment where men become rowdy, or sexist, or any multitude of behaviours I know it’s important I stand up to. Somewhere inside me I yearn for their acceptance but I fear their predilection for communicating with violence or abuse. Men need intervention, not attention. I remember how positive a change I saw in men when ‘metrosexuality’ became popular, and how bitterly disappointed and ashamed I felt when the backlash came and not since have I witnessed any such valuing of self-care or sensitivity in men in Western cultures. But I’m not giving up on men yet, I’m not giving up on being a man.

Though I continue to grapple with what part prejudice plays in precluding me from being the person people ask or assume I am, what I’m sticking to is that though it may be cowardice that keeps me a man, it could be courage that drives me to change what that means.

images by Corie Shannon. insta @corieshannon.

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crossing what dressing me? and whom? and how?

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like with many things, it happened little by little. not to begin with though. to begin with I could be found in my local Coles wandering around in my childhood friends’ leotards, dancing in the aisles while their mothers looked on, admiring but alert. without them, I wonder where I’d be. as it stands, it is without their admonishment that I am where I am now: happy, homosexual I concede, but as I step out for coffee in my skirt and my oversized denim jacket and that one bit of toast I can never avoid keeping out of my beard in my beard, I’m me, and fulfilled for that. And that fulfilment has rippled from me into many other people who feel happier, freer, stronger. like mirrors that align to refract light into enclosed spaces, so those of us willing to fetter conventions and flaunt ourselves as expressed by our deepest enjoyment of our personalities and liberties.

but of course, the gold dress at the childcare was put away because it made parents uncomfortable to see me in it. LBDs were kept to the costume box. and every clothes shopping trip steered me firmly into the “boys section” of the store.

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I did for a time to think I wasn’t meant to be a boy and for a brief time bound myself up, such was my confusion about how comfortable and better about myself I felt in clothing designated for girls and women. Drag queens became a bitter reminder that the only way I might live my self-expression was to “costume” or caricature. I was asked to play an intersex person in a play and would only do so if I got to dress myself as fierce as I envisioned I would were I to ever have the courage of that role.

when I first bought a midriff top from the ladies half of the Cotton On I worked at, I thought they wouldn’t sell it to me, so ingrained and indoctrinated was I to this ridiculous notion that clothes and gender were co-correspondent. slowly I bought tees that fit my small waist, jeans long enough for my legs, scarves and shoes that actually had colour. and then it happened: my Mama bought me a pair of Bordello heels. life had changed. skip ahead six years and I’m a happy sneaker-wedge, high-waisted skirt, midriff tee, and tights wearing human who feels more like a man in that outfit than you could pay me to feel in a pair of Doc Martens. I feel as self-possessed, confident, tough and bold as toxic masculinity tells me to be in that American Apparel cream bodycon and thigh-high tube socks.

and sure a few people find me comical. my wife usually beats them up with one look and they put their camera phones away. most men compliment me, the ones who can see the bravery in authenticity. some of them gamble being ribbed by their friends for doing so.

it strikes me as a bit odd that men would be so averse to wearing an item of clothing that gives their crotch some (much-needed) airflow, not to mention gives the most misogynistic of them easier access to scratch themselves. trick is dealing with NARBs, but like you care too much about that anyhow. part of me wonders if the reason men aren’t into skirts is because they’d feel subliminally or subconsciously as vulnerable as they enjoy women being in them.

never mind the fact that the INSTANT they get a shot at a themed-dress party, out come the hula skirt, the thong and the coconuts (no matter the theme).

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pertinent is that many women have fallen for it too: shaming men who wear clothing the retail market might consider androgynous. but I for one love a set of thick thighs in a romphim. I hate that we have to call it a romphim to keep the patriarchy intact, but we’re working on it. the difference between footy shorts and booty shorts is branding, the difference between running skins and leggings is fear, the difference between tall tees and a pullover dress is capitalism, and the difference between how I wear what I do and how you wear what you do is NIL.

For Jaden Smith to be in an ad campaign in a skirt does not take balls. It’s as simple as selecting one item over another. What do I want to wear today? Online shopping should show style options for ALL gender expressions. Brands should lead the way in diversity and cracking open the binary of the market that might do a great deal for segmentation, but frankly contributes more to screaming from the windows of cars and failed intimidation of this gorgeous creature as he walks home as safely as he deserves to, has the right to than it does to you making budget in your basics collection.

like age, like time, like economy, gender is a code we’ve made up to help us organise ourselves and exploit opportunities to be productive. it’s a meaning we’ve made on a basis of a majority of genital presentations. but what it means, for those of you who have the freedom to try, is yours to decide. and when we start showing that freedom, and standing strong in ourselves, that sort of shit makes a difference to people who think “maybe I could…I’ve always wanted to…what’s stopping me? If he can do it…”

Carry yourself with the courage of your conviction and as casually as the concept of your soul being clear to see in the what you put on your pure person.

 

B.

 

#TBT: An open letter to every guy I just unfollowed on instagram. All 541 of you.

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Dearest,

By the time you’re reading this letter, you may have noticed that I have unfollowed you. Trawl though you might through the countless thousands of people who have hitched their wagon to your sexually-charged star, you will find my name is missing. I only hope you know that my leaving you does not in any way diminish the special nature of our former relationship, nor how much I value our time together. It’s just that I’ve become a different person, and it is time we went our separate ways. I hope this letter gives you some clarity as to why I’ve made this hard decision, and if you still can’t bring yourself to move on, then please snap out of it because you have thousands of other people eating your shit up with a spoon, and thousands more on the way I’ve no doubt.

It occurred to me recently as you flashed by on my phone screen, that the standards for male aesthetics are still very high – much as they are for women – and when it comes to the sexually diverse community, the permission we’re giving you to direct our consciousness by sole virtue of the fact that you’re fine as heck to look at is more than substantial. Men are feeling more and more incompetent, incapable, and unimpressive because of these standards. Further, our society is worshipping the standard more than I believe we ever used to.

The former standards for men’s beauty was shaped by physical labour, which gender equality has somewhat distributed across the sexes more. Now, instead of allowing male beauty to change to reflect the new structure of life for men, we made gyms and kept the old constriction held as idol.

Anyway, I worked out that I’m part of the problem. Our relationship is fuelling this cycle, with you as the Adonis-influence, and me as the lowest-common-denominator-consumer. I can’t be this to you any longer. Your “fitspiration” didn’t get me into a gym, or out for a walk at all. Truth be known, our relationship is purely sexual, stimulative. And you deserve more, for all you may not want more. I definitely deserve more.

Let our breakup not take away from the work you do – it is hard, unrelenting work in a highly competitive industry of social media engagement. I admire what you do, there’s no way I could do it. The fact is though, that in spite of the inspiring quote in your bio, your content is focused almost exclusively on you naked, or at the gym, or naked at the gym. Intermittent depictions of the meals you make, clothes you buy, brands you sell with sex appeal appear as diamonds in the rough.

Somewhere along the way, your particular shape attracted hordes of thumbs double-tapping and following your progress, compelled as I was once by mild arousal, perhaps envy, perhaps encouragement. That number that reigns and ranks you at the top of your profile has got the attention of agencies, product companies etc who then pay you money, ask for your endorsement, and encourage you to increase your activity. In turn, you feel rewarded for your work, and some of those followers will feel the need to push their own physical forms to also become an “opinion leader” as you are.

By this new order, the development of your mind, networking of your thoughts and investment in your sense of self all come secondary to what will place you on a platform to distribute your influence upon the world. Your six-pack makes you credible, which I find incredible. So I set about to end our relationship.

I suppose it’s fair I tell you, ours isn’t the only tryst that I have called time on. I looked over everything you have contributed to our connection, and having discovered that nothing really inspired me creatively, I had to end it. Don’t be mad or jealous if you discover other men that you think deserved the same treatment are still carrying on with me. The truth is that somewhere those men still made me laugh, or made me think, or just interspersed their naked ambition with something, ANYTHING, else. I don’t feel like I asked a lot, and I would’ve appreciated more effort on your part in the past; it became very apparent you took advantage of how unlikely I was to spend the time and battery and brain to check up on you and really evaluate who we are as people, and what impact we make on the collective consciousness. In truth, I feel quite betrayed.

You know, it wouldn’t have been hard to keep your promise to inspire me by throwing in something intellectually, artistically, politically, spiritually interesting. It’s like you don’t even know me, like you couldn’t even take a couple of minutes to give me some credit and try to spice things up. But no, you just kept calling yourself an actor when you’ve shown no interest in the profession, or saying you’re an artist or fashion photographer or beauty blogger when really you just do nude portraiture. That’s OK, just be honest! Worst of all is when you say “welcome to my life” but all I see is the parts of your life when you’re kissing someone else! At least the other guys make the effort to pretend they’re being random!

I’m sorry. You should know this was hard for me. To look over all our delicious moments together and walk away. I even got rid of the one Kardashian I follow because she was guilty of the same crimes you are. Please understand, I had to do this. I need to be needed, and there are smart, creative geniuses, political brains and sustainability causes that need my thumb-work. I’d like to think that I’ll come across you in my Discover feed someday and see you’ve changed, and if you haven’t tagged twenty other aggregate accounts, of course I’ll reconsider our relationship. Until then, go with my blessing, and I wish you all the best.

Before I go, I will say this. For all that I want you to succeed, I hope that you will take my advice. Take responsibility for the unbelievable volume of people willing to be influenced by you, don’t mistreat them as you did me, give them something to be activated by, show them a way forward not just physically but also for the benefit of our communities, our countries, our planet. Sure it may not get as many Likes, but when this whole celebrity-for-no-reason thing comes to an end, you’ll feel like a better person – for all that you’ll likely have retired by then.

Yours no longer,
Brodie

 

NB: Bearing in mind how my relationship with social media has changed in the six months almost to the day since I posted this, seems like a good time to run a throw-back! This piece first appeared on papabayj.com.