Through the looking glass

Stepping outside the circle of shared gender non-conformity

Offices are weird places to begin with, but this one took the cake.

It was one of those temp jobs that just can’t be temp enough. Still, I did manage to make a friend and collect a pay cheque or two while I was at it.

We did the usual officemate stuff: pushed our lunch breaks, gossiped about the boss and showed each other photos of our families. Well, in my case, my wife and four cats.

“Very interesting,” was her response to our wedding photos. Not exactly “mazel tov” but not “you’re going to burn in hell” either.

A couple of weeks later there were more photos to be viewed, including one of the wife in her full pompadour glory wearing one of my frilly pink aprons and baking cookies. The caption read, “That’s mister housewife to you!” My office buddy frowned in concentration.

“So… she is the mister… and you are the missus,” she surmised. It suddenly didn’t seem like just a silly caption after all and I heard myself backpedaling.

“No, no… we’re both the… well, no, neither of us is the… I mean…”

A lesson in gender identity and butch/femme subculture seemed apropos but unappealing. So I laughed and told her it was just a joke and felt like a weirdo for the rest of the day.

About a week later, the wife joined me on the set of a short film I was working on. The director’s four-year old daughter took an immediate liking to my little lady and spent the weekend climbing on her like she was her own private jungle gym. Or jungle Jim, as the case was.

“You’re a funny boy!” the wee one stated. “Well, I’m a girl,” replied my honey. But her new friend was having none of it and continued to refer to her as “him” and “he” no matter what anyone told her to the contrary.

It was another one of those situations where it seems like there must be a right thing to do, that someone must know what it is, but that something eludes you and that someone is most certainly not you.

Of course, I didn’t want to discourage the kid from thinking outside the gender boxes, but I also felt compelled to clarify. Yet the subtleties relating to one who identifies as butch and not boy seemed like kind of heady stuff for a four-year-old, especially one who seemed much more interested in playing helicopter than queer politics.

Then, last week, we were at our volunteer job working with senior citizens and the wife got hit on by an oldster. Well, we’re not entirely sure if it was an actual advance or just dementia. It’s a fine line.


One of the old gals was telling my better half what a “pretty girl” she is and what “cute” hair she has. She tells her this same thing every week. She’s a bit of a repeater. While they were sharing an elevator the elder confided, “I have a crush on him.” Once a list of all the male volunteers, staff and residents had been offered up, each being met with a coy “no,” the wife gave up trying to guess.

“The one with the cute hair!” giggled the old cougar.

Now, aside from the confusing strategy of confessing one’s affections to the object of one’s affections while seemingly referring to someone else, this revelation was confusing for other obvious reasons. But if you’re the kind of person who goes around telling people who are kickass enough to live well into their ’90s that they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, you’re just not my kind of person.

Besides, when a discussion is that confusing to begin with, do you really want to toss gender into the mix?

The funny thing is that the wife being called “the mister” a “boy” or “him” by anyone in our circle of friends wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow let alone caused a stir. There is a certain shared knowledge and understanding and usually shared politics there.

Once we step outside that circle, however, it’s like going through the looking glass into a world where people have a different agreed-upon understanding of who the boys are, who the girls are, and how those boys and girls should pair up, amongst other things. So it’s hard to know when to correct people on gender stuff.

It’s especially hard when your idea of gender is fluid. What’s there to correct when there’s no right or wrong to begin with? But I always wonder whether I’m doing more harm than good when I let sleeping intellects lie.

Then again, I don’t always explain complex concepts very well so I could be setting gender politics back 40 years in my attempts to enlighten.

And sometimes I just plain forget which side of the glass I’m on. Until someone raises an eyebrow and I have to concentrate hard to figure out if I’m Alice or if that prissy little blonde bitch has crashed my tea party again. In this topsy-turvy life, it’s often difficult to tell.

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Power, Vancouver

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