Sunday, 17 June 2018

My dad and the concept of gender.

I rang my dad the other day, just for a chat. Our chats are always long, spilling over excitedly into new topics as we go along: new books, articles, podcasts; interesting things we saw in the day, conversations we had with other people, new people we've met.

The other day I was surprised, although I shouldn't have been at all, that he brought up the topic of gender neutrality. An article about a Canadian academic explained and discussed their credibility, which brought up why their views about gender neutral pronouns, or gender in general, were problematic and dad had shared it on Facebook and was telling me about the response. It was coincidental because I had just watched a Youtube video 10 minutes before about bringing up children as gender neutral in Finland. We both said it was interesting.

Dad talked about the comments on his Facebook post expressing views and arguments against gender neutrality, to which his response was: it's all bollocks anyway. Here I was having a spontaneous chat with my dad on the phone and he's telling me, confidently, that gender is a construct.

He wondered what he would have been like earlier on in his life had he not been brought up in the dichotomously gendered society of 1960s Scotland. Despite never knowing my dad as fitting into any convention of restrictive masculinity, he was wondering how the development of his identity could have been better, less moulded, more fluid.

Our understanding of gender identity is slowly and labouriously untangling itself from the centuries of its limiting construction. It can't be that simple, but maybe it is. My dad is a no bullshit kind of a guy. I said to him that maybe people resist this shift in our perception of gender because they see it is as a threat to their own identity. He said that it was a good theory, but that seeing as there is no legitimate threat to identity people should probably just get over it. I paraphrase him, but there he is; a mountain of self-assurance with a constant river of evolving human compassion and understanding. My dad is a man with the greatest perception of "live and let live".

He doesn't get everything right, no one does. But I realise how privileged I am to have a dad who can call me up and tell me to check my feminism, who I can do the same back to. I have a dad who reinforced my belief in the performativity of gender, in the instability and fluidity of identity. In short, I lucked out, as far as dads are concerned.






Saturday, 9 June 2018

Crying in the smoking area.

In the early hours of Friday morning (1 am, although I'm not quite sure) I left a club because I couldn't stop crying. I had drunk far too much wine and I was far too tired and I hadn't cried properly in about two months. They were hot tears and I couldn't do anything but let them stream down my face, trying to look away from my friends, hoping the tears would stop and the night would carry on. But I couldn't and eventually I had to say, in the kind of desperate way when you think you're about to be sick or you feel trapped in somewhere, "I'm really sorry, but I just can't stop crying." And then it all came out and I did that ugly sob crying where you're trying to catch your breath but it's also an enormous relief to have such an outpour of emotion after a long period of stress and tension.

And in the busy smoking area of a club night in Leeds one of my best friends in the whole world took me in her arms and told me we were going home, and I cried some more and said okay and also 'I love you'. We bought cheesy chips on the way and made cups of tea and got into bed and watched Sex and The City. I thought how lucky I was to have such an extraordinary friend and then, finally, we fell asleep.

It's funny because the next day I felt quite deeply embarrassed about what had happened and spent a while cringing over the events of the night and now here I am writing publicly and in detail about it. But on the train from Leeds back to Cambridge, my hangover finally waning, I thought about how often I build up emotional expectations for myself and get confused when it doesn't happen how I wanted it to. I thought about how I say to myself that I will feel better, free or exceedingly happy when X happens, when I'm doing Y. I thought about how, because everyone else always looks like they're having the time of their life on a night out, I must also be having a great time even when I probably should be tucked up in bed watching Netflix. I thought about how we put pressure on ourselves to always be in a good mood, to always look like we are in a good mood even if we're not. I thought about how unforgiving we are of "bad" emotions and never appreciate the fact that they are just as unpredictable and real as the "good" ones.

I thought about how I wanted that night to be exciting and endless and full of adventures. And I thought about how I couldn't have predicted having an enormous cry on a night out in Leeds but it happened and it wasn't good and it wasn't bad. But I felt relieved and I felt loved and now it's just another story to tell. And it's funny, isn't it? Because that's just exactly what I want life to be about.