Tonight, I’m thinking about what Jane Ward calls “gender labor.” From her 2010 paper: “Gender labor is the work of bolstering someone’s gender authenticity, but it is also the work of co-producing someone’s gender irony, transgression, or exceptionality” (p. 237)
Her paper is very interesting and I’m going to have to read it several more times before I can really unpack it and how I feel about it, but giving a word to this work is immensely helpful on its own. This is work I am actively engaged in right this minute. I am doing the work she describes of forgetting the signs of femaleness in Lyn/Ezekiel’s body and appreciating the masculine aspects of his appearance. This work doesn’t feel oppressive because I am enjoying the exploration, and I don’t feel it is work that I have to take full responsibility for. I see it is a form of collective labor that Lyn/Ezekiel and I are engaging in together. But I can see the possibility of danger here — what if this “forgetting” morphs into ignoring my own feelings and desires? What if I feel responsible for making Lyn/Ezekiel’s maleness real?
I also found some of the stories sparked an interest in me in taking a closer look at my own gender. In what sense am I aligned or not aligned with the conventions of femininity? One of the antecedents of Lyn/Ezekiel’s gender exploration was that I started working on my appearance (leading Lyn/Ezekiel to want to work on her/his appearance), and as it turned out I became more feminine-looking. On the other hand, as Lyn/Ezekiel started binding, I went out and got my hair cut super-short, something I’ve been wanting to do for some time, but the timing is quite interesting, don’t you think? I can feel the pressure to be the femme to Lyn/Ezekiel’s masculinity, but where does it come from? What part is my own and what part is a reaction to Lyn/Ezekiel’s changing gender? How do I enact my own gender, including my own gender transgressions, when I find myself in relationship with someone whose gender needs supporting and authentication?