She was the second person I came out to, and a big part of me gaining the courage to do so to my then partner, now wife.
I learned so much from her. She was a genius in all meanings of the word! A Phd under her belt and a promising career as a university lecturer well under way. She was a kind, helpful, intense and funny humans-person.
She is missed terribly by all of us who knew her; I wanted to write something about her that will last and that I can look back on.
Jess was Trans. She wouldn’t mind me telling you, she wanted to talk about it at every opportunity and to educate any one willing to listen about what it meant, what it didn’t mean, how it felt. The ‘how it felt’ bit was often painful as she suffered with horrifying dysphoria, but bore it well amidst the love of many. It couldn’t help but define her in some ways. It is impossible to think of her without also think of this huge aspect of her life that made every day life a struggle but she was so very much more than that.
I first met Jess at a xmas part thrown by my wife’s workplace many years ago. I had gone along despite some misgivings as I am awful at these sort of occasions, especially surrounded by people I have never met. I am sure that I pissed people off as I sat at the huge round table, unable to hear anyone because of the background noise, giving monosyllabic answers and trying to smile politely whilst staring at my plate.
People slowly drifted away to actually enjoy themselves until it was just me at the table. Some time passes and the woman I came to know as Jess sat down next to me and said hello. She had been talking to my other half as Jess was the partner of one of my wife’s best friends from work. At that point we knew of Jess’s existance but had never met her or knew anything about her.
Anyway, it took about 15 seconds for us to start chatting about RPGs (Roleplaying games, not Rocket Propelled Grenades) as it was a shared love and we had played many of the same ones over the years. We spent pretty much the rest of the evening talking and dancing and it really set the tone for our friendship over the coming years.
We played EVE Online together briefly, we played a few RPGs together with other friends. We were both fairly useless at keeping in touch, so we didn’t talk as often as we could have, or even email, something that I now bitterly regret of course.
We did exchange a tone of emails regarding this website when I was setting it up and following some of the posts, especially the “about me” section. She was instrumental in me starting this whole thing up, and through that, in me becoming more comfortable with myself and my feelings. That’s who she was, she made you feel great about YOU.
And now she is gone. A heart attack took her suddenly away from us.
Her family is coping as well as can be expected, her partner and their son are as close as it’s possible to be and are leaning on each other and the many friends they all had.
I miss her. I miss the totally open and no-holds-barred conversations we had. I miss her smile, her hugs and her amazing positivity.
Apart from being *really* hard to spell, what is androgyny and how does it apply to this blog and indeed this blogger?
Note:As with pretty much all my blog posts, this is a “stream of conscientiousness” ramble
As with almost all such questions in this day and age, let’s jump over the the font of all knowledge that is Wikipedia! (Certain amount of sarcasm intended….although a lot of this article had it’s jumping off point there)
Androgyny as a noun came into use c.1850, nominalizing the adjective androgynous. The adjective use dates from the early 17th century and is itself derived from the older French (14th Century) and English (c.1550) term androgyne.
So straight away we can see that this is in no way a modern construct. The word itself is a mesh of two ancient Greek words:
Andr – Man
Gyne – Woman
There have been references to androgyny for as long as we have records. The ancient Greeks had the legend of Hermaphroditus and Salmacis who fused to become one androgynous immortal being. Hermaphroditus of course gave it’s name to the term “hermaphrodite”, which in the common parlance is used to mean one living being/animal that expresses both sets of genitalia. I won’t be discussing this as it muddies the water at times and has no impact on androgyny at all.
One of the earliest mentions of androgyny is from Plato. He tells a tale of how humans used to be very different than how they are now, they were like two people joined back to back. A person which was both halves male was from the sun, both halves female was from the earth, and male-female was from the moon.
These people tried to usurp the gods and when they failed Zeus cut them all in half, leaving the navel as a reminder that if they tried it again he would slice them up even further and leave everyone hopping around on one leg!
Plato says that the people who are descended from the “Moon People” are now what we would call androgynous. Another interesting and important snippet from this story is that Plato states categorically that homosexuality is not shameful, thanks Plato! Seriously though, this is just one example of how someone many thousands of years ago, growing up in a completely different era with a completely non-christian set of morals saw what is blatantly obvious but missed by so many today…
Anyway, moving on…
Androgyny has, since the start of the 20th century at least, been closely connected with the gender equality movement. Luisa Capatillo is a great example of this. She was the first woman in Peurto Rico to wear trousers in public and a strong women’s rights campaigner in a very masculine culture during the late 1800’s and early 1900s.
The androgynous look soon got into fashion, most notably Coco Chanel promoted the androgynous look, and Marlene Dietrich took it on and ran with it, being the first female star to wear trousers to a premiere.
Up until the middle of the 20th century, it is primarily women who are identified as choosing to appear androgynous. In the 50s and 60s this started to change though. Something that I found quite surprising (until I actually thought about it and revisited soem early photographs) was that one of the earliest examples of male androgynous appearance was none other than Elvis Presley! As soon as you think about it, it makes sense though!
In his early incarnation and right up until the 70’s, Elvis was a “pretty boy” and enhanced his looks with makeup, one of the very first male pop/rock stars to do so. He was such a success (and I don’t need to say how much the girls loved him!) that the androgynous look was taken up by many other pop/rock artists.
Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, John Travolta and even Jimi Hendrix can all be said to have embraced the androgynous look to a greater or lesser extent, and to great success!
Outside of the music world, it was much more a “women dressing as men thing” than a “men dressing as women” thing. Yes I appreciate that this statement tramples all over modern thinking (thinking that I 100% subscribe to) but it is how it was seen at the time. The majority of people would probably still see it that way today.
The androgynous look continued in the pop world through the 80s with Grace Jones and Nick Rhodes to name just a few.
Skipping forward to the modern world, androgyny is discussed a little less than “gender fluidity”. I blow hot and cold on this term. In one way I like it, but in another I think that gender fluidity encompasses a lot more than androgyny, which tends to be a purely visual statement. Gender is such a hot topic and at the cutting edge of understanding for the world at large that I think any widely used term which includes the word needs to be very careful.
Artists like Lady Gaga, Ruby Rose, Jaden Smith and Lily-Rose Depp are being pointed at with regards “Gender Fluidity”, but for me it’s unfair and impossible to label them (as well as plain wrong) as such because I don’t know what their Gender Identity is. I can see how they are dressing and how they are portraying themselves, but that’s it. Are they doing it for artistic reasons? Are they making a point? Or is this how they actually identify their own gender? I don’t know.
Wikipedia says that:
An androgyne is a person who does not fit neatly into the typical masculine and feminine gender roles of their society. Androgynes may also use the term “ambigender” or “polygender” to describe themselves. Many androgynes identify as being mentally between woman and man. They may identify as “non-gender”, “gender-neutral”, “agender”, “between genders”, “genderqueer”, “non-binary”, “multigender”, “intergendered”, “pangender” or “gender fluid”.
Using the above description, I would have to identify myself as androgynous. In a previous post I described how I do not identify with either male or female despite being in appearance an obvious male with a beard and a bit of a podge. My brain simply will not put me into either bracket when I think about my identity.
Out of interest, I recently carried out an online Bem Sex-role Inventory Self Assessment. This is a test designed in the 70s by Sandra Bem and is apparently one of the more widely used gender measures. The possible outcomes are Masculine, Feminine, Androgynous and Undifferentiated. Interestingly, and fitting with my statement above my result was “undifferentiated” since I had Masculine, Feminine and Androgynous scores all under 70/100. I guess this reflects the fact that I really don’t care, and it’s not a “thing” for me.
I guess I am still a little confused about whether androgyny is a look, a lifestyle, a gender-type expression, or all of the above!
I would be really excited and interested to hear your thoughts. Shoot me down, educate me, discuss any of this post, please!
I am currently looking at new job opportunities. It’s not that I am unhappy as such, but there is a good market out there for my skills at the moment so it could be a chance to advance my career.
Anyway, the only reason I mention it is because of a positive experience I have had.
Quite a lot of job opportunities these days are found and applied for on-line. Companies use services such as “Workday” which acts as the interface between the company and the applicant allowing a seamless application and submission of CV file etc.
One such application recently sent me to a “diversity questionnaire” after the actual application part. This is a big national company. The asked for the usual kind of stuff but what struck me where the “Sexual Orientation” and “Gender Identity” questions.
What gender do you most readily identify with?
This was the first time I have seen that exact question on such a questionnaire. Most often it’s just a single word.
The available answers to choose from were extensive and I would imagine that most non-binary-identifying people would find something that they were comfortable with, if they were comfortable answering the question (Which is of course another matter entirely).
What is your sexual orientation?
This one really impressed me as it’s the first time that I have ever seen my identity on there.
It’s still one of the less well known and mentioned ones and as such I have never seen it available as an option. I selected it with a smile.
We spend a lot of time bemoaning the lack of understanding of gender and sexuality so if feels good to just take a few minutes to celebrate a bit of progress.
Aaaaand just as a bit of an added bonus – here’s a sizzler……watch it/him!
There is nothing, and I wish there was nothing
There is no love, no hate
No happy, no sad
No enthusiasm for the outside world
All there is
Is the eternal internal loathing
The warm safe cuddle of self hatred
The permanent friend who has never left
Who is closer than anyone ever could be
Who hates me
Who loves me and holds me in the dark
Whispering diabolical half-truths in a lovers voice
There is nothing, and I wish there was nothing
I am a coward, a worthless waste of breath and water
I drain the joy from the ones I love the most
And who love me the most
I fill their lives with “coping” when it should be full of laughing
I give them feasts of “it’s ok” when there should be plates of smiles
I hurt them
There is no hate but self hate
There is no anger but fury at what I am
There is no love but love of the dark
There is no sensation but that of falling towards…
Do you have, or have you ever had a moment of clarity? It’s a sudden flash of understanding where everything is laid out in front of you, perfectly understandable and obvious. Religious people might call it a flash of divine inspiration.
I have had a few in my life, and I had one this morning. It went something like:
Of course sexuality and gender are both societal constructs
I am a person; an animal with a mental, spiritual and physical being, just like every other “person” and “animal” on the planet. I have preferences and I self-identify in a particular way.
Some examples, and for clarity I am using “boy” and “girl” to refer to gender identities, not young examples of biological “gender”.
I like music. I really like music. My favourites are Blues, Black Metal and Folk, but I listen happily to almost everything.
I don’t really self-identify as “boy” or “girl” (recent realisation). I just don’t have strong feelings either way. I don’t feel like that puts me in any sort of box, it’s just a complete non-issue for me.
I can be attracted to anyone. I prefer “girls” (and one in particular 🙂 ) but again, it’s not really an issue for me, if I am pulled towards someone who identifies as a “boy” then so what? If I am attracted to someone who identifies as a “boy” but who was assigned “girl” at birth, then so what?
It’s society that tells us what a “boy” and a “girl” are; how they should behave, what they should wear, what jobs they should do, who they should fancy etc. People are just people and they have individuality. They have their own individual set of morals, beliefs, thoughts and self-identifications.
Another of the photographs for my upcoming collection along with a prose piece that is still very much under construction but I wanted to share it with you in its “as is” form.
The only thing that is truly real must be the way that we think and feel.
Questing for eudaimonia occupies so much of our lives it distracts us from the twisted thorns of reality.
If we truly are experiencing the world as a puppet of an evil demon then the only thing we can rely on is what we think and what we feel for if there are thoughts then there must be something real thinking them.
But when our feelings are at counterpoint to the experienced world what are we to do?
Begging me to follow them,
to stroke them,
to dive into them.
I caressed them
Spent my entire life swimming with them
I have been working on the photographs and writing for my planned book.
Anyone with depression will hopefully recognise the sentiment in the picture and short piece above, being completely lost in something and not able to escape, it draws you in like a Siren, singing beautifully and horribly all at once.
I have talked before about my experience with depression. Thankfully now I am decently medicated and able to engage properly with my wonderful partner I am able to turn my eyes inwards a little more and think about those feelings, even fight them when necessary.
I have also spoken about photography and my love for making photographs. I have recently started using old film cameras rather than digital (Although the results are digitised) and am loving it.
So, I am going to put the two together.
One of the key aspects of depression is the feeling that you are trapped in some way; you feel like there is no way out, no options, no alternatives. Nowhere to go…
I have started planning work on a project to combine my photography with my words on the subject of barriers and depression. This will be the first photography project I have ever undertaken but it feels right. It has been far too long since I wrote prose or poetry; and I have never limited myself in such a way as to have to focus and write on a specific subject. It will be an interesting experience.
I will keep you posted – as a starter here is one of the photographs that I will be including in the project.
Maybe I can have a photo-book created, perhaps to sell and donate the proceeds to a relevant charity, but I am not jumping ahead of myself, rather my aim is to enjoy the process and get my feelings and thoughts through the lens and pen.
A 10 minute dirge is how I would initially describe David’s new single. Pop it aint! He has explicitly said he isn’t a pop star and doesn’t want to be seen as such; I think that’s great and this song solidifies that.
Jazz elements sit alongside Drum & Bass (A little throwback to Little Wonder? …) and there is a strong religious feel throughout. Commenting certainly, but what the actual message is I can’t say right now. Bowie is veiled with bandages through most of the piece, except when he stands like a character from a CCCP poster, statuesque, blessing the fields with the blackstar book.
I love it. I have mentioned before how much I like ‘him’, but I don’t always like his music. This really resonates with me though.