Guest Post: Listen to Who I Am

This is a guest post by my amazing, talented, and generously kind friend, Jon. Enjoy!


A while back, I wrote a post with the title Choose Your Own Ending. I’m gonna paste a large chunk of it below that pertains to what I want to explore in this post:

If you think about it, the gay son born to a very strictly Mormon family sets up the perfect scenario for amazing transformation and opportunities for learning. They are a perfect foil for each other. In literature, a foil is a person who is a contrast to another character. I am admittedly not an English major, so if any English majors want to jump in and add anything, feel free. By providing this contrast, the foil might help the main character understand himself better, or help the reader understand the main character better. A foil gives something to be played off of. It provides some amount of tension.

A gay Mormon might help his conservative family learn to live a little bit outside the lines, in a way that expands their understanding of the gospel. The family might help the gay son not live self-destructively outside the lines. Each provides a necessary tug in different directions and as a result, they help each other live more fully.

I was recently involved in a retreat for the choir I sing in. We had a guest clinician come work with us. She had us do some exercises that helped us ignore some of the standard rules of good singing. She told us that sometimes you have to go outside your boundaries to see where they are. To add to the conversation, our director said that she sometimes has a lady come help her clean her house and she always warns her that it’s going to get messier before it gets cleaner.

This isn’t to say that I believe that we should explore everything and forget all boundaries. I do think, however, that we are sometimes way too scared to make mistakes. We cloister ourselves so far inside the lines that I think we miss out on opportunities for growth. Let your gay Mormon son be your tour guide and continue to be his. Just a warning though, his tour will probably be much flashier and might include song and dance. Just go with it. Trust me. The term foil refers to the practice of putting dark, polished metal (a foil) underneath a gemstone to make it shine more brightly.

OK, so there’s that. Now here’s a video that TGD posted recently on his blog. If you have very clearly defined lines and roles around what you think it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman, you might find this video weird, and it might make you uncomfortable. The good Lord knows that earlier in my life, parts of this video would have made me feel uncomfortable.

So here’s the challenge. Watch the video. Allow yourself to mentally slide around a bit on what you think it means to be a man or a woman. You don’t have to end up completely embracing everything he says, but at least allow yourself space to slide around and believe for a minute that what he’s saying is true and valid. Explore what that means for you and how you experience your own gender and the opposite gender. In doing so, you might end up reworking your lines and boundaries in ways that make you feel more whole and more integrated.

I believe that in order to understand our eternal natures and roles better than what we currently do, we need to engage in exercises like this that open up what is possible for each of us.

What is possible for you? How do you experience your own gender? In what ways can you explore the masculine and feminine within you that allows for a more fully integrated you?

Stella

I'm an artist, writer, photographer, feminist, listener, lover, and a fighter. I believe that travel is fatal to prejudice, that skies are meant to be blue, and that the world is full of endless possibilities.

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29 Responses

  1. Stella says:

    Excellent post Jon. This video didn’t make me uncomfortable at all, but maybe that’s because I lived in NYC and many of my male friends were in La Cage aux Folles 🙂

    I like this idea about reflecting on our gender. By the time I was in fifth grade I was practically six feet tall, I had “man hands” (thanks Seinfeld!) and my shoe size was greater than most of my male counterparts. All of my friends were under 5’5″ and they were all under 130 pounds, and they all seemed like exactly what a woman should be. I wasn’t. I was a giant. I was huge. It was hard for me to embrace my feminine spirit. I felt like I took up too much space and I didn’t fit the definition of womanhood.

    Things have been a little different as I have aged (and hollywood has made height an asset) but most of the different feelings have had to come from the inside and from me defining myself as a woman–no matter what society says.

    I have so much more I could say about this. Thank you for these thoughts!!

  2. Jenne says:

    I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be a man and how much it must suck to feel so limited in what one can like, feel, think, do, study, etc. If women have the ability to be feminine and like all the girly AND have the freedom to enjoy more masculine, though now defined as androgynous characteristics, then men need more freedom too. I’m looking forward to the day.

  3. Corktree says:

    Wonderful post.

    I think the most interesting thing I take away from the video is how easy it is to allow ourselves to make assumptions out of appearances, and to lock each other into roles and attitudes and interests. It’s a knee jerk reaction to assume that a man that wears make up is gay, or that a man that plays football is straight. Even when we are presented with evidence to the contrary, we are left with reconciling the exception with what we assume are clearly defined expectations of stereotypes.

    I like this idea of exploring our interests and our outlook as a product of our gender. How much of who I am can be separated from what my biology has given me? What is truly me and not a construct of society?

  4. JonJon says:

    Thank you, Stella. I think you embrace your feminine spirit beautifully. When I first met you, I remember sensing what beautiful energy you emanated.

    Thanks for the link, Jenne. It’s funny you should share it. I literally just finished reading it a few minutes before seeing your comment.

    Corktree, it is interesting/freeing to set aside expectations based on gender or any other role we feel we need to play in life and see what unfolds.

    In my earlier stages of trying to reconcile my homosexuality with my spirituality and background as a Mormon boy, I tried to stamp out anything that I thought could be perceived as being feminine. Fortunately, I passed through that phase and started to embrace all parts of me without regard to how it might be perceived by others and discovered that I started to feel more whole and integrated.

  5. G says:

    oh this was awesome!
    and I truly TRULY hope and long for that sort of give & take between GLBT children and their traditional/conservative families.

    the video, btw, wow. I watched it here at work so had the volume turned way down, will have to watch it again w/ narration when I get home. But it was fascinating because I’m a woman, and I never look like that or do that kind of a process on my face, but I appreciate that many women do and I LOVE that there are men who do as well.

    I also have a serious fascination with androgynous appearance.

    great post!

  6. Corktree says:

    I have a friend who is very androgynous in her face and hairstyle, but where’s very feminine clothing. It’s a fascinating contrast and has been an interesting teaching opportunity for my children. When they saw a picture of just her face once, they commented that it was a man. But I explained to them that appearances can be deceiving and not to rush to conclusions.

    I also just received an email forward about “Tippy” the girl that grew up in Africa with her wildlife photog parents. In the pictures of her with wild animals, she is both a girl and a boy and in some ways as sexless as the animals appear to be (often topless). I can’t wait to show my girls and see what they think.

    And I just got the title of the post! 🙂 We really do need to listen to each other more to truly know who we are saying we are.

  7. Corktree says:

    “wears” not “where’s” – brain disconnected for a moment

  8. Stella says:

    Corktree,

    I love your ideas about this post. Yes, if only we could listen to who we each are instead of trying to fit everyone into understandable boxes. I remember chatting with Alisa one about the depictions of Christ in religion. Christ is always painting VERY feminine usually. We wondered if this was because males would find it easier to worship a more feminine Christ figure than a very masculine one as a masculine one would make them feel very uncomfortable (especially the homophobic ones).

    Thoughts about that?

  9. Stella says:

    he’s always *painted*

    Brain lapse for me too. I really need to start proofreading before I hit send. I’m as bad as my students.

  10. Olive says:

    The thing that impressed me most was the ouchiness of the waxing inflicted on him! I was cringing when she kept waxing the same spot over and over, and then *shaved* over it! OW!!!

    Other than that…it was a little strange that he was straight and just liked his fiance to put make up on him, though I admit I’ve pressured all of my boyfriends and my husband to let do makeup on them, lol.

  11. Stella says:

    Olive,

    I’m interested in why you have asked your boyfriends if you could put make up on them? So they know how it feels? Because you’d like to see what they look like wearing it? What have been their reactions?

  12. spunky says:

    Maybe I have been around the block for too long, or travelled too much internationally, but all of this sounds like old news to me.

  13. Corktree says:

    Stella, I absolutely agree about the depictions of Christ. I always looked at it as the view of Him encompassing all characteristics though. I never considered it as a way to make men more comfortable with Him – very interesting.

    I’ve also noticed differences in how strong He appears, and I’ve wondered if it helps people to believe that He is able to “save” them if He appears stronger than they are? Could this be why some have painted Him as very muscular and manly?

  14. Stella says:

    I sort of think it’s only LDS depictions that make him very manly. Every other church I have been in he is usually emaciated and on a cross, or very girl-esque and a close up on the face. It’s only been recent Mormon artists that show him larger than life looking out over Jerusalem (unless I am missing something?) I wonder what that means.

  15. JonJon says:

    It’s interesting. Last year I was at a stake center in Farmington, Utah and the Relief Society room had this larger than life mural of Jesus at the front of the room and it was the buffest Jesus I have ever seen. It was a little bizarre. I hadn’t thought about portraying a physically strong Jesus because he then becomes more convincing as someone who can save. Interesting.

    • EmilyCC says:

      I was just thinking this…when I go to a Catholic church, I often see a more feminine Jesus, but the LDS Jesus is so often buff and had red hair. Very strange.

  16. Corktree says:

    Hmm. Yes, now that I think about it, it’s only LDS artists that have portrayed him as such. Why on earth are they downplaying his feminine side? What does this say? Is it threatening to our culture to think of him as soft? And why is he so weak looking and emaciated on most Catholic crosses? Wow, I never thought about what varied and subtle messages there are in such a singular subject. Someone must have done a study of this somewhere…

  17. Heh, I feel like I missed something… I actually don’t understand how the video could have made me uncomfortable.

    One thing I do strongly agree with, is that so many of these stereotypes of masculinity are so detrimental to men’s emotional health. I am certainly ready to see a change in what we understand to be a man.

    But on the flip side, I also tend to see the stereotypes/expectations of the modern liberated women as detrimental our happiness. *shrugs*

  18. Rebecca says:

    I found the narration really fascinating, but I’ll admit that watching him transform into drag made me squirm. It seems to be a fairly hard-wired thing to need to categorize. I think it’s fundamental in how we humans understand the world.

    Remember the Saturday Night Live skit about Pat, the androgynous person who made everyone uncomfortable? That’s kind of how I felt watching this and that surprised me a little bit. I think it’s mainly the appearance changes that gave me that reaction, not so much behavior. For example, I like hearing about truckers who quilt, or football players who knit. A guy in our ward a few years ago sewed dresses for his wife. And why are flowers or an ability to cook seen as feminine? Some of these things are so obviously cultural. The appearance part maybe hits on more biology, as in trying to minimize masculine characteristics like facial hair or heavier brows? Maybe as a heterosexual woman, I also see men through a layer of attraction and that is why this would bother me? Interesting. Thanks Jon.

  19. EmilyCC says:

    Jon, I love how your post shows what both the homosexual child and the traditional LDS family can learn from each other. So often in Church we only hear about what the family can teach the child or how they can “fix” the child.

    Thank you for reminding me what an opportunity for growth can come when we look at gender and sexuality with more open minds.

  20. Alisa says:

    This is a helpful post. It’s helpful because while I agree women can be more tom-boyish or androgenous, I don’t think we get away with it. As a professional businesswoman who grew up pretty male-identified (meaning I sought to imitate my brothers more than my mom), I’m amazed at how I have been slammed for sometimes being too masculine in my career. Women have cut me down for being ambitious, and although I am a sensitive soul, I’ve learned the hard way I cannot have both a successful career and intimate female friends in the office. Also, my rhetoric, syntax, diction, and tone of voice cannot exactly mirror my male counterparts without making a few people very upset merely by the way that I speak, even if men could do the exact same thing. I’ve had to learn to soften my approach, inflect my voice higher at the ends of sentences (so my statements sound as if I’m asking a question?), and take more time to say something simple all because direct, clear, language is not expected of me as a woman. I hate wearing skirts, but in some business settings it’s demanded of me, though I rather wear trousers. It’s frustrating for me, and I’m sure it’s frustrating for men in a similar (but opposite) situation.

    Jon – From looking at your last 10 posts or so, you run an excellent blog. I may just have to borrow a video or a poem you’ve re-post there. Thanks for making the world a better place.

  21. Stella says:

    Alisa, he is amazing. I should introduce the two of you next time he is in town. We’ll do dinner.

    And, I’ve faced that exact same thing in my professional world. I’ve had to learn to cultivate a sweetness that just has never come naturally to me. I’m much more direct and straightforward. I don’t like apologizing or trying to make people feel better if I’ve said something to them that they didn’t want to hear.

    I was just going over essays with a few of my students and I have to remember to keep it on the sweeter side because teenagers are so easily offended and the few times I haven’t taken that route, I’ve heard a lot of the male students say what a “bitch” I am.

    Of course, most of the time, I don’t mind being a bitch. It sort of comes with the territory I guess.

  22. Jessawhy says:

    When I watched the clip, my youngest son was sitting next to me on his dad’s lap. Mind you, this child turned three a few days ago.
    So imagine my surprise when he says to his daddy in a sweet baby voice, “Why that man wearing make-up?”

    ??!?!

    It drives me crazy that my son is getting social messages about what is masculine and feminine when he isn’t even old enough to wipe his own bottom.

    I really like the points made in this post. Thanks!

  23. Aimee says:

    Wonderful post and fantastic video. It seems crazy when the roles of men and women are defined so stringently. I imagine these hard gender lines work in favor of the notion that men and women need each other to be complete. But I wonder why we wouldn’t encourage each individual to become a little more complete in and of themselves?

  24. JonJon says:

    Thanks all for your comments and kind words.

    Stella, I will be in town over Christmas, so we will definitely need to get together and I would love to meet Alisa.

    As far as feeling like you need to soften yourself to be more palatable to more traditional people at work or elsewhere. I get that. It took me a while to get comfortable portraying any part of me that I thought was “too effeminate”. It’s interesting, Mormon culture celebrates a certain brand of softness in men, but only in certain circumstances and only certain types of softness. If a GA lets some tears slip in general conference over the pulpit, most people would consider it endearing or even powerful in that soft way. Any personality traits or behavior that ventures too far into what is considered traditionally feminine territory, people start to get uncomfortable.

    I naturally get along well with most women, much more than I get along with most men. I thrive on the emotional expressiveness that is more abundant in womenn than in men, generally speaking. For a while I thought that this is what was making me gay. That I had to stop getting along so well with women and learn how to relate to people as I saw other men around me relating. That’s when I started dying inside and fortunately I realized that I just need to allow all the best parts of me full expression whether they make people uncomfortable or not.

    For those of you who didn’t get uncomfortable with the video, that’s fantastic. And actually, for those who did get uncomfortable, that’s also good. It gives you something to process and metabolize. 🙂

  25. Jana says:

    I kept waiting for the shocking part of the video, and when it ended I felt kind of let down. I guess that’s because:
    a) I have no problem with men wearing makeup. In fact, I love it when my spouse wears it. And he looks way hotter in a short skirt than I do–just sayin’.
    b) I feel more comfortable with people who challenge gender boundaries than with those who are either extreme (i.e. manly men or girly girls).
    c) Every once in awhile I want to wear a tie or a man’s shirt. They’re power clothes & I can feel that power when I dress that way.
    d) I think everyone should get outside their comfort zone a bit sometimes.

  26. Janna says:

    I agree with Jana – I was waiting for something shocking/new. The video doesn’t do much more than Marcel Duchamp/Man Ray’s creation of Rrose Selavy in 1921 (which, for the time, was shocking). That said, I suppose it’s good to have a reminder in a contemporary form.

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