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It's everything I want to tell people when they make small talk and profound talk, but I often can't. Sickness, sex, and the process of dealing with aging parents feel unspeakable and sometimes unreachable, but they sure aren't here.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Sex and Gender: The "F" Words

Nuns, What can I say Originally uploaded by Year of the Monkey.

Madonna and whore.

I've failed at both, most likely because those identities are rooted in terms like "womanhood," "femininity," and even "femaleness," terms that don't quite suit who I am. Womanness is a class that felt like a requirement for the major rather than an elective that I chose because of the natural fit and passion for the subject. My dream last night confirmed it. I was in school again, somewhere with the class offerings of a university but with the Immaculate Heart of Mary nuns of my grade-school years teaching all classes. My fourth grade teacher, Sister Maria of the Holy White Face (she called herself that - I couldn't nearly make up anything that...Catholic), was teaching a course called, "Women, the History," and I was registered for it. I couldn't remember choosing that class or signing up for it.

I kept seeing my classmates in the hallways, knowing they were in the class and attending it regularly; they behaved, took notes, and did the homework, but I never went. One woman who seemed nice offered me the notes for the lecture; while I yes-ed her to death about the notes, I knew I would never claim them from her, never use them, never care. Toward the end of the dream, the nice woman asked about my feelings on the final exam. There was one? I obliquely knew that there was one and that I accidentally, on-purpose slept through it.

I continued through the hallway, walking with both relief and sadness: I knew I would not take the class nor the exam and wouldn't force myself, although the idea of a big F on my "permanent record" didn't sit well with me. I don't like failing, at times even when I think the challenge is shitty.

I was going to fail in femaleness, and I knew it. I courted it. That is when I encountered Sister Maria of the Holy White Face in my dream, looking as pale and cold as a penguin waddling on ice. She gave me some serious Nun Face (ask me to demonstrate this in the midst of boob theatre) and let me know that I had fucked up but good. "Go to ____." She gave me directions that I couldn't hear, but she was sending me to a place where I could complete forms to take the test. I took a step in the direction her harsh stump of a finger pointed, only to nearly trip over myself as I turned and shouted at her face, "I just don't have to." I had failed at womanhood, even with other women offering to help me learn, and while this defeat - a defeat that I had essentially chosen through each decision I made - wasn't easy, I wasn't going to have it any other way.

Photo credit: "Nuns, What can I say," in the gallery of Year of the Monkey on flickr (click on photo for more of this gallery). Permission granted. Work identified as public domain.

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