More-or-less by coincidence, this post is going out on International Non-Binary Genders Day, which seems quite appropriate given the content.
In my piece discussing the effects of narratives of fear, privilege and lack of it, I described my inner image of myself both as “a small and timid little tomboy”, and as Dale’s attempt at pickup, “Just smile, and laugh.”
It got me to thinking about these concepts of self-image and what they mean. The “Dale” image is how I imagine other people see me; the “tomboy” is my internal self-perception.
However, the internal self-image is not a simple construction. It becomes apparent only when I find some discord with other narratives, whether they are my own or others’ (e.g. social norms). This means that the issues of “I feel myself to be X” as a discrete rather than integrated part of the self, are heavily dependent on situation and circumstance. I am fond of saying, “I can only be me, but there are many ways of being me.” The way I choose in a given situation is, hopefully, appropriate (I am not the same with a sexual partner as with the JobCentre advisor or in a job interview, for example). Likewise, the tensions in those situations are not the same.
Nevertheless, I am a writer, and playing with characters is part of the joy in that. So meeting the tomboy within is worth it even though a full description is not possible and it may not produce as much in terms of illumination as I might hope.
So, let’s see what can be said about the tomboy Valerie Northe, or “Vannie”, as that inner idea of me.
I’ve never quite felt “grown up”, despite being “adult”. Vannie, too, feels about 14 most days. Inasmuch as I am adult, so is she, but that sense of teen insecurity shapes the image slightly. The idea of Vannie is very much about what I wish people would perceive about me that is at odds with my appearance, or that reflects how I relate to social norms of, for example, gender. Vannie is a girl (or woman) because of the ways in which I feel my relationships to others match more closely the way women are socialised than the description of a “man”. It’s no accident that, when given the option, I often prefer to play as a female character in video games or online worlds.
Since Vannie is me, her sexual orientations and desires are the same as mine. Which is to say, predominantly interested in women but also likes men she finds sexy (the same ones I do, who tend to be somewhat androgynous, but not hugely so). This produces the uncomfortable phrase of calling myself “a lesbian in a man’s body”, but I really don’t like that because the phrase has been used in various and problematic ways such that it cannot convey the complex combination of reality and self-perception that I am trying to describe here. Nevertheless, the startling fit of the Lesbian Cancerian dating advice feels appropriate to say why Vannie being bi/predominantly lesbian matches with my self-identity.
It gets weird when I try to think about Vannie’s genitalia. My self-image doesn’t generally negate my penis. So Vannie is a girl, with a penis, but isn’t trans* (because I didn’t see myself as trans* and don’t relate to Vannie as my true gender in that sense). Inasmuch as I present as cis in respect to genitalia (that’s complicated as well, but largely true for these purposes), Vannie doesn’t have genitals because there’s no need to interpret my self-image as distinct from my external reality/perception.
Appearance-wise, my starting point for how I feel/wish/think I look is more-or-less Mayim Bialik as Amy in Big Bang Theory. Vannie, like me (because she is me, in a way), feels her chest is too flat and wishes for bigger boobs. When I had long hair, it could stop there. But when I decided to crop it completely using a clipper on #1 or even shorter, the image incorporated that (one thing I liked was how much I thought I looked like a lesbian if I covered the lower part of my face with the annoying stubble). When Nimue Allen, who performs regularly for Pandora Blake’s site Dreams of Spanking, tweeted about her BDSM head shaving, the result was an image that resonates very strongly with my (self-)image of Vannie. Nimue has the breasts that Vannie/I dream of, so her pic is closer to “wish I look” than “feel/think I look” but otherwise I think she’s my new “inner avatar”.
Reflecting my self-image, Vannie is a little more athletic than I am, and not quite as fat. I frequently feel when I look in the mirror that my reflection looks bigger than I feel I am, even though I know the measurements of my body. That’s why I described her as “small” and “little” before: it’s relative. (Also, in terms of communicating my sense of vulnerability, Vannie is smaller than when she just represents my sense of physical space. Remember what I said about relating in different ways to different circumstances? This is an example.)
It’s fair to say that this version of myself has many similar traits of introversion, and resulting shyness or being reserved (in me these traits are related, but not all introverts are shy), she’s also a bit nerdy. I think people would be less likely to assume Vannie is a Dom, but because she is me, she would be. This is another awkward juxtaposition between my reality and identity/image.
It is very tempting to work Valerie Northe up into a full character, with a story (probably of sexual experimentation and self-discovery although I am wary of letting her be 14 for such a story) and supporting cast. In a way I could relive my school days as I wish they could have gone through writing out such a piece. But there’s two reasons not to.
- The past is the past and, for better or worse, I’ve processed it as best I can. revisiting and rewriting it won’t help me very much (although there’s a case to be argued that all my story ideas do this in one way or another)
- As I explained at the beginning, there is no cohesive, coherent entity “Vannie” in my real experience; the description concocted here comes from disparate and unconnected elements of finding myself at odds with the world around me in ways that are not confrontational but just awkward or disconcerting. Creating a new character to represent that is actually not going to help very much.
So instead, this was all just a game and a chance to show you, dear Reader, how my non-binary self, disguised (not so) cunningly as a cis man, struggles to be myself.