Sometimes I get mistaken for a female, and for years have explained jokingly that this is because ‘I have a girl’s aura’.
When I was a teenager this happened fairly often. I remember once being at a David Bowie concert in London (part of his Glass Spider tour). With my hair spiked (in a homage to Aladdin Sane) and eye-liner I guess it wasn’t that surprising that the blokes sitting behind myself and my (female) partner remarked; ‘Cor look! lesbians!’ However only a few years later I found myself walking with another girl friend in Cumbria and something similar happened. Striding up the hillside towards Grisedale Tarn (which I always imagine as the kind of body of water beneath which a Cthuloid God may well lie dreaming) we were met by a gentleman walking the other way. Despite the fact that I had short hair, no make-up, probably stubble, a men’s waxed Barbour jacket, combat trousers and boots (as did my companion) he still greeted us with a hearty ‘Good morning ladies!’
And it’s not a phenomenon limited to a western English speaking cultural context. Once when passing through airport security in India, having gone through the metal detector, I stood in front of the male security guard and lifted my arms for a pat down search. Despite being taller than the guard (I’m 5 foot 8 inches tall) and us being face-to-face (me wearing jeans, t-shirt and no make-up or other insignia usually thought of as feminine) he directed me elsewhere. ‘Ladies to go here please!’ he remarked, indicating that I needed to be searched by the female guard (as would be appropriate were I a woman). I’ve also found these misreadings are also not age dependent; there have been numerous occasions in which I’ve overheard a child taking about ‘that lady’, meaning me.
While clearly not a banner-headline masculine type (I’m rather far from the Pipe Bear phenotype) the majority of the time these situations have arisen while I’ve been dressed in ‘traditional’ male clothing and had short hair. It’s interesting to consider these misapprehensions in the light of the fact that I do identify as a bisexual male, who likes a spot of crossdressing, and the somewhat fay Goth style (in my defense, I did do most of my growing up in Britain during the early 1980s). It’s also interesting to note that the misinterpreting person often ends up profusely apologising – as though mistaking me for a female is something I’d find offensive – itself a fascinating observation.
Of course there’s much one could explore about these misapprehensions. Firstly are they actually mistakes? Are those folks who ‘misunderstand’ me as a girl actually detecting some of these ‘feminine’ aspects of who I am, even when they are not being overly signaled by context, dress etc? More broadly these ‘mistakes’ make me aware of, and call into question, the relationship between genetic sex, genital identity, cultural norms and so on. The issues that this misinterpretation raises are subtle, fluid and multiple.
I guess for me I take these misinterpretations of my gender as a compliment. Generally I find women more attractive (at least visually) than men and so I’m always a little flattered by these ‘mistakes’. More generally there may well be some kind of cultural feed-back loop from my apparent ‘female side’ or social role (I often get to be ‘honorary girl/woman’ etc at various female-only events, for example Hen Parties).
As a magician I’m interested in these experiences because of the significance of the androgyny in pretty much every esoteric tradition. Whether it’s the dual form of Ardhanarishvara, the appearance of dual-sexed imagery in alchemy, or its modern re-visioning in the chimeric sexuality of Baphomet – the notion of both genders being present in one body is a central motif in many occultures.
I like to imagine that these misapprehensions of my apparent gender spring from what one might (in a positive sense) describe as my being ‘a bit ergi‘. This was a term of abuse in Viking age culture and was applied to men who engaged in seiðr; practices of which we know little but many conjecture to have included magics of a dark-feminine, spiritist, sorcerous (perhaps manipulative) sort. In some respects ergi seems to be much like the complex modern word ‘queer’. Today we might say we’re talking about ‘receptive’ qualities; the ability to listen to others/the unconscious/the spirits, and indeed to take the gods inside ourselves (with the obvious sexual imagery) in trance work and invocation. These seem like essential skills for the well-rounded magician, whatever their gender. (If you want to explore a more nuanced analysis of ergi I recommend reading Nine Worlds of Seid-Magic.)
So perhaps it is indeed my ‘girl’s aura’ that foxes people about the set of chromosomes I carry; maybe they unconsciously register the currents of my magical work (consisting as it does in large part of a chaos-Baphometic-witchcraft which, franky, is pretty ‘queer’), or maybe it’s just that I’m a lot more camp than I generally notice. And then there is the complex issue of whether camp behaviour is in any way intrinsically linked to the behaviour of women, or something else entirely…
I was at a bar once ordering drinks when I heard from behind me someone saying to my male friend ‘your wife has lovely hair’. I often got mistaken for a woman from behind when walking in France, truck drivers would slow down to leer at the two women walking along, and then spot that one of them had a beard. The change in their expression was comical and I wish I’d caught it on camera!
I guess the beard pretty much eliminates the possibility of being mistaken for a woman from the front, but being a slightly built man of 5’6″ with long hair seems to make occasionally being misidentified from behind inevitable….
I adore the idea of a mental detector at Indian Airports…
lol! 🙂 well spotted paracelsian, have now corrected this error JV
No you shouldn’t have – it was perfect as it was…
This happens to me all the time, but it’s the opposite. I’m a soft butch lesbian so I always get the “how can I help you sir”. It happened more when I had a mohawk but since I’ve gotten rid of it, it still happens just not as much.
I’m 5’7″ and always wear men’s clothes but even if I wore something a little “feminine” it would still happen. The interesting thing is most of the time I hear it while people are in front of me. I’m rather busty so I guess they see a man with large breasts???
Reblogged this on Weaving Among The Stars and commented:
Do I ever understand this particular issue… although reversed. LOL A good read; definitely.
Behaviour trumps ‘being’
The medium mutates the message
Postmodern style triumphs substance
Form disconnects from function
And we end up with useless things
Like Dyson vacuum cleaners and Belgium.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Many transgender folks talk about “passing” as the gender they identify as. My gender is very fluid, and many times, I identify as some form of androgynous. In what ways are an androgyne supposed to pass?
Those moments where I am androgynous, I like to think I’m passing when people don’t know if I’m a man or a woman, because I’m not.
My path to accepting my gender as one who was assigned male at birth was deeply connected with my spirituality, though, and started when I began hanging out with Mormon feminists and praying to a feminine deity.