From “Describe your personality in a song” to this. Huh.
To be honest, I don’t really mind a small break from the intense introspection. At best, I’ll be able to summon up an anecdote or two! Hooray, you’re spared!
When it comes to the phenomenon of Dude Sounds Like A Lady, there’s one person who comes to mind. Nope, despite a childhood chock full o’ oldies, it’s not Frankie Valli. I always knew him for a guy. Rather, it’s a singer from a couple decades later, whose high-pitched vocals I heard, if but rarely, on the hometown classic rock stations. A singer with a strange, antiquated sounding name. An old lady name. As Lottie was to Charlotte, as Dottie was to Dorothy, as Hattie was to Harriet, so this name must have been to Gertrude.
I spent perhaps half a decade of pre-Internet life foursquare convinced that the lead singer of Rush was a woman named Gettie Leigh.
As for a song that I thought was sung by a lady, but wasn’t…
There was a strange rumor going around my school in the early 90s. Supposedly, the tall, glamorous lady who sang “Supermodel” was secretly a boy. The common reactions were like the reactions to any other urban legend: flat denial, laughter, or belief undercut with horror. Yes, the idea that a boy might dress in girl clothes was right up there with Bloody Mary or the pop-rocks-and-Coke death of Mikey from the Life cereal commercials.
Me, I didn’t think RuPaul was a boy. Sure, as classmates pointed out, the name had Paul right in it. But I had some male classmates named Jamie, after all. And that little girl from E.T. was named Drew!
Besides, she was doing all those things that girls got to do – or, more accurately, had to do – when they grew up. Wearing dresses. Walking in heels. Wearing lots of jewelry. Doing her hair. Putting on tons of makeup. I was certain that nobody would spend all that time and money unless they had to.
I had an older sister, one already into her teenage years by this time. I’d been dragged on more shopping trips than I could count. I’d boggled at the array of products she needed for her hair alone: Aqua Net and LA Looks mousse and Dep gel. And then the perfumes, like the everpresent bottle of Exclamation! And all the hues of lipstick, lipgloss, lipliner, eyeshadow, eyeliner, eyebrow pencil, mascara, blush, nail polish, topcoat… not to mention necklaces and bracelets and earrings (through HOLES stabbed through your dang EARS)… it seemed to go on forever. And so did the process of putting it on. Even half an hour feels like a long time when you’re under 10, and somehow my sister could spend an hour – or more! – getting ready for even the most prosaic occasion. And gods forbid that it should rain, or that she’d break a nail or get a run in her hose, because all of that work would be for nothing.
I absolutely couldn’t fathom getting all gussied up for any outing that didn’t involve a formal invitation.
“Oh, that will change,” I was assured.
However, as a kid, whenever I was dragged along on those interminable mall trips – which always spent so much time in LS Ayers but so little time in the pet shop or Kay-Bee Toys – I secretly hoped to go to the Glamour Shots someday. I had this occasional daydream that they’d put makeup on me in just the right ways, and do my hair, and take a really elegant photo, and everyone I knew would be amazed. All the people who’d made fun of me would scuff their sneakered feet and apologize, and the ones I liked would realize they liked me, and nobody would ever call me ugly or worthless again.
But I realized before long that nothing would really work that way. It didn’t matter what I looked like, because no matter how pretty I made myself, everyone around me had already decided I was, and always would be, disgusting. Just like how I was always decreed a retard, no matter how objectively I surpassed them in schoolwork, or how I was somehow both scrawny and a fat cow, regardless of how much or little I weighed, I was ugly by consensus.
Still, I was a little curious about makeup just because I wasn’t allowed to wear it until I was old enough, and nothing sparks curiosity like something disallowed. Even then, I never did come to care that much about any of it. Blame stubbornness if you like, or uncoordination, or lack of money, or a general belief that any attempt to beautify myself was akin to polishing a Dumpster. Regardless, I just rarely felt inclined. Once in a while, I’d put some eyeshadow on, or wear some lipstick. Once in a wider while, both. If I was feeling REALLY exciting, there might even be mascara. But it wasn’t a daily thing. It was more like deciding to wear my favorite shirt, just for fun. “Say, I’m in a good mood today, or perhaps just aesthetically inclined! I think I’ll put some art onto my facemeat.” Even then, it was done more for contrast purposes: clomping around with my black ankle stompyboots, my trenchcoat, my pocketwatch, and PURPLE SPARKLY GLITTER EYESHADOW. And maybe even some of that glitter lotion that was ubiquitous at the time.
Even now, I only own a small amount of makeup, almost all of which, I realize, should probably be thrown away because it’s got to be at least two years old. Ew. I still figure that making myself look particularly aesthetic is a lost cause. Sure, in idle curiosity, I wonder how I’d look with different makeup styles. But there’s no way in any number of hells that I care enough to by all those supplies and spend all that time trying things out. I just cannot compel myself to care.
And it’s interesting, I’ve found, that my disinclination to play the Pretty Princess Dress-Up Game of female adulthood seems to make me default to “masculine” in some eyes. Yes, yes, this is where I could spout off some more noise about gender being a performance, and of the masculine being considered normative, and of how weird it is that guys get to fuck around with their gender expression by wearing a whole shopping cart full of stuff, whereas a girl can get mistaken for a dude or lesbian just because she *doesn’t* wear a lot of products or show off her figure. It’s the very exaggeration of the hair / makeup / nails / perfume / jewelry rigamarole of womanhood that makes drag the statement that it is. We have all these products, all these procedures, all this focus on aesthetics… and it’s only for girls. Dudes don’t have to – or get to – be pretty. And when they try, apparently it’s weird! Somehow, a guy who dresses in drag and constructs an exaggerated representation of femininity is seen as slightly strange, but biological females construct a less extreme sort of beauty carapace every day from age 13 to death, and that is totally copacetic. I’ve known girls who put a full suite of makeup on to go hiking. I’ve known guys who had terribly chapped lips, but refused to wear any chap-stick because that would be girly or gay. And I’ve known people, both girls and guys, who don’t see either of those behaviors as remotely irrational.
I could go on about that… but I’d rather not. Because, in the end, it’s just how things are, at present, in our society. Is anything about gender identity or expression really that black and white? Nope, but we’ve got this binary concept anyway. And it’s somehow seen as more sensible and appropriate for a whole bunch of people to spend at least some part of their lives freaking out that they – or others – are Too Masculine or Too Feminine or Not Feminine Enough or Not Masculine Enough… than it is to let people wear and do the things that make them feel awesome, whatever they are. Idealistic claptrap, that, apparently. The society around us has made up its mind about what we’re supposed to do and be and look like, and we must attend. Ours not to reason why, ours but to hairdo and dye.
Besides, no amount of words I wrote could be as effective or cutting an indictment as a single sashay of RuPaul.
And now, I must get some beauty sleep.