“On Masculinity” orignally appeared in Esaquire Magazine, October 1991
One of my earliest memories is as follows: I am sitting with my first boyfriend. His name is Markie and he is my next-door neighbor. We are both four years old. I look over at him and say, When I grow up, I am going to marry you. He looks back at me and says, When I grow up, I am going to be a fireman and squirt water all over you. I thought his comment was only mildly amusing, but I recall that my parents found it really funny. I suppose he was expressing a traditionally masculine sentiment, the phallic implications of which were not lost on them.
This phase of going around wanting to marry people was short-lived. By the age of eleven, I had decided that getting married was for wimps. So was being feminine, for that matter.I no longer wanted to marry a man. I wanted to join the ranks of men. SoI cut my long blond hair into a bowl shape around my head, wore work boots and blue jeans and a pea coat. I began to think of myself as a psychic soldier, one who would resist and endure: honest, straightforward, courageous. I didn’t play with makeup. I studied karate. In my basement there was a bucket of sand and gravel in case of fire. When I did my laundry down there, I would sit on the window sill in the dark and grind my knuckles into the gravel until specks of blood appeared. I wanted my hands to be hard and calloused. I wanted to be manly.
Around this time I was impressed by yet another image. My sixth-grade teacher built a pyramid out of wheels and sticks, objects that were frail in themselves, but when he put the pyramid on the floor and leaned on it, it maintained its shape. Beautifully and gracefully it resisted the pressure of his weight, and I decided that henceforth I wanted to be like the pyramid, which was neither masculine nor feminine it was abstract.
But even abstract shapes can’t escape the fate of being assigned one sex or the other. Traditionally, protrusions, weapons, buildings, mountains are masculine. And recessions bowls, valleys, oceans are seen as feminine. Of course, this is silly.
A woman is as capable of protruding as a man is (she can have a loud personality, or big breasts with pointed cones on them, for example). A man can be as yielding, as receptive, as any woman.
I was asked once in an interview: Who impersonates sex for me? I tried to explain that I prefer to handle these things myself, but I did suppose I could send my sister as an impersonator if I wasn’t up to it. The interviewer nodded politely and repeated the question. He meant, of course, who do I find sexy? Who personifies sex for me? I think people are sexy when they have a sense of humor, when they are smart, when they have some sense of style, when they are kind, when they express their own opinions, when they are creative, when they have character. These are not particularly masculine traits. I prefer to believe that in our hearts and minds, we are more similar than not. And my answer to the interview question was: My boyfriend A. and Marlene Dietrich.