Being genderqueer or part of the LGBTQIAA* community in the Theater world is nothing new and usually accepted without much question. To be part of that same world and out about it in the Teaching field is not as frequent, nor is it encouraged. Enter code switching stage left!
I always knew I was genderqueer but I didn’t know what to call it. When I was 13 and disgusted by the sight of penises I thought I was 100% lesbian. After seeing D’Angelo’s “How Does it Feel?” video, I wasn’t so sure. By 16 I told my mother I was bisexual and her response was less than supportive. I started dating girls my own age and soon learned that I was perceived as “femme.” The whole concept of filling a gender role in what I understood at the time as a “same sex” relationship seemed ridiculous to me. “Isn’t this what we’re trying to get away from?” I thought. I soon learned that “femmes” and “studs” were just a few ways to express sexual orientation.
Now let’s be clear. You can wear a paper bag down the street and still be a lesbian. How you dress has nothing to do with who you go to bed with and very little to do with who you go to bed as. But as I grew and learned how to move in the lesbian community, I gathered “dressing the part,” whichever one that may be, was one of the quickest ways to let other lesbians know that you were one, too.
Problem was, it wasn’t that simple for me, and let’s be real, many others. Some days I was more than happy wearing my brother’s clothes and giving off a masculine vibe. This became problematic though when women presenting themselves as “femmes” read my 6’0” tall frame and Sean Jean jeans as me declaring I was a “dom*” or a “stud*.” I tried dressing in more femme clothes to show people I was more of a “wide receiver” but I just didn’t feel like myself wearing them every day.
Something was missing. A part of me still hadn’t been identified. I also didn’t like using gender norms set by systemic patriarchal standards to attract a sexual partner or potential mate. Without knowing the terms, I knew I needed a way of expressing myself outside of the gender binary system. I just didn’t know how to do that and I didn’t know anyone else who did either.
Burn Out Blessings
featuring Al Baker
closes July 28, 2018
Details and tickets
I tried every dating site. I was working Tinder. I even visited the bar scene, despite the fact I don’t drink. (I’m one of those poor unfortunate souls who really is allergic to gluten. Beer = barley and you don’t want to have sex with a me full of barley, okkkkurt!) With the exception of the roaming swingers couple or a guy collecting names for the time his girlfriend finally agreed to a threesome, I was rarely read as someone who was looking for a relationship with a person who identified as female.
I have to be honest. For a while I gave up! When I became I teacher I felt a pressure to present as female at work, especially with all of the lectures about what was (and was not) appropriate to wear in the workplace (more about that in my show, Burn Out Blessings.) When I finally started my stress-induced “ho phase,” I slept almost exclusively with men. As the show documents, those experiences were more than enough to teach me that I was not the white cisgender female droid they were looking for.
Finally, I learned about the term “genderqueer” and ultimately became more familiar with the “Q” in the LGBTQIAA* acronym. (Thank you inter-webs!) I vividly remember the day I told a gay teacher friend of mine that I finally had a word for what I was. He just looked at me blankly and said, “Oh no, you’re not one of them are you? You’re probably just a tomboy, dear. Don’t get mixed up in all of that.” I quickly learned his condescension was a typical response from the “G” in the LGBTQIAA* community (and pre/post Stonewall history would confirm the same.)
Still, I was encouraged that I had found the proper way to identify how I felt inwardly. As I looked through pictures of my fellow genderqueer “folks” on IG and Twitter, I started to feel like I wasn’t so alone in the world. I also began learning how to describe my gender identity to others.
Growing up, I always knew I was the boy my father always wanted and the responsible, organized girl my mother could depend on. As an adult, I have the spirit of a mother and a father in the same body. I am firm but nurturing. I am someone who immediately wants to fix my loved ones’ problems, and someone who acknowledges that sometimes it’s not really something I’m supposed to fix but more of a role of “active listener” I’m supposed to fill. I am someone who wants to protect and provide but also feel a strong urge to feed and comfort those around me. I also want to be with someone who feels the same way, no matter what gender they identify as.
Basically, all I learned was that I didn’t have to choose between the gender everyone perceived me to be and the gender seen as its “opposite.” After studying the history of how gender norms came to be, I realized the concept of gender is a social construct and gender roles are usually made “the norm” to maintain a certain hierarchy in a patriarchal society and varied “niche markets” for a capitalist one. Simply put, more men come home from work to a dinner cooked and children cared for if the society demands it of their spouses. Similarly, more toys and clothes can be sold if people are told certain ones are for boys and others for girls.
Today, I am perfectly fine not identifying with a gender role that was made up for someone in the 1%’s benefit in my spare time. However, the way I present myself at work has a lot more to do with maintaining the comfort of the parents of the children I work with. Coming out at work is risky and often discouraged within the LGBTQIAA* community, despite activists like Harvey Milk advocating for those who are not straight to be allowed to be teachers not four decades ago.
Unfortunately, a lot of people still don’t think adults who are part of the LGBTQIAA* community belong in an educational setting with children. Some still even go so far as to continue to conflate our sexual orientations and gender identities with pedophilia. A lot of us who exist in both worlds see our jobs defined as serving the children, the families, and communities our schools are located in.
I realize with me writing this article and participating in the 2018 Capital Fringe Festival, I am increasing the chances of parents at my school and others learning about this “other side” of my life. With that I must advise all who read this with two very basic guidelines:
1.) Just because someone is out in one physical or digital space, does not mean they are out in all spaces, and
2.) Outing is an act of violence. No matter what your feelings might be toward people in the LGBTQIAA community, please know that all that is required from you is basic tolerance, or respecting someone’s right to simply exist. Please do me and all of the other people who may be “out” in certain spaces around you that same courtesy.
Overall, the reaction I’ve received for Burn Out Blessings has been positive. I appreciate all of the warmth and support audience goers have shown me and my story so far and look forward to my next three performances in the festival. After Capital Fringe is over, audiences can see me wearing my modeling hat as I walk in Philly and DC Fashion Week shows in September, as well as the charity fashion show, Stomp the Runway for Autism, in October. I’m also a regular on the DC and Baltimore Stand-Up scene so don’t be a stranger and support a show near you!
*Not to be confused with the “dommes” and “studs” of the kink community though certain folks may identify as both.
Editor’s note: The Capital Fringe Festival is a place for artists to take risks. We greatly respect the artistic and personal risk Al Baker is taking by performing and for trusting us enough to write this article.