It happened again. Friends asked my partner Traci and me, “Is one of you, like, more the man in the relationship?” This doesn’t piss me off, but it’s still puzzling. After all, I’ve always thought Traci and I were pretty much on the same spot on the gender continuum and yet people keep scratching their heads about it.
Here’s what prompted it this time: I posted pictures of us at a hoity-toity fundraiser on Facebook. Traci wore a print dress and I wore black, shiny cigarette pants and a tailored blouse. We both wore make-up and heels, though if we’re nitpicking, mine were only kitten heels.
There is any number of reasons why I wasn’t wearing a dress beyond the basic fact that my outfit rocked. Among them: I’m deathly white and L’Eggs in Suntan went out of style (if they were ever in style) in the ’80s; I have a nasty scar on my shin from walking into a broken flower pot; and dresses give my rather cylindrical body a chintz-draped pink column look. Not included on this list is anything having to do with gender roles.
In fairness to my friends, they didn’t ask just because of that pic. They’d noticed that most of the time they see Traci she’s in make-up and clothes straight from the dry cleaner, while I’m in jeans and wearing nothing more on my skin than sunblock and maybe lipstick. It’s not so off the wall for them to wonder if there was something more to this than fashion.
But what’s funny is that they are as much flouters of traditional roles as we are. They are a straight couple bonded by Comic-Con geekitude and scholarly understanding of the action-movie oeuvre. Hell, their wedding cake was a copy of the Millennium Falcon (from “Star Wars,” you ignoramus). The only time I could imagine them in full gender conformity is if she dressed up as Wonder Woman and he as Superman, or whomever Wonder Woman is dating these days.
What I get from this is a reminder of just how deeply worn our gender-expectation grooves are, even if real life has more room for variety. To me, more obvious questions about Traci’s and my sartorial choices might be, “Abby, are you a lazy ADD-addled slug in the morning?” or “Abby, do you not accept the fact that you are a grown-up now and should probably dress like one?” I’d answer yes to both.
For argument’s sake, let’s say there’s something to this question about Traci’s and my gender roles. After all, we’re not immune to those expectations any more than my friends are. It’s the model we all grew up with in some way about how couples are expected to interact. Is one of us more like a typical man or woman than the other? Honestly, I’d have to say yes.
It looks like this: When it comes to heaving bags of fertilizer to the backyard and grumbling afterwards about how she shouldn’t have done that to her back, Traci’s the man. When it comes to wiring a stereo or fixing the computer, I’m the man and Traci is the woman making endless suggestions over my shoulder that I try to ignore. When it comes to making charts of finances and household numbers, Traci’s the man and I’m definitely the ditzy platinum blonde. When it comes to picking up old socks and underpants from the floor and wondering if Traci even notices, I’m very much the woman. When it comes to being patient with a curling iron and mascara, Traci’s the total woman, and I’m the man forever striving to bring my morning grooming ritual in under two minutes. And when it comes to emotional communication, Traci’s the monosyllabic man and I’m the harrumphing woman — but Traci’s still got big girlie delicate feelings.
Does that answer the question?
Abby Dees is a civil-rights attorney-turned-author who has been in the LGBT-rights trenches for 25-plus years. She can be reached at www.queerquestionsstraighttalk.com.