Today I found myself grading exams for my fifth grade classes. The students gathered around me, each begging me to grade their exam first, grabbing a fold of skin from the front of their necks in the Georgian gesture for “please” and trying to ply me in English and Georgian. I graded the tests in the order that my pile was in, for fairness.
One of the students then made a startling discovery. She was only the second of my students to ever notice this about me – the first was, I think, an eighth or ninth grader who I don’t teach but who I was talking to after school, probably about Lady Gaga or whether or not I like khinkali, the former being my favorite topic of conversation with my students and the latter being their apparent favorite topic of conversation with me – and in both cases, the student immediately spilled the beans to all assembled.
You see, my left earlobe contains a feature common throughout the world – a small hole through which a piece of jewelry might be fitted – because I have in fact had my ears pierced. I started out with two studs in my left cartilage, then changed those to captured balls (silver, with blue stones); later I got my right cartilage and left lobe done.
My cartilage has closed up, although the shape of my cartilage in that area is now different and you can see where the piercings were if you look carefully. However, due to their placement, you kind of have to be looking for them to notice them. The earlobe, on the other hand, is right out there – those never really close up all the way and I have a very obvious dimple there, although I suspect it no longer goes all the way through to the other side. Sometimes it itches a little, and I sometimes tug on it unconsciously as a result of said itch.
I took my earrings out after a few years – basically I was tired of the maintenance required to keep them clean and disinfected during the summer months when I was constantly sweating, because I used to work outdoors over a charcoal grill in the summer – and have never seriously considered putting them back in. Overall I can’t be bothered to add to my daily routine just for decorative purposes (which is also why I often choose to opt for low-maintenance hair and facial hair styles).
So anyway, this girl made kind of a big deal over the unexpected hole in my earlobe.
“You have your ear…(Georgian word),” she said, and pointed.
“Pierced,” I supplied, as the general ruckus in the class increased somewhat in pitch.
“Why? Are you a girl?” she asked. I slowly turned my head and tried to look some sense into her. “Are you a girl?” she repeated.
“Yes,” I replied. Sensing that I wasn’t going to play along with her attempt to pigeonhole me into one set of gendered ornamentation and behavior, the girl smiled and let the matter drop. I went back to grading tests without incident.
Now, I know this girl is in fifth grade, and thus is probably ten or eleven, and so maybe you’ll think that I’m overthinking this whole thing, but it’s representative. There’s a certain “Emperor’s New Clothes” aspect to what children say – children say what others might be thinking but are afraid to say because of social constraints. In many ways, children speak with the voice of Society – that is to say, we are all socialized as children, by children, and the social norms that we carry into adulthood are formed through exposure to other children’s uncensored censure.
One of the perks of being me is that I am completely immune to gender, sex, and sexuality based shaming. Since I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being gay, female, feminine, or any other stigmatized variant of sex or sexuality, when people try to use these things as insults, all it actually does is make me think less of them.
People have said things to me like, “How can you like Fiona Apple/Kelly Clarkson/Lady Gaga this much? Are you sure you aren’t gay?” (Strangely I usually get a pass on Ani…) Assuming that the person isn’t just joking around – and it can be hard to tell – I just translate this as “My experience is currently too limited to conceive of a person like you, and my mind is too closed to accept things that are new.” My experience was once limited regarding gender issues – and it still is limited regarding other issues. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. But mocking someone from a place of ignorance is a pitiable position to be in especially when the alternative is gaining a new understanding of the world.
So yeah, I often fail to correctly perform the gender role that society has set out for me. In fact, I generally try to ignore it, and when people accuse me of failing to perform the gender role that they expect of me, I tend to acknowledge that I am the way I am and suggest that it is their expectations, rather than my personality, that ought to be changed. Even if it were true that only girls get ear piercings, that only gay men listen to Fiona Apple, or any of the other absurd assumptions people have attempted to foist upon me over the years, it doesn’t really make a difference to me.
When my parents got divorced, my father stuck with my sister and I and raised us. Even though it was hard, even though it was non-traditional, even though his friends called him “Mr. Mom,” even though he had never even heard of any other single fathers, there was not a single cell in his body that could conceive of not raising his children. I don’t think anyone would call him less of a man for that.
And to me, something like an ear piercing or a musical preference is tiny and insignificant compared to what counts in life, like being there for the people who need you, and being kind and loving and compassionate and making the world a better place. So that’s what I strive for, and that’s what’s important to me, and to hell with any arbitrary social restrictions about what goes into my ears along the way.
Video: Dar Williams – When I Was A Boy