Venus: What’s gender performance when you’re not perceived?


Illustration by Meher Yeda

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Venus, Columnist

Dear Daily readers,

If you haven’t had a crisis about your gender or sexuality during the pandemic, what are you doing? 

“(Gender) is an identity tenuously constituted in time — an identity instituted through a stylized repetition of acts,” said gender theorist Judith Butler. 

Without that constant repetition, the structures of gender begin to collapse. The pandemic is the perfect environment to take a break from constant performance.

I have had space to question what societal norms I prescribe to — without the expectations that are typically imposed upon me by the outside world. Being alone in my room all day can be depressing, but one bright side to that pandemic-based predicament is that I found the freedom to present myself in any way I wanted, knowing that I didn’t have to concern myself with what others think.

Presentation, pronouns, and labels are important! They don’t say everything about a person, and if you want to reject them altogether, more power to you. But in a society where normative gender and sexualities are thrust upon us without a second thought, I appreciated taking the time to sit back and consider the following:

How do I want to be perceived? What pronouns feel comfortable? How do I want to dress? Who do I find attractive? Are any of these things different from what they were pre-pandemic?

If you answered yes to the last question, welcome to your journey of questioning! It might feel scary, but it’s a fun place to be. I wholeheartedly believe that everyone should sit down and reflect upon what labels feel good to them. It’s not enough to simply accept what society has prescribed to you based on your anatomy. All of our identities require thought and care.

While I was stuck inside at home, I realized I didn’t need to perform anymore. At first, that started by staying in pajamas all day (which I would have never done before). But that evolved into playing with fashion and waking up each day thinking about how I want to be perceived.

Before the pandemic, I understood that binary gender categories were arbitrary, ridiculous and even violent. However, I still blindly accepted labels like female, woman and she/her pronouns. 

Through the pandemic, I used androgyny as a tool to discover what feels good to me. Now I use they/them pronouns in addition to she/her pronouns and understand that I’m non-binary. I hope that everyone has the opportunity to reflect and reassess the labels we use. 

It’s important to note that having androgynous style is not the same as being non-binary or gender fluid. Androgyny is often an external rebellion against cultural gender norms. Being non-binary or gender fluid are labels we use to describe our gender when we don’t identify as a man or a woman. 

Like all things, gender is not black and white. It’s important to note that being non-binary is not a third gender category — it is whatever each person defines it to be.

In the end, everything we do is performance. So, even if you’re not radically updating your identities, it’s still important to curate your image, and I hope that the pandemic has created an opportunity to do so. Maybe this pandemic was the first time you considered drastically changing your hair. Or maybe you wore makeup for the first time. Or maybe you stopped wearing makeup all together. 

Whatever it is, do what feels affirming to you. And, obviously, always make sure to be respectful of other people’s gender categories by using the right pronouns and treating them with love and care!

That’s all for this week, folks. If you have any questions, comments or need advice please fill out this Google form and check The Daily’s opinion section each Friday to read my response. 

Venus can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.