Eileen Myles and “Gender Vacationing”

Okay, so that was an incredibly long and unplanned hiatus.  I’ve been freelancing a lot lately, and I just started a new semester at uni.  Busy is the name of the game. Also, my fear of publishing seems to take over a lot. So even the things I do write usually don’t make it into the ‘published’ pile.

That having been said, I read this interesting article last night, and I thought I would share my thoughts on it here.

Not only does this woman embody my political views to a tee, she sums them up much better than I ever could.

But more importantly, she raised a really interesting point:

When asked about the possibility of transitioning to male, as well as her love of females and femaleness, Myles said:

“Well, I think one can be more male and keep the vagina. More appealing to me than making any kind of permanent decision would be if you could kind of lean this way and then lean that way and have gender be a kind of vacationing.”


For some reason, that statement captured my attention.  Not because I personally feel inclined to “gender vacation,” per se, but because I think it’s a great idea and a rather appropriate term for the concept.

Despite the progress of trans rights and trans acceptance, we are still very much inclined to the default of binary thinking in regards to gender and gender expression.  At large, I believe society is more comfortable with accepting transgender people because many view it in terms of an individual being born into a sexed body that they feel is opposite from the gender their soul embodies.  It’s still largely viewed in terms of a binary, male/female, black/white type of thinking.  We have been so conditioned as humans to think in terms of categories, and always inside the box.

I’m not saying the experiences of transgender folks such as the one mentioned above aren’t valid, okay, or meaningful.  No, that’s not what I’m saying at all.  I think they matter and are very important to discuss.  I have friends with experiences just like that. But I also think there are a variety of different experiences had by trans folks.

But society at large still isn’t at okay with the idea of being flexible in regards to gender.  It’s assumed we have to choose one.  We can’t have our cake and eat it too. Well, what if we could?

Like Myles imagines, a way of leaning this way or that way, of being flexible and free-flowing and overlapping in terms of gender.  Not having to “choose” one, not having to conform to pre-determined gender roles set out by society.  No meeting a socially acceptable ideal, or molding yourself into anything unnatural.

Gender doesn’t need to be all or nothing, black or white.  We don’t have to be a man or a woman.  Why can’t we be both, and why can’t it be okay? Why can’t we embody certain characteristics, and enjoy the overlapping tendencies of each?

But even so, theorizing gender as one or the other is at large a problem in itself.  It perpetuates the binary of male/female.  We are human, and we are more than just two characteristics.  I think that is the true premise of Myles’ idea of gender vacationing.

We need to reject the notion of the gender binary as the only way to be.  Like the cognitive dissonance many people are faced with when they are unable to slot someone into the only two categories we are able to conceptualize.  If we reject this mindset and work to cease viewing people in only one of two ways, we may be surprised to find that we open ourselves up to seeing the individual in an infinite number of ways.  We may also find that we judge each other a little less and begin to see people for themselves, rather than the gendered bodies they inhabit.

Myles reminds me of Judith Butler in a way, and I think coffee with the two of them would be my idea of the best day ever.

Photo Attribution: Andrew T. Warman for the New York Times.

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