We celebrate Del LaGrace Volcano:
On the morning tube
They’re all lookin at me
None of them quite sure
What it is that they see.
DEL: In my day to day life I pass. Usually as male. Occasionally as female. Both passings are a compromise. I possess abundant facial hair and a deep husky voice. I’m read as male and often it is safer and more convenient just to blend into the woodwork like any ordinary bloke. I’m not being seen but sometimes that’s okay. I need to protect myself.
INDRA: I sit next to herm. We are holding hands. My big hand holding herm’s smaller. I pick up on their curious looks, their confused stolen glances, their defiant challenging glares, their insecure gazes. Smiles and whispers. Herm is attracting attention, even when wanting to pass and blend. What part do I play in it? Does my presence make Herm seem more familiar or more strange? Perhaps gender happens between bodies, not within them.
A pretty boy in make-up?
A faggot? A poof?
What they’re praying for
is an ULTIMATE truth.
DEL: There is something ‘feminine’ in the way I look, both in the way I look at you and in the way I am looked at by you. This could be because my face is relatively petite or because I have rather large hazel green eyes and small features neatly balanced on a medium frame. I do have well-defined muscles, that I’m obviously proud of but they don’t really go that far in providing a masculine counter point. To the uniformed I simply look like a gay man who goes to the gym. Occasionally.
INDRA: In my daily gender presentation I’m commonly perceived as traditionally feminine. A tall, white, able-bodied and rather normative looking woman, according to certain prevailing values. I am aware that the way I look gives me privileges in the world. But it partially depends on any number of choices I make. Or don’t make. Choices of clothing, amount of make-up, of the company I keep, of whether and where I shave. And this range of choices is in itself another privilege. However, a lot seems to lie in the eye of the beholder. Some read me as a femme or high femme, others ask themselves if I am a fag hag or a drag queen. I have also had people considering if I might be MTF – a transsexual woman. Seems like I’m no longer passing as normative. What part does herm play in it? Does herm’s presence make me seem stranger, or more familiar?
They look me up and down
searchin for clues
They have no idea
which pronoun to use.
DEL: But I have a great deal of empirical evidence that the major signifier of “manliness” is facial hair regardless of what other signals might be available. Lipstick and a frock on a hirsute muscular frame creates a visceral dissonance in those I encounter. I must be queer with so many clues competing for a pronoun.
INDRA: “What is a woman like her doing with a guy like him?! And what is a guy like him doing with a woman like her?!” Their insulting questions are both subtle and explicit. Voiced and unspoken. I may be perceived as a woman and herm may pass as a man but we cannot ever impersonate a traditional (heterosexual) couple. And nor do we want to. The constellation that we create together seems oddly threatening to those you would think have nothing to fear. Size and symmetry are only two of the notions at stake due to culturally constructed ideas and ideals. “She is taller than he is… he is wearing the skirt… she insists on carrying the heavy bags… and they both wear lipstick!”
But I do not
I DENT I FY
as FEMALE OR MALE.
Those concepts don’t apply
to my intersex tale.
DEL: Out on the street I often feel the need to pass (as male) But in my own queer community I don’t want to pass as male or female. I want to be seen for what I am: a chimera, a hybrid, a herm. However after ten years of living as a herm I begin to question if it is even possible for others to see beyond the binary and validate those of us who chose to live outside of it’s confines as well as those who were never given a chance to.
With this task in mind I judiciously apply a bit of eyebrow pencil to my bottom lashes, (as I’ve done for the past thirty years). I shave my moustache and pencil a new one in. I use red lip pencil blended with vaseline to show off my lips. I want this effect to be subtle, I want it to look like the most ordinary thing in the world to see a hunky guy in a skirt and lippy on the rush hour tube. This is Criss Cross. I’m a Criss Cross Dresser. I use my re-creation-al hermaphroditic body to full effect. If I turn up the volume Blue Vulva emerges, or maybe tonight I let Tess Tickle take center stage, but most often I’m just being Del. A herm who has always loved glitz, glamour, shaving foam, a sharp razor and as many tutus as I can afford.
INDRA: My strategy around gender subversion is inconsistency. Just when you think you know what to expect from me I transform. Vast sliding movements over different positions on the gendered spectrum. Slippery changes. We are talking big metamorphoses sometimes. People, even close friends and loved ones, don’t always recognise me in my different apparitions. Dragking, Dramaqueen, CrossDressed and CrissCrossed. Or just Ordinary Everyday. It’s not simply that I disguise myself well; what they don’t recognize is that I cannot be discovered behind these appearances. If anything I am the differences between them.
So am I doing gender?
Or is gender doing me?
I wonder if you’ll tell me
what it is that YOU see
INDRA: The lenses through which I perceive the world allow me to see more than double. In fact I take in a beautifully shifting kaleidoscopic reality, an amazing mosaic of gender variance and norm deviance. Luckily, I have learnt to count past two and deliberately trained my eyes, and other senses, to detect a multiplicity of gendered possibilities all around and within me. I appreciate, value, respect, desire, admire and love what I see.
Criss cross the line.
Cross it every time.
Times as it takes
Let’s build a bridge that will not break.
Del LaGrace Volcano and Indra Windh, 2003