Queer Theory #5: I couldn’t cut it with the male gaze.
If you’ve seen the show, in it I talk about four different Queer Theories about what made me queer. These aren’t actually my own, they belong to the various people in my life who seemed to need to understand what made me not heterosexual. It’s always so interesting to be reminded of them and lately I’ve been writing down the handful of other Theories.
When I told Terna that I had written some of them she said something along the lines of well, let’s see them! And so here is Queer Theory #5: I couldn’t cut it with the male gaze:
In college, as a Women’s Studies major, I learned about the male gaze. I read about it, I wrote papers on it, I organized the campus wide programming of Social Change for Womyn working to dismantle it?
I never knew it had a name until college, but my cousins and I had this belief that Allah makes Muslim girls hairy so that guys wouldn’t want us.
In my adolescent years, I knew it as boy attention. And I was not, or rather I did not feel like I was cut out for boy attention… and I had many reasons and proof for why that was the case:
I was hairy.
I am hairy. My entire body, if untended to, is covered in fur. If you are one of those people who enjoy euphemisms like peach fuzz – it’s actually more like the rough quill coating on a kiwi.
I was not the milkman’s baby… oh no. With my hairy traits, my South Asian father is definitely my flesh and blood – I just don’t buy the claim that I came out of my mother’s womb. This is because I am certain even her vulva is hairless. She is the smoothest, (white) smooth baby-skinned woman I’ve ever met.
I think the donor for my other X chromosome was a Brussels Griffon (and yes, I know I’m getting my genetics wrong here, just play along). Just wiry haired, scrawny and well, furry… and if any boy thought I was cute from a distance, the moment he walked up to me under the horrific, confidence-crushing glow of the fluorescent lighting in my junior high school classrooms, he then would surely know he was mistaken.
I remember bargaining with God to take all the unnecessary hair on my body and turn it into one long hair strand that grew out of my chest… a singular hair that I promised I would dye, curl, and maintain with care… lovingly, tend to because he had heard my prayers.
What made being hairy worse was that my mother unsympathetic to my plight.
For one, she was hairless and smooth. She claimed that she was hairy too at one point and eventually all the hair on her arms, legs (including upper thighs) just fell off on its own.
She refused to let me shave, wax, PLUCK or even bleach any part of my body. Getting my eyebrows done was reserved for my engagement and any other hair removal would confirm her suspicion: I was having sex.
Behind her back and without the supervision of any adult or knowledgeable person, I did these things on my own though… and in my fanatical routines, I likely made myself less attractive:
I would steal one of my dad’s terrible, TERRIBLE (dear God, why are these still on the market) Bic razor with orange handle. I would shave with hand soap early in the morning on the days I had gym – mind you, not in the shower… just my leg lifted high up in the sink on cold mornings. Have you ever tried shaving with goosebumps?!
I would do it quickly – and then put on my staple leggings (under my skirt or dress as I did not wear pants – more on that later) and by the time I put on my gym shorts, my ashy, unmoisturized stems were speckled all over with spots of dry blood.
I began a regiment of at-home waxing basically my entire mouth region, not even my upper lip and whatever hair I missed, I bleached afterwards… all in the same half hour. I did this all in the secrecy of my bedroom and somehow thought that no one would notice the chemical burn on my face.
Much to my parents’ approval and happiness – and likely why I did not register on the radar of boys: I was a conservatively dressed young woman. And I was goth(ish). If my friends and I were in an Industrial/Dark Wave equivalent of the Spice Girls, I’d be Conservative Goth (and I would play the synthesizers).
Each day I made sure I showed no skin by covering in a combination of the following:
Black lace or fishnet
Stripey Wicked Witch of the East socks
Knit shawls and capes
Oh and I did not wear pants. Instead, I wore layer upon layer of skirts complete with a slip – sometimes with tulle and hoopy underwires. And just like in Little House on the Prairie, I would board my carriage, the Q76 bus, by lifting my skirt like a real lady.
I could probably go on but I won’t because it feels sad to be mean to young Wazina. I talk about it all in jest because it’s easier to remember it this way.
The truth is I don’t know if she would’ve been able to accept boy attention… or if I even wanted it. I was so frightened by crossing the wrong line – one that would get me in trouble with both my parents and God – to do something they both disapproved of.
And when my first girlfriend came along, there was an ease, a normalcy and rightness that made it easier to accept her girl attention.
The male gaze? Yeah, I am still trying to dismantle it.