Several Ways of Seeing Gender – New Poem

A work in progress. Feel free to make suggestions (it’s clear to me; not sure it is to anyone else). As always, this post could self-destruct at any time if the poet suffers a severe self-doubt meltdown.

Several Ways of Seeing Gender

A bra strap
with the shoulders
of her sundress, the band
black & frayed.

Strained as a noose
fastened to steel girders
on a bridge. In the pew
behind her he thinks
this is the best
she could do?

Oh what he
could do with the dress

freshly pressed
the stockings & shoes
the stance the sass
in the step well-practiced
and kept
in the closet.

does not want
to be she

although it would be
easier, although
the H, glottal
of escape, indicates
on context, on

& while the sh
of her gender
is also
voiceless, it requires

tension, hints
at secret or shame.
But also

softness. Like silk
slipped past the cleft
of an open drawer.

It’s only
a dress. It’s only
a letter. Cosmetic.
This isn’t hard
to understand.

My son is home from school
& I have to play
by the rules, my fingertips
dry & stubby as the butt
of an old cigar, the red tips
hidden & stored like the bodies
of beetles on display. Clicky
as summer cicadas.

The feminine
for now
only comes out
in pictures, too glamorous
for church
on Sunday.

It isn’t just gender
that gets in the way,
it’s preference. Taste.

who desires elegance nowadays

I am
this dress
& those

that pose
in that photo
the lighting
just so
the drape & slit
of skirt against thigh –

she says it isn’t fair
when a man
has better legs
than a woman

& oh what he
could do if he
were she. He does not want
to be she

but he would do
the best she/he could do
if he could wear that dress
to church one Sunday.


34 thoughts on “Several Ways of Seeing Gender – New Poem

  1. Oh wow! This is so good. Most internet poetry blows. 😛 Well-honed use of imagery and everything. Good use of numbered divisions as well. I might be appropriating that in the future. 😛

    I’m working on a book of poems right now about LGBTQ issues (among other things) and this was really inspiring. 🙂

    Overall, great poem and I can’t think of any revisions for you. Good luck with it!

    • Thank you! As a straight woman, I was hesitant to write outside of my own experience like this, but through my self-portrait work on Flickr I’ve met so many crossdressing and transgendered individuals who are just, well, awesome, and with whom I have a lot in common, and through them I’ve come to discover so many dimensions of gender that I never questioned before. I hope I did the subject justice as my perspective may not be accurate.

  2. “the H, glottal / fricative / of escape” — lines I love seeing in the world

    This is great, and writing outside of your experience? It seems to me a way into the experience of others, making them less other and more self, a way of bringing down walls and borders.

    I have an idea for a place you might submit this. Ping me.

    • I think it can be those things, but it can also piss people off. You know I don’t like to do that. And that it probably can’t be avoided.

      I had to look up what it means to ping you. It sounded naughty.

  3. One of my very favorite gender theorists would love this (Judith Butler)! I love it, too. I adore the whole notion of any identity as something that can be put on and taken off according to desire (or according to whether or not the kids are home from school–LOL!).

    • Thanks Mel! I also appreciate the idea that these strict boundaries of what constitutes male vs. female behavior and/or rules of appearance, in particular, are entirely socially constructed, and that there is a far greater spectrum of personal preference than our dominant culture allows or acknowledges.

  4. Spectacular. And don’t sell yourself short/be hesitant about being a straight woman writing on these issues… anyone can validly question the trappings of gender and how it relates to biology, society, psychology, orientation, etc. And they should question it, and they should be themselves, ultimately. 🙂

    Those insectoid fingertips were priceless.

    • Thank you, Joseph!

      I guess that is part of what prompted me to write the poem – the realization that a man could love makeup, heels, and wigs just as much as I do and it’s completely normal – the fact that a person is born male or female has absolutely nothing to do with what he or she wants to wear, or look like. It really shouldn’t have been such a revelation to me, now that I get it, but it was nonetheless.

    • Joseph, one of my friends just turned me on to this prompt, and I’m another straight girl (I think you figured that out, ha ha ha) who is an LGBT activist. I’m always encouraged when someone writes and says, ‘Don’t apologize for writing/doing whatever because you’re straight,’ because there is a certain presumption that the only folks writing about LGBTQ issues are “in the club,” not allies. You rock, as always! Amy

  5. The comments are particularly interesting to read. And, I agree with Joseph and your reply to him shows why you, and anyone else, can write about people we aren’t. Think about how many people a novelist inhabits but has never been. You have avoided stereotype and kept the voice true.
    Beside that, you have a wonderful poem: the structure, the imagery, the voice, the theme. I like it more each time I read it and think it would be a great poem to read aloud to an audience.


  6. I’ve often commented about changing into and out of different personas. I must admit, this is one I’ve never tried, but I have met some of those who do. Oddest thing, they are people, just like everyone else, and they search for acceptance, just like everyone else. It’s a small world after all.

  7. The second was strongest for me, not sure why. i think you did a great job conveying feelings and the imagery throughout. I agree with Margo, writers get to be other people through their work; don’t doubt yourself.

  8. MareyMercy, Mike sent me this link and I am SO GLAD he did. Big hugs for him. I’m another straight female ally of the LGBT community and have been for years. I know what you mean about assumptions! So tomorrow (Friday), tune in to this blog and I will have a poem I wrote a while back, addressing a similar issue in a different way. Intrigued? Hope so! Please stop by and let me know what you think of the Friday post. (I’d do it now but already posted for the day.) Solidarity and civil rights for all, Amy Barlow Liberatore

  9. Aside from being an exceptional response to the prompt, what a creative and intimate process for a poem to consider and evolve into such clarity of impression.

    I’ve been in conversation with myself for some while about how might a poem actually be (become?) what it says. More than simply being “about” this made-other object – like “subject”, and doesn’t that just create distance of itself?

    Maybe a criticism might say, it’s just made up, it’s not real. But how long must a moment be for it to be real? Or isn’t it all just made up anyway (the way we build our identities)? So I think, I read, this poem stepping through the looking-glass.

    This is a breath I might hope for more poems to take. Thanks.


    • Interesting idea, and it speaks to my questioning of gender. If biology makes us female or male, what other rules dictate how we dress, or feel, or behave? None of that is biological, so is it even real?

  10. I believe art can explore, like science, by positing and testing. What you’ve written has the feel of emotional validity. And I like it. Put me down as a fan of #4.

  11. I don’t have a favorite, I love the whole piece. And admire you greatly for choosing to write it. You really got into it and that is apparent. It flows like a silk dress slipped into on Sunday morning. With just enough height from those stilletos to give it an elegant carriage. Delicious.


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