A Peter Pan Existence: Living Outside the Constraints of Gender Roles

by: Kevin Sparrow 

My first day of college, I got called a man. This is better than many terms that could have been lobbed my way as a scrawny, effeminate, gay kid at a corn-fed community college. Being the queer that I am, I made sure to enroll in Acting I first semester. The initial exercise post-introductions was to partner up and describe our first impressions of each other. What sticks with me is the young woman who described me at one point noted, with conviction, “I see a man,” which was warmly affirming at the time but has since graduated into odd and confusing in the past eight years.

That feeling of affirmation is what bothers me most about this encounter, as though I had made a significant accomplishment. I don’t identify as a man. Call me boy, guy, dude, girl, lady, ma’am–I bristle at sir–but really, any other thing than man. Man is regarded as the default position in society; it codifies the patriarchy I strive against. I recognize the privileges that I enjoy as cisgender and male, but limiting the definition of man to just those descriptors does a disservice to men for whom those terms are not applicable. Because of that necessary flexibility of language, at least for queer people, man does not have to automatically apply to me. Which makes me glad, as I would feel stuck in a very particular experience and likely assimilate toward a very specific worldview. Even applying the adjective “gay” before “man,” I would feel led to engage in homonormative expressions of gender.

This idea of normalcy is where I aim my objections. Subscription to the club of man connotes a certain age, or a certain stripping away of youth and innocence. In that regard, I live what I call a Peter Pan existence: my free time is spent perusing the candy aisle–which, there should always be a candy aisle–collecting Garbage Pail Kids memorabilia and figuring out the best way to ride a child’s tricycle for entertainment purposes. I’m even contemplating attending a My Little Pony convention because, well duh. This worldview does not prevent me from being an adult or make me irresponsible (most of the time). I examine youthfulness as a way to keep my imagination fresh, to be open to new experiences. I use playfulness and naïveté in burlesque performance to open a dialogue on expected behaviors we take for granted. I refuse to conform to traditional models of gender and age, so applying “man” to my experience would facilitate the dangerous assumptions that already exist for gender identity.

My life can tend toward the sublimely ridiculous, and that’s the realm I want to keep it. I discover more capacity within myself of living well without a clearly defined role. I find by being critical of the constraints of gender roles, I am more open to understanding other people because I do not assign particular prejudices in regard to others’ identities, which hopefully means I can help facilitate conversations for those who need to be educated on issues of identity. Instead of having an assumed authority by being a man, I have ownership over the parts of my identity on which I can be an authority. Now, back to eating Sour Patch Kids and looking at Powerpuff Girl gifs on Tumblr.

Kevin Sparrow is a Chicago writer who is interested in Queerness is both a favorite subject and pastime. His education in movies-writing has proved that he is adept at powering up computers and elementary keyboard use. Sparrow’s short stories, poetry and essays have appeared in that order in Harrington Gay Men’s Literary Quarterly and LIES/ISLE, as well as on the website Be Yr Own Queero.

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