— Ben Wilkoff (@bhwilkoff) January 26, 2016
Sometimes, in my day job, I have meetings with a lot of men in suits.
Yesterday afternoon was one such time. Seated around a rectangular configuration of tables were about 25 people, mostly men. Each of those men was in a suit. I was as well. While their suits were almost uniformly black, with a few charcoal greys thrown in for good measure, mine was just a shade lighter than navy blue.
My shirt was pink. My socks were lime green. My tie was a bow and had little British bulldogs on it. My hair was more unkempt than kempt, and mine was the only eyebrow ring in the room. All of this was a departure from the other men in the room.
When it was my turn to present to the group, I started with a warm hello and smiled quickly at everyone around the rectangle. I smiled more in that meeting than any other room. When I had something to say, I raised my hand and asked if it was okay if I added a few points. As I added a few points, I connected them to the things the other people in the room had already shared.
The other men in the room didn’t greet one another beyond initial 1-on-1 greetings before we’d taken our seats, and smiles were infrequent occurrences. When the other men wanted to speak, they did. No one else raised their hands, and none of them asked if it was okay to add on.
Being a professional man is boring, and it’s serious work, and it’s uncomfortable clothes. I express my gender by playing and pushing at the ends of that tedious monologue of manhood. When it comes to speaking in a group, I don’t assume people want to hear what I have to say, and I try to make sure my words honor those ideas that have been expressed before me.
I get that this doesn’t pin down my gender expression. I don’t know that I can (or that I’m interested in pinning such a thing). I do hope it points out that in putting on my clothes and interacting with other people, I am aware of the otherness I’m feeling in a room. I’m similar, but not the same.
While I don’t identify as genderqueer, I recognize that smiling more than most, asking how people are feeling, and other small acts might have the impact of queering my gender role. That’s fine by me. Looking around the table yesterday and so many others I’ve sat at, I couldn’t help but think it looked like a lot of work to be that kind of man.