Home now, which is both good and bad. Good because it’s home, bad because…it’s home. I love my parents dearly, but I really miss feeling like an adult in my own apartment. I’ve been attempting to minimize my “get surly and retreat” response (one of my nicknames is Hedgehog, which is a little too accurate a description at times…) but it’s not entirely easy.
Take tonight at dinner. I mention that Egg, Yoj and I are thinking of taking up bellydance. This naturally causes my father’s eyebrows to levitate several inches above his head. “Why?” he asks, in a tone that implied he’s uncomfortable, but trying to mask it by sounding disapproving.
I reply that we have decided that we a) need more exercise and b) need to make more friends, since our friend circle here consists of…Egg, Yoj and I.
One eyebrow descends. “You won’t meet any guys there.”
I lift a brow of my own. “I said the point was to meet people, not guys. And anyway, guys can bellydance.”
In the same discomfort-masked-as-disapproval tone: “Well, if you’re waiting for me to bellydance, you’ll be waiting a long time.”
Patiently: “No one said you had to bellydance. But men may bellydance if they wish.”
Disapprovingly: “Not real men.”
Pause as I translated this from Dad-speak into English: Only gay men and transvestites, AKA Not Real Men, dance anything other than ballroom or perhaps the Highland Fling. Further pause as I try to decide whether it’s better to respond to what he said (thus forcing an extremely awkward conversation where he tries to evade defining what a Real Man is) or what he meant (thus in some small way accepting the validity of his synonymization of Not Real Men with the LGBTQ etc. community). Finally:
“At the workshop I was at this weekend, there was a husband and wife who were both bellydancing.”
A dubious look. “Well, just because they can doesn’t mean they should.”
“Why shouldn’t they?”
“It’s strange and unmanly.”
Another long pause while I debate my response, since what I want to say–“For eff’s sake, stop being such a darn homophobe and chill out already–is clearly not the most diplomatic approach.
Finally I go with, “Is playing sports strange and unwomanly?” This effectively ends the conversation as Dad is apparently unable to reach a suitable compromise between what he really thinks and what he thinks won’t make him sound chauvinistic to his full-on feminist of a daughter.
It’s a small enough debate, but of the kind which happens fairly frequently whenever I’m home. I don’t mean to portray my father as some misogynistic alpha-male he-man who longs for the good old days of heterosexual, landholding white male supremacy, because he certainly is not. No one has been more encouraging of my career as an astronomer that he, and I’m fairly sure that he still hopes I’ll get my PhD someday. He’s a nice man, and a good man.
But as my mother reminded me, he, like her and all my uncles and aunts, came from the transition generation. They were raised in households with very traditional gender roles (especially my father). Their mindsets have progressed further than their parents, but it’s still hard to shake the patterns and expectations formed when you are young. Which doesn’t mean they still shouldn’t try to be more open-minded, just explains why they find it so difficult.
And the entire situation reminds me how far we still have to come in the battle for equality for all. We’ve made some progress in male-female equality, in that in the Western world, at least, it is much easier for a woman to take on traditionally male roles. But that’s less than half the battle. Until it is just as okay for men to do ‘female’ things, be it bellydancing or nursing or washing dishes, the sexes can never be equal.
It’s too much to hope that male bellydancers will solve all our problems, but maybe they can make it a little easier for straight men and gay men and straight women and gay women and men who dress as women and women who dress as men and those who identify as transexual and asexual and anyone else in the gender/sexuality spectrum I’ve neglected to just be people.
Finally, proof that bellydancing can so be masculine (rawr!):