If you have ever people-watched before, you’ve probably noticed that everyone walks or motions differently. Some of these patterns are learned through hobbies, sports, or practices when they were younger, but some of it is shaped in the earlier stages of life. It was not until I read “Throwing like a Girl: A Phenomenology of Feminine Body Comportment Motility and Spatiality” by Iris Young that I fully understood that the way we move in the world is shaped largely by our upbringing and teachings.
I remember in middle school being in church and when I would stand up, I had a habit of crossing my leg behind the other. When I would do this, my classmates or teachers would call me out saying I wasn’t “standing like a man”. Another moment was that for a while, I wasn’t the most athletic so when I ran, it was awkward. People in my neighborhood would tell me that I ran like a girl. Reflecting on these two memories, motion has been something that has been monitored and policed.
When we watch people in motion, unknowingly we attach certain motions to a dichotomy of masculine or feminine. We have conceptualized “Manspreading” and normalized the notion that women should sit like a girl (with their legs crossed), even though it may be uncomfortable. This motion control is a part of how we identify gender. When a male is moving around “like a woman”, we acknowledge a couple of facts. The first is that they way one moves themselves is distinguishable; we can see “male or female” movement. The second is that the movement that the male is doing is somehow incompatible with him due to marking previously done. People have not only instilled a set of movement and motions for themselves, they have also been taught how to observe it in others and condemn it.
This seems to be the case that I dealt with when I was younger. I was told I was more feminine because I moved around more feminine than most guys my age. When people have nature/nurture arguments about homosexuality as a genetic thing, my case leans towards the nature side. My case is not the first, other men and women find themselves in the same “incompatibility” that I do. This dates back thousands of years; it isn’t anything new. The Greeks had a word for people who were gender-deviant, they were called “Kinaidos” which roughly translates to feminine-men. In their era, the kinaidos weren’t explicitly condemned but a man who had feminine ways of moving about was singled out and marked. Often the kinaidos were dancers, using their motions to a positive use.
The reality that I live in is that my motion was observed and condemned for a majority of my life. I think a lot of people have experienced similar things. It is not the case that we intentionally try to police the ways in which moves about the world but instead an inherent habit we just do. We are so used to the norm that anything other strikes our attention. We can try to be better about catching ourselves, but old habits die hard.
If you’re interested, please check out my other queer reflections.