I wear makeup. Sometimes I paint my nails – usually black – and I will don guyliner when I feel like it. Mainly I wear concealer to hide the horrid dark circles I have due to pretty much years of bad sleep (thank you, fibromyalgia).
I also wear foundation tint that I add to a moisturiser, to cover up the “spot beard” I have half the time. Puberty seemed to think we had a good time together, so it keeps coming back to visit. I’d rather it send a postcard, but that’s just me.
But where am I going with this? What does this have to do with books?
Well, I think sometimes people forget that books are there to be read. They do not come with gender labels or instructions as to which book is or isn’t suitable for kids or curious teens or anyone interested in messing with gender stereotypes. Books are there to do a job: to entertain and inform and to educate.
I’m no more ashamed to admit that I love romance in books than I am to admitting I use Lush products to stop me looking like the walking dead once my fibro crap has finished going ten rounds with me.
I read a lot of YA fantasy and most of them feature female MCs. This leads to a lot of very pretty book covers. I went through what felt like an obligatory phase of saying, “Oh this cover is nice, but…” when really, I loved the cover. It felt as though I couldn’t be seen looking at a “feminine” book without losing masculinity points.
Which, when I’m not the manliest of boys, was a big deal. So I read books like Broken, by A.E. Rought hidden behind the anonymity of an iPad or smartphone. And I would try to proudly display when I was reading say, Caliban’s War, by James S.A Corey. Manly books with manly space stations etc stuff like that. Grr!
I got very sick of that, very quickly. Being someone else, someone who isn’t bothered about wearing makeup to improve self esteem and doesn’t adore the cover of Feather Bound, by Sarah Raughley was hard work. So screw it.
I refuse to pretend that masculinity as a standard social concept matters to me. I think that’s why I’m so “there” when it comes to feminism: because the flipside to women being equal, women being treated the same way as men, being able to be geeks and gamers and whatever the hell they want – the flipside is the implication that men can be whatever they want as well. Gender stereotypes mean so little in my life, with my tiny friendship groups and the cool people I know online. Nobody cares if I take a bath with bubbles and use a face mask to stop my skin being so sore. I’m a guy and people are cool with that. I can read whatever I want, admit that I love romance and feel a bit disappointed when books don’t feature it.
I wear makeup and read books with essentially female-centric covers. And that’s okay. That doesn’t change the situation downstairs. It doesn’t somehow shrink because I read what I read, think what I think, or wear what I wear.
I think this year, more than any other, I’ve had a lot of trouble dealing with who I am. Much of this comes from my life having been officially changed by the diagnosis of fibroymalgia. I’m not the person I was three years ago; there are things I can and cannot do. The diagnosis made all that official, made it so I had to think, “I’m Leo and I have a chronic, incurable illness.” It’s a real game-changer. Add on top of that, being torn between trying to present in a more masculine way, when I’m actually quite a soft-natured kinda guy. It’s been a year of deciding to say: “Screw it”.
I’ll just be myself, since everyone else is taken.