I’m suffering from gender confusion. Not mine—everyone else’s. But it’s not my fault. It’s just the times: January 2007, and the whole concept of gender has been destabilized! Every time you turn on the telly, somebody is “transitioning.” Nobody is what he/she purports to be. We now live in a magical topsy-turvy world where, with a flip of her hair, Rosie O’Donnell can transform herself into Donald Trump before our very eyes on live television. Nobody is quite as masculine or feminine as one might prefer. Obama has more feminine allure than Hillary. It’s all so confusing.
Though entertaining, this situation has made me cynical and untrusting: Because they are so ultra-hyper-feminine, I now automatically assume that The Real Housewives of Orange County are just a bunch of tarted-up, silicone’d trannies. At this point, when I see a man who really looks like a bloke—Daniel Craig in Casino Royale—I can only think of him as an unusually successful F-to-M.
Since girls are sweeter and they don’t want to hit me or start wars, my solution to this problem is—and always has been—to call everyone Mary. “Hello, Mary!” “Hey, Mary—how’s it hangin’?” If I met George Bush, I’d probably say something like, “Oh, Mary! Can you believe those heinous insurgents!”
Before you dismiss me as a tragic old-school invert, let’s take a walk down memory lane.
In the swinging 1960’s, men adopted tressy hairdos and the old preconceptions about gender began to buckle like a cheaply made stiletto heel under the weight of a corpulent transvestite. In fairness to all concerned, the existing he/she rules never made much sense: Why, for example, was a giant cargo ship—an overwhelmingly butch object if ever there was one—called “she” while Paul Lynde was dubbed “he”?
The 60’s counterculture was an essentially feminine movement: Old-school masculine aggression was replaced with girlie caftans and gallons of nellie herbal tea. This was a giant switcheroo. For the first time in history, female energy trumped male energy. As per the Jimi Hendrix hit, the wind did not cry “George” or “Irving,” it cried “MARY!”, and so did I. The she-ing of America had begun.
And it continued to rage throughout the 1970’s. During this gender-bending decade, it was not uncommon to meet men who were called not just Mary, but Joyce or even Blanche. Girlfriends of mine took the piss out of their straight boyfriends by giving them hilariously mumsy names like Mildred or Doris. These gals even called their fashion purchases “she,” as in “Check out this new Fiorucci sweater—isn’t she fierce?”
It wasn’t just nelly New Wavers like me who were driving this trend. At one Chieftains concert—what could be more unimpeachably male than a gnarled Irish folk singer?—the front man would address his bandmates before every number with a “Come on, girls! One, two, three … !”
Underpinning this cavalier feminizing was the essential truth that to be a girl—a pretty, floaty, nonaggressive free spirit—was something both refreshing, minty and desirable, a bit like a chilled glass of Fresca.
By the mid-80’s, there was a backlash. Control and power became more important than floaty fabulousness. Being girlie and vulnerable was seen as idiotic, no matter which gender one hailed from. To camouflage their delicacy, women shoved giant shoulder pads into all their clothing so they looked like football players; shortly thereafter, they began stabbing men with ice picks. She-ing, Mary-ing and Blanche-ing were all seen as disempowering. Nobody wanted to be a lady, not even the gays. The combat-boot-wearing homosexualists of ACT-UP had no interest in performing their regular duties, i.e., mending antique lace and theorizing about “who really killed Judy.” Their main goal in life was to storm the ramparts of government and force President Reagan to say the word AIDS. In this hormonal, rage-filled hothouse, gender became polarized. We, the general public, were presented with a choice: You are either Stallone or Brigitte Nielsen.
The 90’s: Pretending to be either of the above proved incredibly exhausting. Ere long, the gender goal posts started to move yet again. Nirvana arrived. The era of waify grunge saw women becoming more femme-y, closely followed by—you guessed it—men. By the end of the decade, even soccer-star Marys like David Beckham were traveling with face creams and scented candles. Et voilà! The metrosexual.
Though the term “metrosexual” now seems as passé as Dolph Lundgren’s jock strap, it’s not. Au contraire. The metrosexual arrived—bonjour, Mary!—and he/she has not gone anywhere. He/she has proliferated to the point where the whole metrosexual syndrome is unremarkable. Everywhere you look, there are straight guys wearing white Thom Browne suits and pushing back each other’s cuticles. Meanwhile, the chicks—not to be outdone—have ratcheted up their femininity to a degree only previously seen among Puerto Rican transgender hookers. (Again, and with deep joy, I refer you to The Real Housewives of Orange County.)
And so, in 2007, the current gender landscape—a foaming sea of F-to-M’s and M-to-F’s—is so insane that many New Yorkers are demanding answers: “If Megan on The L Word can pee standing up, she must be a boy … non?”
In recent weeks, I have found myself offering my give-up-and-just-refer-to-everyone-as-Mary solution to a number of bewildered people. The Mary method has not been well received. In fact, the young moderns of Brooklyn think it sucks.
Product designer Philip O’Sullivan, a resident of Williamsburg, was ferociously anti-Mary when I spoke to him at a New Year’s Eve party. “When somebody calls me Mary or Blanche, it sounds faggy and pathetic circa 1972,” he told me, causing me to wince slightly.
In fairness to Mr. O’Sullivan, he inhabits a milieu where tinkering with one’s gender—the new frontier of rebellion for today’s pierced and tattooed youth—is as common as Rice-A-Roni. He clarified his position: “There’s a lot of F-to-M’s in my neighborhood—women with beards and bound boobies—so calling everyone ‘Mary’ does not help. There is a real need to be specific and straightforward.”
He continued: “I have a friend who is transitioning M-to-F, and he’s getting a bit pissed off because, even though she is now technically a lady, everyone wants to call her ‘he’ because she was male-born, just to get some clarification.”
Oh, Mary! What’s a gal-guy to do?
In this miasma of gender dystopia, all bets are off; any rules or guidelines are hard to come by. There is, however, one tip I will offer with some degree of conviction. If you happen to call somebody Mary and that person responds by grabbing you by the throat and slamming you against a wall, there is only one option open to you: You must yell, “Murray! I said Murray, not Mary! Please believe me! … Murray? Is that you?”
Hail, Mary! And Murray!