chiv·al·ry noun \ˈshi-vəl-rē\
1 : mounted men-at-arms
a : martial valor
b : knightly skill
3 : gallant or distinguished gentlemen
Well, there you have it. That sure is a delicate and problematic term. I want to make it very clear at first that I can only speak to my own experiences, my own feelings and my own inadequacies therein, but I do invite thoughtful discussion. In fact, I’d love it if y’all would be willing to share what you think about this particular subject.
I have been long anxious about discussing the ways in which I identify with chivalry, trying my best to make it clear that my finger-hold on these particular words (gentleman, chivalrous, gallantry) do not equate to some sort of gross misogyny. I think that, for me, part of chivalry, of general gentlemanly-ness is about holding up the ways in which my masculinity can be feminist, can be radical. The ways my masculinity takes care. It is about staying aware of, about accepting critique and feedback regarding my behavior and relationships in the world without becoming defensive. It is about constant examination of the ways in which I have to privilege of walking through the world being as a man. What I’m saying is, I guess, that self-examination and analysis is woven into the parts of my identity that are chivalrous. They are, for me, intrinsically linked to one another. They are completely caught up in each other swaddled in the big soft cloth of my butchness, of my queerness. Of course, this part is almost easier to talk about than the other part, the part where I am a lover of pomp, circumstance, dandy duds, dudes and John Wayne (rumored a very big time closeted dandy) movies. While simultaneously archiving and analyzing identity from a fortunate feminist place, there are many things about being a gentleman that connect me to my history, my community, my family and my lovers. It is difficult (to say the least) to discuss these ways, and I believe that some of that has to do with the F word. By that, I mean, fear.
Over the years, I’ve had many difficult and tender conversations with other transmen and allies about our friend, fear. About the ways in which misogyny (and homophobia) root in our hearts and create in us a sometimes seemingly insurmountable fear. Fear of men, fear of the world, and fear of each other. Instead of wandering around feeling completely sad about the whole thing (been there, done that), I have slowly and carefully begun to re-frame. A re-frame of this fear for me involves, like other identity things, giving my tender teddy heart a lot of love and permission to see the world in a unique way, express the not-so palatable parts of me, to cry, and more importantly to laugh.
How is it that I connect my masculinity to my nature as a gentleman without being a jerk? Firstly, I think it is by my family. As a girl child, I was taught the same politeness as my younger brother. It was put to us like this: treat everyone in the world equally and well. Address people with kindness, compassion and confidence. Make eye contact and shake hands firmly. Always offer everything you have to guests in your space and friends in your life while seeking no return. There are, of course, many other lessons but the point is, we were raised to be polite, and not necessarily only as gentlemen. On the other hand, I found my father didn’t hold back his thoughts on chivalry with me (maybe he felt something small and seeking from me, something that needed more learning in this area). My father taught me many things (small and large) like when to hold open the door (for everyone), and what things a gentleman always carries (watch, handkerchief, wallet, comb, lighter), and that it is okay, no matter who you are, to cry. Also, I want to say that I never associated (as the definitions above are want) chivalry or being a gentleman with wealth (we were far from it) but rather with a sense of purpose, kindness and understanding of other people. I believe in listening and in respect.
I also believe in chivalry and gallantry as a dance. In my romantic relationships this comes out in the ways in which I pay attention. The ways in which I interact with dates and partners isn’t only about chivalry, but also the parts of me that are are fulfilled in their being seen. There is a long, slow shuffle of negotiation, a gratefulness for being allowed to take care of, a joy in letting someone see and hold onto the skin under which I also need care. I am often, because of, and in spite of myself, a caretaker. The chivalrous part of this feels healthy, heart full and fulfilled. The other facets of this are harder to deal with (knowing that boundaries are hard to set for myself and struggling to feed my heart first for me, instead of in preparation for giving). While I have had relationships with folks of all stripes, this part of me feels especially cared for when I am interacting with folks who identify as women. I definitely have more to say about this particular part, but am never sure where to begin and so am working on it.
Then, there are the not so easy things to say. Things I didn’t want to learn. Things like my association of stoicism, pride, and silence with being a gentleman. My association of chivalrous feelings with shame. Thus, the continued effort at re-frame, to discuss, and to laugh at the actual ridiculousness of the whole thing. It is so important to me to have a sense of humor about my being chivalrous, dandy, butch, queer, tender, an artist.
I believe there is (so much) more to say. But I think right now, I have to sit back and let sit until I can dig deeper.