The term “queer” seems to have that sort of ever elusive quality that can’t easily be pinned down or defined. I read somewhere it’s a category only one could put oneself in. I can label myself queer but I can’t label anyone else as queer. When Vivek Shraya published her young-adult book God Loves Hair, she identified as a queer man. Now she is a transgender women. I’m not pointing this out to say there is anything peculiar about having a gender evolution, but rather the point in which she found herself on the gender spectrum when she published God Loves Hair bolsters this work as an illumination of the queer experience, and queer in this context is genderqueer.
There is a fascinating show of “mystifying femaleness” within Sharaya’s short story Lipstick that Julia Serano speaks about in Whipping Girl. Serano says, “Those who are socialized male typically end up mystifying femaleness—meaning that they develop a sensationalized and taboo curiosity about womanhood.” In Lipstick, when five-year-old Sharaya is left alone, he jumps at the opportunity to play in his mother’s makeup case. He says, “This is my chance to know her secrets, access her powers. I rush up the stairs, almost tripping into her washroom, and tear open her magic kit. I am blinded. All the bright colors are dazzling. But I am greedy for the colours that hide, the glossy surprises with caged lipsticks shells. They call to me.” For young Sharaya, his mother’s powers lie within her femininity, represented here by her makeup, and his playing with her makeup feels taboo – almost compulsive – because at age five, he already understands he can only do so secretly.
What does it say about gender if makeup, accoutrements, dress all act as gendering agents, meaning they hold the power to gender? In The Colour Purple, when Sharaya puts on his new baseball hat, he says, “I am one of the boys now.” I think it gives credence to the question, who is creating gender. Is gender God-given or man-made?