Playing with Gender on Airplanes, Part 2

Hi again. This is Robin and I am here with part two of my playing with gender while flying. As I mentioned in part one, I took a couple of trips in sort of “semi-femme” mode in which I wore relatively androgynous clothing and a wig but no makeup, padding, or other clearly feminine “indicators.” The clothes were a simple woman’s patterned t-shirt and jeans. The shoes were ankle boots but without much a heel and little overtly feminine about it. I wore my wig in a simple manner, pretty much straight with just a little curl. My goals were to “dress” but without the associated stress of trying to “pass” and also to see how people would react to me, given a somewhat androgynous look. I tried this out on two cross country flights. I wrote about the Miami trip last time, now I will cover the Boston one.

The t-shirt I wore was a “daisy fuentes” brand bought at Kohl’s. I really like the style and colors of this brand and have bought lots of them. They are mostly patterns of one kind or another. This one was blue, black, and white in sort of an abstract pattern. It was long sleeve. The jeans were black Gloria Vanderbilt ones I bought at my other favorite fashion place, Costco. The boots were black with really no heel at all.

The trip from SFO to Boston was generally uneventful. I got one ma’am (again at a food place in SFO), a couple of “sirs”, but mostly genderless responses. The only really interesting test is when I picked up my rental car and had to present my license. My picture had short hair and I had long hair but the Avis counter person did not say anything.

The trip home was a lot more interesting. I was fortunate enough to get an exit row seat with no seats at all in front of us. I was a little late getting on the plane and so I rushed on with my suitcase and computer bag. I knelt in front of my seat and was unpacking things when a flight attendant came up to me and asked “Miss, can I help you with something?” This was a really nice surprise (especially the “miss” part). I looked up and smiled at her and responded in my best femme voice, “thanks, but I think I have everything under control” and then sat down. I figured she would discover her error shortly but I was in for another surprise. There was a woman sitting next to me and soon the same flight attendant came back to give us the “exit row” speech and ask for our agreement that we would help in an emergency. She looks at both of us and says “Are you ladies prepared to help us in an emergency by opening the emergency exit doors?”. I was really, really surprised. How could she not notice??? I could understand making the mistake when I was kneeling and looking down but to do it again while looking straight at me, unbelievable (but really, really nice). I smiled at her and said I agreed and she moved on to the next row. For the rest of the 5 our flight I made sure to demonstrate female body language and voice whenever I interacted with her. I also went in the bathroom and applied a little light foundation to hide whatever stubble might appear during the rest of flight. I did not want to embarrass the nice lady.

The experiences on the two flights really made me wonder what are the cues that people rely on to decide whether whether the person in front of them is male or female. I really thought I was presenting far more male than female. The clothes were slightly feminine, but not overtly so (i.e. no florals, neutral colors, pants not a skirt/dress, etc.). Many guys have longish hair and so that was not a definite signal. My face and body are not very feminine, although my height is within normal bounds for women. My body language was more feminine than male (partly naturally, partly by intent), in particular the way I stood, held my hands, and played with my hair. Maybe there was enough clues suggesting female for people to draw that conclusion. I am still very surprised at the reactions from the various people.

I will try again on my next flight.

Robin

One thought on “Playing with Gender on Airplanes, Part 2

  1. Robin,
    It sounds like such a great experience, especially being called “ma’am and miss”…..it must have made you feel so feminine….that was a good idea to touch up your makeup during the flight. I bet you would love to have been one of the stewardesses on the flight….it would be great to walk up and down the aisle so femininely and be just one of the “girls”. Lucky you. Thanks for sharing.

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