“These shoes mean to me the ability to inhabit my gender. I, and this complex gender of mine, belong everywhere.”
Gender, complex gender, representation, bookstores, long distance love and… whole-cut Venetian loafers? Naturally, when Leela Sinha is doing the talking, it all fits together.
Transcript and notes:
Recorded 1 March 2023
I'm falling in love.
No, I'm becoming obsessed.
There are these Venetian loafers- whole cut, which means all one piece of leather- black, sleek, halfway between masculine and feminine. If those words even hold meaning anymore. I cannot stop going back to look at them. I do not think they come in my size. I do not know my size. I have changed so much. I have changed so much. But I keep looking at them.
The sensuality of this smooth leather, unbroken. Untouched by stitching except around the very edges. Black soles matching black uppers. Subtle, elegant, impossible. I've imbued these shoes with an understanding of my gender that I have not been able to find anywhere else.
I am also acquainted, very lightly, with two people falling in love. Half a world apart, which is to say on the other side of the world from one another. They are flaying and flaying themselves open in a way that they haven't done before. Not that I know of, not like this, not- not just telling the truth. And the truth of the gender, that to the extent that it's possible, to share the gender we all share.
We are all reaching for something similar, some complex, rich, lushness. They have found it in each other and it's beautiful. And it's bold, and it's the most tender thing I've ever seen anyone with a gender like mine do. I've been watching people with genders like this for a long time. I am moved. It is breathtaking. It is intimidating. It is awe inspiring. It is shaking the tree of what I think is possible for people with genders like this, in public.
We have been taught that we cannot have this kind of gender complexity in public. This particular kind is one of the hardest... so easy for us to fall into the background. And these shoes. These shoes mean to me the ability to inhabit my gender.
I have never been a clothing person before until I discovered that my clothing was a complete mismatch for who I was. And then I discovered that there could be a match for who I was. That not everybody walks around feeling like they're wearing an awkward cardboard costume from third grade with a big puffy jacket stuffed underneath to go door to door begging for scraps: of sweets, acceptance, understanding, comprehension. Even "what are you?"
The blank look, the uncertain smile, over and over again. I don't want to wear this cardboard anymore. I want to be warm and light and free without the jacket that makes me feel like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. I want to just be myself in my skin. And I want to show it to the world in a way that makes sense. Otherwise, I don't wish to be seen at all.
There's something about these shoes that holds all of that in one, sleek, slip-on. Its a Venetian loafer, which I didn't have that language until the ad popped up on my screen. Until I recognized it vaguely as related to some of the other things that I have seen on the internet. As I trolled around looking for signs that I exist. These two people are also a sign that I exist.
Years ago when things were different. There was a book. There was a bookstore. Let's start with the bookstore.
It was Ottawa, it was what was then the queer district. A street, maybe a street and a half. Not much. Everything about Ottawa was surprisingly compact. There's an older man who ran a small bookstore, the kind that sells paper books, the kind where if you go in regularly, they eventually know who you are. They eventually keep books behind the counter for you. They eventually point out books they think you should be reading.
He was a gay man. I don't know if he marked me for what I had not yet figured out I was. But he did know that I bought a lot of lesbian literature. And so one day when I went in looking for something new. He asked me if I had seen this one, and he pulled out this paperback book bound in shades of pale blue and gray. "Set in Stone: Butch on Butch Erotica." I never really felt like I was butch properly. At that time, it was a fairly narrowly defined space. But I knew for sure I wasn't femme. And I knew for sure I was something.
I bought it of course. I took it home. Of course, I was entranced. I don't remember, I probably stood there in the aisle of the store with the book resting on the bookshelf. I probably stood there and read a story, a story and a half. Forgot where I was, remembered again. Closed the book, picked up my stack of books, paid for them at that counter, smiled my thanks and left. Probably that's what happened.
That same bookstore owner pointed me toward Ivan Coyote. I think he probably knew, even when none of us knew. When there wasn't really language for who we were, when there wasn't really space in the public eye or anywhere else. But still here we were, still existing, still taking up space. Still having desire. Still wanting to be perceived as ourselves and not wanting to be perceived otherwise. Still craving public representation. Craving a place, craving a stage, craving an audience.
I didn't have enough of myself to want an audience yet. But I did know how important it was to read those stories, to see those faces. Even if I didn't want to wear a crisp suit. I knew it meant something about who I was that I couldn't stop looking at it.
These shoes mean something about who I am that I can't stop looking at them. It's a ridiculous extravagance. Who's leaving their house these days at all anyway? And when we do, where are we going except to the grocery store? To the woods? These are not woods shoes, I have those. I found them on the sale rack at an outdoor equipment store.
These would not even set toe in an outdoor equipment store. They have no business anywhere except a perfectly polished sidewalk. A plush carpet, a shiny hardwood floor. They do not belong in the garden, except on a garden path. They belong where words like "swish" belong.
They belong kicked casually off at the foot of a well appointed bed. Where a tangle of bodies engages in the most elegant things, and the most awkward. They belong framed by a row of hanging clothes and the walls and floor of a closet. They belong on the shoe mat by the door to have been exchanged for an equally sleek pair of leather shoes with soft soles. Indoors and outdoors, not that different.
They do not belong tromping through the halls and aisles of a home improvement store or really even in a public washroom. I belong in most of those places, all of those places. I and this complex gender of mine belong everywhere. But what these shoes hold is a kind of deliberate ambiguity.
The deliberate is important. My hiking boots are also ambiguous, distinctive only really for the fact that they run on the small side. But this is different. This is "I did not have to do anything at all for function. We are entirely about form and beauty. And I have chosen this thing that I hope arouses you as much as it confuses you."
I have chosen this thing that I hope arouses you as much as it confuses you. I want you to want to touch these. It says "I chose these to engage your senses in ways you weren't expecting." It says "I longed to be longed for. But with grace, if not restraint."
How did I become that person? How did I develop the audacity to wish to be that? How did I develop the audacity to come out of the shadowy corners? To open the door and come out of the closet at all? How did I become that person if not by seeing the people who came before me, by watching them live. Reinvent themselves. Fall in love.
Somewhere in all of this, I aged into a place of existing. There are people who wish that I wouldn't. Who are trying to legislate us all out of existence. Who are trying to make an example of us. It's been done. They think it can be done again. But all I see is a sleek pair of Venetian loafers and two people falling in love, a half a world apart.
And that cannot be undone.