Asking queer androgynous women for emotional labour? You can expect an invoice

by Ruth Narc

All illustrations by Samantha Garritano

“You embarrassed me last night!” said one of my work superiors.

This is how my chef de cuisine reacted after I had brought my girlfriend and her dad to my job so we could eat some of the best food Montreal has to offer.

“I tried to make it up to you with a group hug at the end of the night,” I joked. “I even pressed my boobs against your back to make you feel better! I bet you didn’t even notice.”

“I didn’t because I was too busy trying to press my dick up against your girlfriend’s leg!”

I laughed, because part of me felt like I had instigated the comment. In making a joke about my body with my co-worker, maybe it was warranted that my girlfriend’s body be thrown into the humorous mix. However, the place I laughed from was discomfort, not actual humour. I knew that if I were to share this moment with my girlfriend, she would not find it funny that I had entertained a joke promoting rape culture.

This is the tension experienced by queer androgynous women — being forced to navigate a socially constructed gender binary we don’t fit into because of the way others read us. While at work in a restaurant kitchen, there’s an assumption that I will perform “white cis hetero male” because I “look like a boy”. I’m gay, but I know what misogyny looks like. In a male-dominated space, I find myself in a predicament. I’m expected to conform to a culture of objectification because I’m a paid employee. My superior making a joke about pressing his dick into my girlfriend’s thigh is not only inappropriate, but also forces me to make one of two choices — stay silent, or put in emotional labour.

And what are we, as queer androgynous women working in the service industry, supposed to do when patrons at our work misgender us? Are we supposed to impose our gender theory education (or lack thereof) on such liminal interactions and risk the shitty tip the client might leave us? Or do we just let it slide because as literal paid servants we aren’t supposed to make the paying client feel uncomfortable? And what if Chad from West Virginia leaves a bad Yelp review because the “boy-girl” called him out while he was trying to enjoy his $20 sandwich? Haven’t figured that one out yet, either.

So here I am, expected to perform “white cis hetero male” because that aligns with my aesthetic, while on the other hand I’m also expected to perform duties that are placed on women, specifically emotional labour. I’m supposed to teach my superior, be patient. I’m supposed to create a loving and non-violent environment supporting vulnerability so I can address his rape-culture joke or his misgendering comments, and then sidebar to explain what these things are and how they negatively affect women through male action and speech.

I sure as hell am not being paid for my emotional labour, and in teaching I risk the loss of my actual source of income. Encouraging men to think about the world in a less patriarchal way is something I’m willing to do, and something I actively work at doing. But we need to acknowledge that women are expected to perform this emotional labour. More often than not, they are the ones who initiate the dialogue and call men into the discussion.

Recently a close male friend of mine was burglarized in the night by an unidentifiable man. After the incident, he told me how he realized that he could not only have been killed, but had he been a woman, there was a good chance something worse may have happened to him. For the first time, through experiencing trauma, my friend showed signs of beginning to understand how women feel. He didn’t understand why he hadn’t been taught that certain actions and words lead to the perpetuation of rape culture, or how patriarchy worked to mould his reality and thus his understanding of the experiences of women-identifying or femme individuals.

I’m gay, but I know what misogyny looks like.
— Ruth Narc

For an hour I performed the emotional labour of passionately deconstructing misogyny and patriarchy to my male friend, and I was happy to do so. I explained to him how the issue goes further than action, how it’s embedded in our speech, and he nodded his head, not even realizing that I was using his own past misogynistic comments and actions as examples.

“What do you think people think when they see you . . . like, quickly, when people walk by you?” he asked.

I replied, “Oh, well, people definitely think I’m a boy.”

And he goes, “I think so too, but I didn't realize . . . “

You didn’t realize what? That I’m still a woman who has a vagina that she likes, even though I dress “like a boy”? That I identify as a feminist? That I perform emotional labour?. Yeah, you’re welcome. You can expect my invoice.

Ruth Narc is a queer, gender non-conforming anthropology student and skateboarder who “looks like a boy”, but really prefers sticking to “she/her” pronouns. She’s still just a “girl” living in a binary world.