“Sky-High, Matte Black Faux Snakeskin Heals” : Construction of Femininity through Clothing in Jacob Tobia’s Sissy



Year of publication 2022
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description As an area of constant tension between one’s body and gender identity, and between the gender identity and one’s environment, clothing plays a crucial role in life writing of nonbinary individuals such as Jacob Tobia. In their 2019 memoir Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story, Tobia discusses growing up as a genderqueer male-bodied individual, for whom clothing serves as a way of expressing their femininity. This femininity is abject, nonhegemonic femininity, which does not allow them access to the limited and policed kinds of accepted femininities. On the contrary, because they challenge the connection between sex, gender, and sexuality, they are very visibly other and create gender trouble (Butler). Considering this complexity of queer femininity, the present paper discusses how clothing as a tool of constructing femininity is approached and discussed in the memoir Sissy. Furthermore, it identifies the kind of femininity Tobia embraces. Instead of trying to pass and convince, by exaggerated attention by their clothing and by the type of clothing they wear – overly feminine, decorative, and attention-catching – Tobia embraces the type of femininity that is deemed lesser and viewed as “ironic and theatrical” (Dahl 59). Tobia discusses in detail what they wore for specific occasions, such as “sky-high, matte black faux snakeskin heals” (220) to the reception in the White House. While also describing struggles, more often they portray the satisfaction and happiness connected with such clothing. They also reclaim derogatory terms as sissy or slut. By calling themselves a slut who never got laid (288), they separate the representation from the actual behavior. By proudly and enthusiastically “embracing the ridiculous, abject, and demeaning images of women circulated by the heteronormative culture” (Harris 2023) they consciously forgo their “claim to dignity,” because it is “a small price to pay for undoing … the authenticity of naturalized identities and hierarchies of value that debase” them (Halperin qtd. in Harris). Tobia approaches their situation with humor and conviction for the cause, loudly proclaiming willingness to forego their claim to dignity for the realization of their femme identity. Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. 1990. Taylor & Francis, 2006. Dahl, Ulrika. “Turning like a Femme: Figuring Critical Femininity Studies.” NORA - Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research, vol. 20, no. 1, 2012, pp. 57–64. Harris, W. C. “‘Still Raped Over Here’: Gay Male Femininity and the Rewards of Camp Ambivalence in Richard Day’s Girls Will Be Girls.” Journal of Homosexuality, vol. 66, no. 14, 2019, pp. 2021–2052. Tobia, Jacob. Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019.
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