I first heard of Ruby Rose when the internet went bonkers after the release of Orange is the New Black Season 3 back in 2015. Suddenly all the die hard OISTNB straight girls have a girl crush (a term used when self-identified straight girls develop inklings of erotic desire for women) and are willing to go gay for Ruby and her character, Stella. I will openly admit that she evoked feelings in me too. But, I refuse to say I suddenly turned gay and then went back to being straight. Because that’s not a thing and that’s not how it works.
In case you didn’t know Ruby Rose is an Australian model, DJ, TV presenter and actress. She is gender fluid and gender neutral, however prefers female pronouns. Rose explained to Elle magazine what she means by not identifying as any gender:
She is an incredibly beautiful human – well, this is quite subjective, but she basically has a perfect face with her heart-shaped jaw and piercing eyes so don’t lie to yourself. Isn’t this funny? It’s easier for the world to accept an openly gay TV star than a woman who secretly wants to be a boy (this needs to be covered in another blog post because this shit is fucked up). Her story is fascinating and I admire her immensely. You can read more about her struggle with gender identity here.
In the video below, Break Free, Ruby transforms from a very feminine woman into a heavily tattooed man. The personal short film tells Ruby’s story and serves as a gender fluid tribute. The video also portrays the performativity of gender. Watch the video here.
Gender is a performance is famously argued by Judith Butler. Gender, according to Butler, is an identity constituted in time, instituted through a stylised repetition of acts and instituted through the stylisation of the body through bodily gestures, movements and enactments. Gender is thus performed in various ways through our body, clothes, language, gestures, etc. Society and culture construct our idea of what femininity and masculinity ought to be. How we style our bodies is one of the techniques through which we perform, enact and do gender. The daily actions of doing gender demonstrate how gender is regulated, performed and embodied in our social context(s). The body is significant as it is the medium through which discursive signs of gender and sexuality are performed. This embodiment produces the illusion of an internal core, but gender and sexual identity are merely produced on the surface of the body.
I like to think of our bodies as signs that function as a signifier and also signifies, to bring in semiotics and de Saussure. I would also like to refer to Stuart Hall’s encoding and decoding of texts and apply it to our bodies. The performance of your various identities are encoded by you (and perhaps the norms and expectations of society and culture) onto your body through clothing, speech and actions which can then be decoded by others. We decode Ruby’s body first as female and feminine. When she encodes her body by washing off the make-up, cutting her hair short, cleaning her nails, dressing in a suit and performing aggressive gestures and language we then read her identity as male, but not a hegemonic masculinity. Instead she is a boyish feminine male as our understanding of masculinity is quite the opposite. If gender is a performance, isn’t gender and sexuality then fluid anyway but ‘we’ prefer the safety and comfort of the binaries that are given to us by society? I think it’s time to dismantle these binaries!
Now to get back to those feelings evoked by this beautiful being that no one quite understands. It irks me that straight people say that they would ‘go gay’ for someone or that Ruby Rose ‘turned’ you gay. So when straight women have ‘girl crushes’ it’s like a safe word as you want to reside peacefully in your heteronormative bubble and having actual feelings is TABOO. In her piece Is it offensive when straight girls say they'll 'go gay'?, Clementine Ford argues that a girl crush is ;
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