When it comes to talking gender, you might run into the idea that femininity is somehow more performative than masculinity and therefore “faker.” (See: androgynous and nonbinary folk, who come in every conceivable shape and style, being overrepresented by slim, white, able-bodied, and masculine-of-center folks in the media.) But masculinity, like any gender, is just as much a performance. While people’s experiences of their own genders are wonderful and multifarious, we all do things to present ourselves in certain ways to affirm our genders. The fact that it takes effort renders it no less real.
This is a hard enough conversation to have in the Year of Our Lord 2k19, but, surprise, Dr. Beverly Crusher broke this down no sweat back in 1992.
The episode “The Quality of Life” opens with a friendly game of poker. Upon noticing that Geordi is growing a beard, Beverly confesses to having a thing against beards; she finds bearded men suspicious. When the bearded men at the table protest that beards are a proud symbol of strength, Beverly rolls her eyes. “It sounds to me like you feel beards are nothing more than an affectation,” Geordi accuses.
“I do,” Beverly confesses. “But there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, women wear makeup and nail polish. I just think it’s time you men admitted it.”
(This almost ends with a poker match wherein they bet on the gentlemen shaving off their beards or Beverly going brunette, because this show is a workplace dramedy don’t @ me.)
Watching The Next Generation now means that when the show turns to issues on sex, gender, and sexuality, things can feel a little clunky. But seeing Beverly casually, to a primetime audience, point out that yeah, a lot of gender stuff is affectation and that’s actually… completely normal, so why don’t we all stop lying to ourselves about it, is like a bolt of lightning. Yow!