This is not a treatise on gender roles, which is something for another time and wholly irrelevant in this instance. Nor am I talking about sexual orientation, though that will come up over the course of thought.
It has come to my attention, over the passage of time and experience, within my own experiences and observations and conversations with others that the binary gender designations, simply don’t cover enough ground, or ‘all the bases’ whichever analogy you choose to use.
A geek joke that I was once told, strikes me as slightly pertinent in this instance, though perhaps it won’t be apparent why this early on, people are unto binary as they are unto gender, is the general gist I suppose.
“There are 10 types of people who understand binary. Those who do and those who don’t”
I have had discussions with a couple of people on this subject, some understand, some really don’t, but that is no matter, all are coming to the conversations with different starting positions and viewpoints, which makes it all the more interesting. Generally the ones who understand agree with the inadequacy of a binary gender system of definition.
I’m not going to preach a particular viewpoint, though I am sure my own opinion will be fairly clear. Nor am I looking at any form of biological logistics, these are just my thoughts and opinions on the matter and as such, are open to extension of clarification since I don’t think I am coming to it with entirely ordered thoughts or a foolproof definition on my part nor an ‘end’ to my thoughts. So saying, it may very well be that I revisit this topic at a later date.
In my opinion it starts with two basic viewpoints about a person’s gender.
a) the gender which ‘society’ assigns you
b) the gender you ‘identify’ with or assign to yourself
Now, for most people I figure life is pretty straightforward and nicely black and white. They are what they appear to be. Their appearance is male, they see themselves as male and the same with females. Nice and simple, they and society are happy with the appropriate designations.
Then there are those who aren’t and they come under a variety of subheadings but the basic realisation is that their gender identity is just not that straightforward.
You have the folk who know they are in the wrong body; everything about it is opposite to what they feel. They are one thing, but their physical body is saying something else (so is ‘society’). I cannot begin to imagine anything as horrifying as coming to the realisation that your body, your physical self is wrong and is thus something other than what it should be.
Having come to this conclusion of ‘self’, do you then opt to be true to yourself or true to your self? Which is the more important and honest choice? Of course I am being naïve enough to suggest that there is a choice. For many in this situation, I don’t think there is a choice, it’s like choosing whether to live or die. One option is pure suffocating torture and the other is hard because of other people.
I am not transgendered, but I am still gender-queer, as far as my understanding of the definition goes. For all intents and purposes I am female, but that’s not especially how I see myself. I say I am not transgender because I don’t feel strongly enough about it to say ‘my body is wrong, I am a boy’, I don’t necessarily like or appreciate a lot of the things that make me a ‘girl’ but I don’t think I am wrong. I am who I am.
So, let me clarify this a little, my picture (avatar) is fairly obvious in the way I identify… I do often get mistaken for a boy, a fact that bothers me not in the least, barring the one occasion when a child asked his… I’ll say Guardian, as I have no idea as to there actual relationship, Is that a boy or a girl? Very loudly on the train, and the chap was equally rude in his response. The question itself didn’t bother me, it was the inherent rudeness, lack of consideration for the fact that I was sitting right there and the use of the term ‘that’.
I hear the question about my gender identity asked a lot, at work by students, in the street… a lot of people who actually know me, seem flummoxed by this inability to be able to tell, but the important factor they seem to be omitting is that they know me. Most people are just going by what they see and what they then equate with what they ‘see’, if they expect to see a specific thing then they do, at least that’s what I think happens. People seem to have quite set ideas about what relates to what gender and then project those expectations on the world around them. I wish they’d just ask to be quite honest. I like the teenage kids who have no such compunctions about keeping their mouths shut when a question occurs to them. Though I don’t think my answer is ever especially helpful ‘I’ll be whatever you want to be’ or ‘both, either, neither’, depends on my mood.
The most straightforward way I can think of to explain is that, I have a female body but I reference myself in the masculine. This admittedly depends on who I am around; I don’t tend to do it at work unless it’s with friends. Most people at work haven’t even twigged that I’m gay… unless they are being desperately polite about it. It feels right to talk about myself in the masculine and it feels…odd to reference myself in a way that society can understand.
Yet I still don’t think I am transgender.
Inside my head I am of neither gender, I am androgynous of mind, and, I also feel, of body, though I have a tendency towards male out of comfort. To which end, it always shocks me when people talk about me as a girl, call me ‘miss’ or ‘lady’ (with little kids), I mean shocks me… it sometimes takes me ages to work out who they are talking to. I like watching the kids faces turn into that ‘what the heck are you talking about’ look they get towards there parents when given information they really don’t seem certain that there parents have understood. I can never understand why people can’t just see me as i quite ‘evidentally’ am. Generally children are more open to the idea of being neither, or, either, I guess that could be because a lot of them don’t have that strong inclination of gender yet.
My great uncle visited from Canada last year, bear in mind this is achap who has only seen me a handful of times and knows my mother has a son and a daughter, but he also has Alzheimer’s so if he doesn’t know you very well, everytime he meets you is like the first time. The entire time he was here he called me ‘young man’ which my family tried valiantly to correct and bothered me not in the slightest, though I felt bad for him, since I was kind of taking advantage by not correcting him. It might help to explain that when he first met me during that visit, I was up a ladder helping my stepfather build a carport, wearing jeans, boots a button down shirt and a tank top sweater, with short hair. Poor chap didn’t really stand a chance I suppose.
What surprised me the most about this, and is the crux of my longwinded rendition of this event, was my families complete and utter surprise that I ever got mistaken for a boy in my day to day existence. I pointed out the fact that it happens pretty much daily to my mother, who had had no idea that this was the case and seemed genuinely surprised (which, quite frankly surprised me somewhat). I never have talked to her about the way I identify etc, I mean she knows I’m gay, no big deal, this reticence is more due to my inability to articulate the way I feel in a way that will make her truly understand… how can I when I don’t?
Is any of what I have said making sense?
My youngest cousin, recently turned 8, is often asking me ‘why?’ Why do I have a boy’s haircut? Why do I wear boy’s clothes? Why don’t I like pink? Why don’t I like girly things? (and has been doing so on a regular basis since she was about 4) It’s a fascinating subject to broach with someone of her age, trying to explain, whilst not getting embroiled in the minutiae and details that she couldn’t possibly comprehend at her age. In the end my message to her and her siblings has always been ‘you can be whatever and whoever you want to be, there is nothing that you can’t do whether you are a boy or as a girl’. So yes, this is a rather simplistic view admittedly, but I would rather they started thinking that they can do anything than starting out feeling constrained. Now her twin can be a little sexist thing when he wants to be, because that is what he is learning in the playground… he certainly isn’t learning it from home. We have had some words, of a not too strenuous nature, I mostly pooh poohed his entire theory that some things were for girls and some for boys and never the twain shall meet. He seems to have taken that in his stride.
Anyway, that is straying entirely off topic and I feel that I haven’t really set out to think about what I had initially thought I would.
Ultimately it comes down to this; you are who you are and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You can do anything and be anything you set your mind to. Accept no limitations…or imitations for that matter, and you’ll get through life just fine.
Alternatively, if that’s not turning your crank, you can take Thursday Next’s mothers world view from Jasper Fforde’s novels;
“My mother tried to get through life with the minimum of fuss and bother and the maximum of tea and battenberg”
– Jasper Fforde First among sequels
Which is an equally valid, if somewhat non-economical or nutritionally viable, way to get through life.