Feministing has a really interesting post up right now that attempts to unpack the implications of the question that gay, queer, transgender, and genderqueer people have been answering since the dawn of time…”How do you know?”
Feministing, rightly turns the question around to confront societal perceptions of “normalcy” by asking “How do you know you’re NOT?” The staff responses are pretty meh, but a lot of the comments from readers are really insightful. I thought I would share my experience of my gender history and possibly encourage other folks to think about the experiences in their lives that have shaped their own identities. What I like about this question is that it confronts the assumption that any of us have just “always been” the identity that we are. Sexuality and gender are shaped by cultural forces, but also come from a place inside us that we cannot begin to fully articulate. They come from those gut feelings that we have whenever we feel strongly like we “just know” something. So, instead of assuming that everyone is born heterosexual or cisgendered until proven otherwise, I think it’s useful and interesting to consider that our assumption of default identities is inherently flawed, and that it is perhaps better to begin questioning some of the reasons we think we “just know” who we are. Whether who we are is trans, queer, heterosexual, femme, etc. How do we know what we are, and how do we know what we’re not?
My experience with gender goes back to when I was a really little kid. I guess it’s important for me to note that I am female bodied and female identified at this point in my life, but for the majority of my time growing up, I desperately wanted to be a boy. In junior high, I even tried to give myself a male name. I tried Jack out for a while, and signed all my school papers with it and everything, but no one would abide by it and it never stuck. I wore “boy” clothes and used my dad’s aftershave. Everyone called me a tomboy and I began to wear the label as a kind of badge, proving how masculine I was. However, it never occurred to me to figure out exactly what it was inside me that identified more with boys than girls until, slowly, over the past few years, I came to a couple realizations. When I think about what I like about being a boy, what I ultimately come up with most of all is that it’s so much easier.
As most girls figure out at a young age, being a girl is fucking hard. When I was little, I realized this right away. Having to care about how you looked, how you smelled, what your body type was, what you said around boys. It was all too much for me. I was awkward, ugly, weirdly shaped, and clumsy. I wasn’t anything that I was told girls were supposed to be, and so in my mind, I just kept wishing I could be a boy because then it wouldn’t matter if I was chubby or ugly or had weird hair. I would just be accepted. I mean, I know that isn’t really how it works, but I was in elementary school when I was thinking all this stuff and that’s how I thought the world worked because that’s how I’d been treated. As I hit puberty, those feelings only deepened. I got more awkward and weird looking, and at the same time, I was feeling more attracted to boys than ever before and even less equipped to be attractive to them, so I figured the best way to get them to notice me was to be like them. I actually wanted to be a girl, but I wanted to be the *right* girl, and since I couldn’t be that, I might as well be a boy because then at least I’d get to have fun and stop worrying about what I looked like.
My whole life I’ve wanted to be someone who didn’t care about how she looked. Who didn’t care about having the “right” body or the perfect features. I have wanted so much to have the luxury of acceptance, and in my head, that has always equated to being male.
When I think about being a boy, I think about comfort and ease, and confidence. Not the kind that you have to convince yourself of, but the kind that just comes naturally without thinking. Boys don’t have to worry about harassment when they walk down the street. Boys don’t have to worry about being skinny. They don’t have to worry about being pretty, or looking cute, or shaving their body hair. They don’t have to worry that they will be perceived as dramatic or emotional or difficult when they ask for what they want. They will be believed when they report that they are the victim of a crime. They will be taught how to fix things instead of having to ask for someone to teach them. They will not be told that their difficulty understanding math, science or mechanics is based on their gender. They will probably not watch someone in a job interview stare at their chest, flirt with them, and give them the job with no questions asked without wondering whether they received that job based on their gender. Similarly, they will probably not have to wonder if they were turned down for a job because they have young children at home whom they are responsible for. The list goes on. ***
Really, deep down, I like playing with gender because it allows me to shrug off all those years of indoctrination into “female” identity and occupy a space where I feel I don’t have to worry so much. I can eliminate all those societal pressures to be a “certain kind of girl” and can instead just be me. A human being in a body. I know I’m not transgendered because I don’t want to be a boy. I like being a woman, I would just like it a hell of a lot more if it meant living out from under the weight of gender expectation and prejudice, just as I am sure many, many people of all genders feel.
Thanks for reading, if you made it this far. Let us know if you have any thoughts about gender or sexuality that you want to share.
***I think it’s important to note that male bodied people experience extreme gender prejudice and stereotyping also, and this list is a general compilation of some pretty stark gender biases. I want to make it clear that male bodied people can experience these things in their lives also, but that these types of prejudice are overwhelmingly associated with the “female” experience, particularly in Western, developed nations.