Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Gender bender

I attend a fiercely PC, liberal arts university where the health center once had a total of twenty different classifications for one's sexuality. Despite this, I haven't given the issue of gender much thought in recent years (except for the time when a student demanded to know why I referred to male pine gamete as "sperm"... in which case I guess I didn't give it much thought either, my answer being, "Because they look exactly like sperm.")

Recent events in the lives of my loved ones has gotten me thinking, and doing some research. I read in one document that children can show "gender dysphoria" even before they hit puberty. Gender dysphoria is linked with being transgender, the desire to live as the opposite gender. I don't think that this link is definitive, however.

I remember myself as a "pre-teen". Few people who know me now would recognize me. I wore loose-fitting clothes and refused to do anything feminine to my hair. I was interested in taking things apart and able to quote every Star Wars movie. Besides a handful of events (my confirmation, the 8th grade dance... ....were there any others??) and holidays, I refused to wear a dress or skirt from third grade until my junior year in high school.

This sounds pretty much like "gender dysphoria", no? When I look back I thank God how lucky I am that no overbearing school officials or psychologists got in the way. Because I didn't want to be a boy. I just didn't want to be treated with the disrespect that I saw as the norm for women.

I'm not making this up. I remember watching shows and movies and thinking how unfair it was that the only girls in adventures were princesses, and they never got to do anything fun (there was definitely some anime involving mechas where the princess had to stay at mission control all the time while the guys got to go out and blow stuff up... please comment if you can remember wth this was called). My Barbies did a lot more search and rescue missions than fashion shows. And then there was all of the blatant boob-lust in the 90s.... it may have been a prevailing theme since the beginning of time, and maybe it was just my own dawning comprehension of lewd jokes, but I remember it as a period when women in the media were eye candy, at best. (Now at least they demand respect even if they purposely market themselves as eye candy. That's better, right...?)

Anyway, my point is that even as a child I was disgusted with how women were treated in society and I was having none of it. So I decided to hide my womanly features and deny any related constraints placed upon me as a female.

As an adult, I have much more control over how I'm viewed and treated, and am comfortable with balancing my femininity with more "masculine" activities and interests. Tonight, for example, I decided to fix my phone charger and in the process challenged myself to run an electric tea light off AA batteries (a challenge because the light required 3V), and after I was done, I had a private fashion show to pick out a dress for the formal I'm attending this weekend.

Deep down, I'm still terrified at being pigeonholed into being a "woman", at least as others may see women. I get anxious whenever a partner puts their work over mine, the societal default since men still often make more money and women often take long breaks to raise the children. On the other hand, I'm very comfortable and confident in my femininity. I'm sure that when I was twelve, my mother never would have believed that this would happen, and I can only thank her for standing back (for the most part) and letting me find my own solution. I know that others might not have the same outcome and identify themselves as transgender. However I think it's important to recognize the distinction between wanting to be treated in a certain manner, and wanting to live a different live in a different body- especially when your subject is a nine year old.

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