Recently I was talking to someone I respect a great deal, and she said something I've often thought as well: many people are more uncomfortable with gender nonconformity than with homosexuality. Of course, the two often go hand in hand. But let's assume, for a moment, that we can disaggregate them.
In my work circles, which mostly comprise upper-middle-class NPR listeners, few people care if your partner is male or female. Same-sex partnership is still noteworthy, interesting, and a titillating gossip source to some
people, but for the most part, it's not a big issue. Homos abound at high levels in my profession, and most are pretty open. But I have trouble coming up with examples of high-powered women in my profession who wear mostly men's clothing. If you're a woman giving a conference talk, it's not that big a deal to mention your same-sex partner. It is
a big deal to wear a necktie. No one else does it, and you're likely to be seen as "making a statement."For me, this begs two questions: (1) Why?; (2) What implications does this have for my own self-presentation? Today, I'll write about the former.Here's my guess: looking gender-conforming still adheres to people's ideas and assumptions about gender--the idea that men "are" and "look"
a certain way, and that women "are" and "look" a different way. If we define homosexuality narrowly (as I think most people do, particularly non-queers), it only challenges one aspect of gender typicality: whom you sleep with.
It's as if are only two kinds of ice cream, and ice cream always comes in double scoops: one vanilla, one chocolate. This is what most people always order, then later they learn that some
people order two scoops of vanilla or two scoops of chocolate. "Fine," they think. "Some people like two scoops of the same thing. But there are still just two kinds of ice cream."
In contrast, if someone orders vanilla with chocolate swirls and says, "It's still vanilla--it just has chocolate swirls in it," (or if, God forbid, they order strawberry) this challenges people's fundamental ideas about the kinds of ice cream that exist
. In this way, gender nonconformists
mess with people's categories. A woman in a tie, when only men are wearing ties,
is like chocolate chip ice cream. "What IS that?" people think. "No flavor I've
ever seen." This is probably why, as Kristen Schilt writes in One of the Guys, when people go from identifying as butch women to identifying as trans men, they become more accepted in the workplace. As butch women, people viewed them as gender atypical. When they become trans men, people can say, "Oh, I kind of understand--you were really chocolate all along!"
As more states adopt legal protections based on sexual orientation, I think gender conformity will be one of the next frontiers. This is closely tied--though not identical--to the fight for trans rights, providing another reason to help fight for the rights of all
other queers, not just your personal subset.
For now, I'll leave the conversation there. What do you think, dear readers? In your everyday work lives, what's people's reaction to sexual orientation versus gender nonconformity?
The other day, I had to go get some blood drawn. Because of the bizarre way my medical provider structures itself, the immunology clinic is in the children's wing. As a result, the latest chapter in my "why-do-I-get-mono-so-often" detective mystery takes place amidst Disney characters, cartoon trains, and primary colors. It's far cheerier than adult hospital, plus you get to choose a sticker before you leave.
Anyway, after the phlebotimist works his or her magic, they usually press a little square of gauze against the place where the needle went in and tell you to hold it there for a minute. Then they wrap it with that self-adhesive rubbery wrap stuff. But since the office is so child-friendly, instead of having plain old boring beige gauze, they have waaay cooler ones. Check out the types below:
Specifically, my office had the hearts, the dinosaurs, and the race cars (pink, green, and blue).
So my own, personal, bearded, honey-haired, thirty-something whippersnapper of a phlebotomist has finished the draw, and I'm dutifully holding the gauze, and next thing I know, he's lassoing my elbow with the pink one. "Why did you--" I sputtered. Then I smiled and chuckled. "Oh, I see," I say. "Girls get the hearts and boys get the racecars?"
...To which he replied, without irony, "Yep." Not being able to let it go, I said, "Wait, really? Blue for boys and pink for girls and green if you run out of either?" "Yeah," he said again, at this point seeming a little puzzled at my inability to grasp the concept of gendered self-adhesive medical wrap.
"Well, if you would have asked, I'd have preferred the race cars, or even better, the dinosaurs," I said. I grinned, hoping to convey that I didn't actually give a hoot what was on my arm at the moment, but that he might want to ask kids their preferences. "It's just like when I was a kid," I continued. "They gave me the pink, but I wanted the green or the blue."
At this point, he gave me a look that--albeit not the least bit mean--made it clear he had more useful places to be, told me to have a great day, and headed out of the room. I didn't stop him, but I hope that next time he phlebotomizes a wee one, he thinks twice before slapping on a gender-normative wrap. Is one wrap a big deal in the context of things? Of course not. But these little signals add up. They are the stuff of society, and they are the stuff of gender normativity. They are the way, brick by brick, we come to build the beliefs we hold about the way men and women "are."
Yeah, I'm butch enough to sport pink hearts around my left elbow. But just the same, I made sure to conspicuously choose a big ol' Spiderman sticker on the way out.
This guest post was written by Jesse MacGregor-Jones, who also blogs at Butch Ramblings and is also the author of multiple books.
Butch, stone butch, soft butch, baby dyke, bull dyke, bulldagger, femme, stone femme, high femme, lipstick lesbian, genderqueer, queer, gay, FTM, MTF, transsexual, transgender, gay, homosexual, fag, faggot, womyn, boi, sporty butch, bisexual, butch daddy, twinks, bears, tops, bottoms, subs, doms… Labels, labels, and more labels. I bet you can think of more that I have not mentioned.
I identify as butch. I don't identify as stone butch but I used
to identify as soft butch. I have a woman in my life that I care about a great deal. She is femme. I am a femme-loving butch. I've never been attracted to other butch women. I know several butch women who are attracted to other butches and I don't see a thing wrong with it. It just isn't what works for me.
My personal path to who I am today is complicated and I daresay that most of us have had a complicated road. Life really isn't easy for anyone. Many of us continue to evolve as we grow older, which is good and normal. Someone who is a high femme now may eventually just consider herself femme later on. I've seen butch women evolve into femme and vice versa. As I said, I originally identified as soft butch. In fact, there was a time in my life when I wore dresses, makeup, and got my hair permed every 6 to 8 weeks. I used to get my nails done and I enjoyed it to some extent. Yes, I was somewhat femme. (I have destroyed the photo evidence, so don't bother to look. <grins> )
I “evolved” as I got more secure in who I was. I have come to learn that the only real difference between me and someone transgendered is the fact that I have no dysphoria with regards to my breasts and I enjoy being touched physically. I've come to terms with my body and have no desire to actually transition. Nope, I really like to be touched. I'm good with that. Therefore, I am not stone butch. My stone butch friends assure me that they also enjoy being touched, but there are more rules involved and many of them don't like their breasts touched. Some do. The point is, we all have wants, needs, desires, likes, and dislikes, and that is just normal, We all have to get used to new relationships and how to touch people in ways that are loving and unique to each relationship.
The current woman in my life is very confused by all the labels. I think she thinks they are somewhat insulting and come across as derogatory. Some can definitely be used in a derogatory fashion. I personally don't care for labels, but they seem to have become important to the way we relate to each other. She is new to all this and she's very confused. She's never dated butches and she's never lived in a way that her sexual identity has been important. The smartest thing that she has recently said to me was that she doubted I was “typical” of other butches. This makes me laugh. I realize that while many of us have things in common, there is no such thing as “typical.”
I can only speak from my own personal view and I really hope readers will chime in and tell me what they think of the labels that they most closely identify with. I'm curious to know. For example, as I continue to evolve, I'm realizing that I also am considered 'genderqueer' because I feel more masculine and I like to be called “he” or hy.
I don't see myself as pretty, beautiful, womanly, or anything female-identified.
As a butch woman, I often feel completely misunderstood. Often I feel as if I am loathed by a large portion of society. Femme women who only date femme women have a tendency to scorn women like me. We are treated as 'ugly women who try to be men.' But gender is more mental than physical. I don't want to be a man. I'm just not completely comfortable as a woman. I don't think
like a girl. I can't help that. I don't want to be a man either. I just want to be me.
Isn't this what we all want?
Butch woman are somewhat caught in the middle. I don't 'pass' as straight, so I don't have any of that 'straight entitlement' that so many femme women enjoy. They do not get the dirty looks, the condescending attitudes, the outward hate and even the shunning within their own community the way that I do.
Being uncomfortable as a woman, I didn't get the life education that women get from dating men and living in a straight world. Straight women, and femme women, are tough with feelings. They are so in control sometimes that it is just plain scary to me. For this very reason, I don't quite fit into the male world either. I'm emotional. It is that one damn part of being a girl that I cannot control. I hate it. Almost as much as having a period once per month. That comes along once every 28 days or so and slaps me upside the head and reminds me that even if I wear a tie and suits, I'm a woman and I can't hide from that. It has taken many years, but I finally do embrace myself and love me as I am. I am neither male nor female, in my own humble opinion. I'm something of a hybrid, the best of both worlds.
You see, I've come to learn that when it boils right down to it, I'm human. All the sub-categories and groups really don't matter that much if we get down to the root of things. We are all attracted to those we are attracted to because we see something in them. That's all that matters. I just thank the stars for the one femme who likes this butch. That's all that matters to me. I think we all have the right to be who we are and love who we want to love. I also believe that we should be more tolerant of each other, as a community, if we expect the rest of the world to accept us as well. Practice less judgment and more compassion beginning today. Take the time to listen to someone else. Their story may surprise you and it may be more like your own than you imagined. In a world filled with hate, we should start practicing love, both with ourselves and with each other.
I was searching for a computer cord earlier today and came across this little device, which changes "male" plugs into "female" and vice versa. No idea why they call it a "gender changer" rather than a "sex changer." Clearly, no sociologists were consulted.
If you were gifted with a gender changer for people, would you use it? On yourself or others? How often? What exactly would it do?
, author of How to Choose a Husband and make Peace With Marriage
, wrote a short column on foxnews.com last week
that incapsulates a whole bevy of misunderstandings about how gender works, what the goals of the feminist movement are, and even about the logical interpretation of evidence.The column's central claim is that the feminist movement is responsible for the supposed "decline" of heterosexual marriage. Because women have been "told" that they are equal to men, they pursue goals ultimately incompatible with their greater desire to have a family. As
Venker says in the video interview posted above that column, "Women have become overdeveloped in their masculine side... because they have been groomed for a life in the marketplace, rather than a life at home."
At their core, she writes, men and women are different. People with children "know [that] little girls love their dolls and boys just want to kick that ball." Men and women are different creations, and as a matter of biological determinism, they inherently want different things. Venker then cites continuing gender inequality as proof that men and women are different: "
Men and women may be capable
of doing many of the same things, but that doesn't mean they want to. That we don't have more female CEOs or stay-at-home dads proves this in spades."So, let me get this straight: Gender inequality is proof of inborn gender differences? What a useful concept. Now we know why there are so few obese movie stars: obese people don't want to be movie stars. And why there are so few out gay politicians: Gay people don't want to be politicians. And why, proportionally, there are so few black partners at big law firms: black people have little desire to be partners at big law firms. See how easy life can be if you just ignore social processes and assume that all human outcomes are solely a product of personal choice?
Venker posits that the whole notion of "equality" is problematic. She writes that "the problem with equality is that it implies two things are interchangeable – meaning one thing can be substituted for the other with no ramifications. That is what feminists would have us believe, and anyone who contradicts this dogma is branded sexist."I don't know where she got this notion of equality, but it's not one I've ever heard. I've always thought equality meant two people had the same amount of value, the same opportunities, the same rights. I didn't know it meant we could just swap one person, willy nilly, for another.
I thought it meant that I, a youngish white lesbian, and Thomas Sowell
, a straight black 80-something conservative, each got one vote, the same right to counsel, and the same chance to protest a government decision in a public location. Under Venker's logic, equality actually
means that you could swap Sowell and me in virtually any circumstance "with no ramifications." To this nonsense, I doubt either Sowell or I would agree--and I don't think it would make us racist, sexist, or any other "-ist" (any more than I'd be bucking feminist notions of equality by giving my seat to an elderly woman on a bus). Venker's argument would make more sense if we lived in a world where men and women weren't socialized so differently--a place where little boys and little girls were treated the same, where parents-to-be weren't gifted with different sets of toys based on the sex of their child, where
there were equal numbers of male and female role models in every profession, where women's "formal" clothing didn't constitute teetering heels and displays of breasts and skin, where there wasn't one collection of traits associated with masculinity and an entirely different one associated with femininity. We do not live in that world. And because we do not, we are foolish to assume that anything we do is just a product of biology.
we are influenced by our genes. (Heck, all the socialization in the world didn't stop me from being a dyke.) But our genes merely set the stage. We grow into a version of our selves based on how we are socialized. A little boy jumps around and he's told, "You'll make a great basketball player!" A little girl jumps around and she's told, "You'll make a great dancer!" From day one, we are mired in social experiences--and many of these social experiences are heavily, heavily gendered. It is not as simple as parents forcing little girls to wear dresses or making little boys play baseball. Each of us is born with a hundred different possible, valid versions of our "selves" inside, and t
he collection of possible selves is different for each person. But which version we actually grow into is a complicated dance between predisposition and socialization (and I'd wager that socialization is doing a lot of the leading).
On one level, arguments like Venker's are easily dismissed because they seem so patently sexist--it's easy to chuckle at someone who thinks society is going to hell in a handbasket because we're ignoring biological destiny. It's also easy to roll our eyes at the (thoroughly and measurably absurd) notion that women are being "groomed for the marketplace" and have overdeveloped "masculine sides."
But I think it's more invidious than that. By misstating and oversimplifying the arguments of feminist and gender theorists, and by downplaying or ignoring the vastly different ways in which men and women are socialized, Venker becomes an apologist for material inequality. Why, after all, should we work harder to equalize opportunity if existing disparities prove intrinsic differences? If equal rights on paper make opportunities equal, then anyone who squawks and protests about inequality and wants to improve the world is just engaging in a silly, anachronistic waste of time.
One of the questions
I posed to you a couple week ago was, "How do you define 'butch?' Does butch necessarily mean 'female?'" At first, I was surprised so few people answered this one. But
it's tough (I've talked about the difficulty of defining "butch"
before). So, kudos to those of you who took a stab at this one. At the end, I riff a little about my own definition.
(from Mainely Butch, who posted it on her site
Butch is fierce, strong and rough, yet gentle. Butch is no-nonsense, yet silly sometimes. Butch is a generally tough exterior, yet a sort of teddy bear on the inside. Butch is that feeling that you need to fix everything…even when you know you can’t. Butch is not crying in public…at least trying not to! Butch is steeling emotions on the surface, and dealing with them when you are alone. Butch is getting up and doing what needs to be done even when you are sore, hurting and really don’t want to do it, but you do it anyway – because you are Butch. Butch is never letting them see you sweat. Butch is shopping in the men’s department and anguishing over which dressing room you’ll be banned from. Butch is avoiding public bathrooms as much as physically possible and using them at great risk of possible violence. Butch is brushing off (and secretly smiling) all of the “sirs” and “young man” comments that those in the unknowing world dish out to us. Butch is standing up for what is right, even if it means getting our asses kicked. Butch is good. Butch is true. Butch is flexible and giving. Butch is whatever defines you, or how you define it for yourself.
To me, butch means a nontraditional female who may be rougher, larger, or carry some other traits that are considered "masculine," whether she overtly identifies as masculine or not. She may have been a tomboy as a girl, and she may have been either picked on or encouraged for wearing swim trunks, climbing trees, fighting, or otherwise playing the way boys are understood to play, while seriously distrusting the inherent message being conveyed when adults would point her towards dolls, dresses, curtsies, flutterings of the eyelashes, and any other cutesie-poo behaviors ("Why can't you be just like Shirley Temple?!").
As this 'boyish' child matures, she may try to fit in and become feminine at the urging of society, but, especially if she is gay, it likely does not work out easily or to her satisfaction; hence you now have an adult butch woman in whatever manifestation that takes, be it celebratory and accepted in the queer community; shunned upon and difficult in localities (or times) lacking that community; grudgingly and with a distaste for labels but just accepting "I am what I am"; or perhaps placed within a neat "butch-femme" courtship dynamic which allows her to take on traditional male roles in a relationship thus not feeling lost from societal norms.
The above is not a prescriptive definition; it is only a description of how "Butch" seems through the window of my life.
Prior to the blossoming of gay culture and butch lesbian acceptance (or at least to its availability to me) I would silently insist that I knew a butch woman when I saw one. My third grade teacher. Alice from the Brady Bunch. Even Jodie Foster in Freaky Friday -- I recognized this girl actress to be akin to me. To me it seems like many of those butches in the past, though beloved, might often have felt put upon to act the stooge, being clumsy or "not good at sewing" or "exasperated with men." I now believe the stooge act to have been necessitated by the times, and that these women, gay or not, had a lot of secrets and were probably tougher than most Dads I knew.
Butch, as I see it, is not a style, a flavor, a haircut, a dating tactic, or even an attitude. It's the visible reflection of the way that girls who became gay women (or trans men) struggled and learned to do so on their own terms, rejecting the pre-packaged notions of femininity offered to them in their youths as the required counterpart of masculinity. It is an attempt to be a whole person, even if that whole person does not "fit in" to what is expected of one's gender.
Now, with the growing acceptance of butches (slow be it coming), the definitions will shift from Butch as a reaction to society, to Butch as a choice, even a label. The shift of acceptance should be celebrated and differences encouraged. We must never reject someone [just] because their labeling system does not match our own. Answer #3:
I define butch as a part of sexual orientation (not that you can't do butch on butch but it is still sexual I hope). If you identify as butch, you are butch.
That said, I like to think I know butch when I see it. This is what I look for:
- Some visible leaning toward handsome rather than pretty (this is on the surface, such as haircut, clothes, shoes, accessories or lack thereof).
- Some level of "Sir Gallahad" in comportment and body language that feels authentic
- When playing, reads as a tomboy
- Some contradiction or complication between gender identity, sex, and sexual orientation that queers everything. This could just be expressed by some dysphoria or total dysphoria when forced to look "femmy" or it could be an inability to claim to be a butch and a woman or a butch and a lesbian - i.e. just ID as butch.
To the masculine of center, as well as any where in the spectrum from bio-male to FtM transexual, to FtM transgender, to hard Butch (passing for male) to soft Butch Male ID, to Boi (male ID) to butch female ID, to tomboi femme. There is in some way an over lapping of of masculine and feminine.Back to BW:I thought these answers
were all thought-provoking. Before I started this blog, "butch" always meant female to me. After all, if it didn't, then wouldn't a lot of straight cis men be "butch?" What would that mean for those of us in the queer community? I like the idea that "butch" separates me from being a man--for me, it's a way of being a woman--a particular type of woman that I know and love and recognize.
But I soon learned that my thinking was too narrow: there are plenty of non-gender-binary folks who ID as butch. And this makes complete
intuitive sense to me.
Which leads me to think that when I say "butch," I'm talking chiefly about a non-"male"
form of masculinity--that is, about socially "masculine" attributes divorced from identification exclusively as a man
At the same time, can I tell someone who IDs exclusively as male that he is not "butch?" I don't feel that I have that right, any more than I have the right to tell a woman in a skirt and heels that she is not "butch."
If I lack any right to "police" butchness, then isn't the label "butch" only about understanding one's self, not
about understanding others? And isn't this ultimately true about all labels? (If my white octogenarian grandfather chooses to ID as a young Chinese-American lesbian, who would I be to stop him? At some point, does this just get silly?)At the same time, if every straight cis guy started saying the word "butch" instead of the word "masculine" or "dude" or however he describes himself, I'd probably turn to a different term to describe myself (internally and to others). This leads me to think that the term "butch" is not just to describe myself; it's also relational--a way to explain to myself and others what my
"ethos" is--how I exist in the world. Whether you're butch or not, dear readers, how do you define it? Do any of the definitions above appeal to you? Do any bother you? What does "butch" mean in terms of sex, sexual orientation, and/or gender?
I've talked often on Butch Wonders about the difficulty of defining "butch," my distaste for policing "butchness," and the value I find in labeling myself "butch." I've been communicating with some of my dear readers about these and related questions, and I'd like to put a call out there for YOUR answer to one of the following:
Over the next month or two, I will post several of the most interesting, thought-provoking answers I receive. Please email me your entries, along with the following information:
- How do you define "butch?" Does butch necessarily mean "female?"
- Write a letter from your 2013 self to your 2003 self--maybe to give younger self some insight; maybe to prepare you for the next decade.
- Would we all be better off without any labels?
- What is your butch "style?" How is it different (if it's different at all, which it needn't be) from being a man?
- Describe how some other identity you have (race, religion, social class, whatever) interacts with your sexual orientation.
I reserve the right to edit these as I see fit for grammar, length, clarity, etc., but I'll do so as sparingly as possible.
- Which question you are answering
- How you'd like your name to appear (if at all--anonymous is fine)
- A link to your website (optional--I'll publish it with your entry)
- Your mailing address (also optional--a few lucky folks may win a prize)
No minimum or maximum length, but anywhere between 150 and 750 words is great. You don't need to identify as butch, or as gay, or as anything else, to submit an entry. I can't wait to read these! (And yes, if you'd like to answer more than one, feel free--just make sure to send each answer in a separate email.)
My buddy C
and I enjoy exchanging stories about the funny, traumatic, or improbable "sir"-ings bestowed on us. We began talking about manners surrounding the incidents; what do we want people to do after they mistakenly refer to us with male pronouns, then realize their mistake? Here's our advice:Things to do after you make a mistake about someone's gender:
- Just say, "Oops, sorry," and move on like it is no big deal. Because it really isn’t. It's happened to us before, and we won't hold a grudge. Promise.
We'd love to end this post here, but unfortunately, personal experience suggests that a second list is warranted.Things NOT to do after you make a mistake about someone's gender:
- Do not blame the other person. Do not say that our hair or clothes are "confusing" or point out that we are "dressed like a man." Doing so is embarrassing for you and annoying for us.
- Do not overapologize (hint: more than two apologies qualifies as "overapologizing"). We realize that our self-presentation is not gender typical, and don't think you're nuts or a jerk for making the mistake.
- Do not use it as an excuse to tell us how much you support gay rights or trans rights, or about all the friends you have who are trans and/or gay. This takes a relatively innocuous situation and douses it with awkwardness juice.
- Do not use it as an excuse to tell us you love our haircut and "wish" you could wear your hair that short (hint: you can!).
- Do not defend yourself (after following us into the women's restroom and yelling at us accusingly through the closed stall door, "This is the WOMEN'S room!") by saying, "It was an understandable mistake." We will never understand why someone is SO certain that they know what a "real" woman looks like that they honestly believe that a short man with hips and boobs just walked into a clearly labeled women's restroom, ignored the presence of women and the absence of urinals, and blithely sat down to pee. Isn't it more likely that you just might have a narrow idea of what a woman "looks like?"
- Do not switch pronouns, then switch back again. Being "sir--ma'am--sir'd" is worse than being sir'd.
- Do not say, "Oh! Them is little titties! I thought you was a man."
Coming out as a(n obvious) butch dyke when I was previously known as, and basically looked like, a heterosexual woman, was like my very own social experiment about the effects of sexual orientation and gender presentation.I've written previously about happy surprises that coming out brought to my life. I've talked less about the unhappy surprises; I'll hit some of those now.
Here are some ways my interactions with others changed when I came out:
As I said, I'm only listing the negative or neutral things here, and I'm making a lot of generalizations. So please don't take the list too literally.Still, it was incredibly trippy to feel like I had stayed the same, but all these elements of the social world had suddenly changed around me.
- I became less visible to straight men, maybe because I no longer had anything they wanted. A female professor of mine once told me that when she turned 60, men stopped looking at her altogether and that she became invisible. I wondered what that would feel like... I got to find out just a few years later. (BIG generalization here; not always true; some of my best friends in the world are straight men, etc.)
- Straight women still looked at me, but in a different way. Some of them seemed to think: How much of a woman are you, and how much of a man? What does this mean for how I should treat you? Others seemed to think: How can I possibly understand someone who wants out of the game? Some of them began to flirt with me.
- Republican friends/family said things like: I am progressive on social issues, but why does being gay have to be such a big deal? They began using words like "waiting" and "inevitable" to talk about equal rights.
- Assumptions were made about me: I am pro-choice; I love cats; I care about football; I like camping; I find femmes attractive. Want to guess how many of these five things are true? People's assumptions fit me about as well as men's fitted shirts tend to.
- Straight progressive friends began using the word "partner" to refer to their opposite-sex spouse in front of me.
- Couples who were friends with both my ex-husband and I stopped calling either of us--particularly me. Oddly, this seemed to be most true for lesbian couples, some members of which began treating me like a pariah for reasons that remain unclear to me.
- I got stared at sometimes in the market or at the post office or in class or on a hike. I couldn't figure out why. And then I remembered: I look gender-atypical, and some people care about this and/or find it interesting to look at.
- A certain, mercifully rare brand of bitchy gay man hated me upon meeting me--fiercely and without apparent reason.
- I was automatically given some kind of "progressive" cred among hipstery friends who had previously considered me a bit of a traditionalist (albeit a liberal one) before.
- Even when I didn't want to think about my sexuality, which was a lot of the time, my sexuality was made an issue.
- People no longer assumed family-ish things about me, such as: I would have kids someday, I would go home for Christmas.
- Many straight friends rarely asked me if I was seeing anyone (even though relationships had always been a frequent topic of conversation).
- One or two very good friends claimed not to care about my sexual orientation, but were visibly uncomfortable when I came out to them, and then mysteriously stopped being your friends, and I will never be 100% sure if my sexuality was the reason.
- I suddenly noticed the overwhelming presence of heterosexist assumptions basically... everywhere. Movies, books, everything. Supposedly gay people were 5-10% of the population, but it didn't feel like I was represented in 5-10% of media.
- I would try to be friendly to strangers, as was my custom, in the grocery store or whatever, and they were extremely rude to me. I did not know why. Of course, this happens occasionally to everyone, but it started happening more than ever before. I didn't know if people were getting meaner, or if my patently obvious homosexuality was the cause of their rudeness.
Do any of these hit home with you?
I just read this article on the Advocate's website
about a parent who accepted her transgendered kid early on. It's heartwarming that the kid wasn't bullied (at least, not yet--fingers crossed for him in middle school). But what really caught my eye was the sentence, "He transitioned at the age of five."What?My first thought was this: no one knows what he or she wants to do or be at five.
Five-year-olds will assert that they are dogs or fire trucks, or that they want to eat only pickles for the rest of their lives. Sometimes they assert such things with startling persistence. Are we supposed to take all these things seriously?At the same time, maybe assertions about sex and gender are more fundamental somehow--more elemental. Maybe by being perceived and treated like a boy from age five, the kid in the story will avoid nasty bouts with depression and gender dysphoria
that would have plagued him if he'd transitioned at 25. He'll be able to go through puberty as a boy the first time around. Kids know who they are, this line of thinking goes. And a really big part of me agrees with this. Still, another really big part of me knows that the world is packed with sex divisions and gender norms. From a very young age, I certainly knew that I wasn't like the other girls.
I always wanted to play with the boys and wear boys' clothing. When I looked in my parents' closets, it was my father's ties that I coveted (and my mom is by no means a "girly" girl, so it's not like ties were the alternative to dresses and heels). If the mom in this article had been my mom, I probably would have transitioned.Instead, my mom would reassure me that not all girls liked to wear dresses or play with dolls. There were unfortunate restrictions (how I wished I was allowed
to shop in the boys' department!), but as best she could, she taught me that there were a lot of different ways to be a girl. I'm positive that her open-mindedness helped me to become the dapper butch I am today. For a lot of reasons, the road was not an easy one. But I am very glad to be a girl; my girl-ness just doesn't look like most other people's.I guess what I'm struggling with in reading this article is a fear that gender nonconformity will be taken for early expressions of trans identity. I think it's super important to accept kids as they are, but how do you do this--and support a kid you think may be trans--while
at the same time, leaving wide open the door that your dress-eschewing kid may be a female butch? I worry that labeling gender-nonconforming kids "trans" is another incarnation of affirming gender norms.As you can see, I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about this. What do you think, dear readers? Is five years old too young to transition?