In recent times I’ve chosen to stay silent as America and much of the world joined in becoming obsessed with a man who became a woman. What kept me silent wasn’t the immediate issue at hand but all the arising comments that I struggle with. Gender. So much has been said which shows the limiting and oppressive views that society holds about what gender means.
I thought I was just insecure growing up but what I have come to find in my twenties is that I was also battling against society’s binary (a mathematical or digital system expressed in either 1 or 0) views of what gender means. Despite never feeling that my biological sex was a mistake I did hate having been born a girl for much of my teens. My gender was an ongoing area of frustration. It felt that my gender didn’t seem to properly fit who I was as a person. What my gender was meant to mean seemed to be very apparent to society from the day I was born, and this seems to be confirmed by entering any shop with a baby or toy section. There’s the pink section and then there’s the blue section and for clothing there’s the cream/white section for ‘we don’t know yet because we’re keeping it as a surprise’. As a slight aside, I get it babies normally look more like an it than a he or she and people chose to clarify this with pink and blue but why is it so important for us to make sure that others understand that our wonderful precious little individual is a he or a she?
But to get back on point, toy shops are the best at demonstrating our society’s very simplistic expectations of what gender means. If you are looking for a doll, a kitchen set, children’s make up, or a toy hoover they can all be found in the pink section. Growing up everything seemed to be categorised, and as far as I was concerned there was the fun club and the boring and rubbish club and unfortunately I was born into the vagina club so I thought I was lumbered with the less attractive options. And therefore also thought there must be something wrong with me.
My struggles with my gender weren’t just limited to what I felt I was meant to like or dislike or the activities I was allowed to partake in but based on my being a girl. I also thought there was something wrong with my body, having a small waist compared to the size of my hips and the ‘curves’ that this created. I felt like my body was wrong, that it didn’t match the person inside it. It would be incorrect to call this body dysmorphia which the NHS defines as “is an anxiety disorder that causes sufferers to spend a lot of time worrying about their appearance and to have a distorted view of how they look” because I didn’t have anxiety about it or even gender dysphoria which the NHS defines as “Gender dysphoria is a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there is a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity…” because it wasn’t a mismatch of biology and gender. It was a mismatch of who I was and what others projected onto my body. What I found projected onto my young body was sexualisation. I didn’t want that, it’s not that I didn’t want sexual intimacy or for no one to see me as sexually desirable but I didn’t want the intrusion which sadly most grown women can testify to receiving. I felt my body was created wrong because of the sexualised attention my body attracted. The body I wished I’d been born with was more of an androgynous body than what I had, why? So I could be understood as an individual human with an identity worth knowing rather than a physical appearance. When I look back I feel sad. I feel said that as child that I desired to be gender-neutral so that I could be recognised as an individual human. The saddest part is a child in my misguidedness I had unearthed a dirty social truth that I am more identified as a person from my gender by others than who I am, that others who do not know me will think they know things about me simply based on identifying my gender.
My frustrations weren’t simply isolated to feeling like I wasn’t the things that a girl should be but also with what a girl was, emotional. Due to being rather an emotional individual at times I felt even further like somehow there was something wrong with me due to having this female attribute of strong emotional feeling. I had emotions and they were confusing and unreliable and inconvenient. I hated them and this only fuelled my dislike of being a girl. So again I feel a sense of sadness, instead of society helping my confused frustrated self out and everyone else for that matter we are told women are emotional and if you’re male and have emotions you’re just being a girl which is a problem. This is especially a disservice to teenagers who are trying to negotiate massive changes in their bodies and minds without help and then they grow into adults who still struggle to have a language and expression for their feelings. We are all meant to have emotions and by the state of society (ever increasing numbers of those suffering from mental health difficulties and numbers of suicide deaths) it’s clear that to define emotion as a characteristic specific to a gender is completely flawed and unhelpful and certainly isn’t helping with the barrage of other things diminishing our national well being yet it seems to be normal.
These examples are but a few examples from my struggles to come to terms with who I was and what it meant for me to be a woman, there are so many more. My journey in becoming accepting of myself as a person would have been far easier without such narrow ideas of gender. What does it mean for me to be a woman now; well it’s simply a biological thing. What does it mean for me to be me well that’s a much more interesting unique beautiful mysterious question which is an adventure of discovery that I continue in but that thankfully is less and less confused by the presence of a vagina or breasts or socially binary limiting views of what a man or a woman is.
It also means that I have becoming accepting of my dysphoria, my dysphoria at views of gender and what that means to the individual. My dissatisfaction at the disservice done to people with emotions, the disservice done to children who don’t want to play with certain toys and may only realise too late that their gender does not predict their job, life opportunities or their likes or dislikes, to the men side-lined as fathers because they don’t have breasts and the apparent assumed uselessness as care givers this can result in…the list goes on but so sadly does the divisions of roles due to ideas of gender and what that means.