Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Gender Confusion

This piece, "Two Families Grapple with Sons' Gender Preferences : NPR", on NPR pushed gender issues into the front of my brain again this week. Listening to the radio this afternoon I was struck by the parent's stories. How difficult it must be for them to find that their child, at two or three, cannot accept the gender role assigned to him/her. Knowing that your child might face a lifetime of discrimination and violence, what would you do?

When I was a little, little girl my parents did their best to raise me without gender biases. Despite this, I loved frilly pink dresses, fairies, and princesses. My grandparents and other kids didn't help, but since we didn't watch TV at home I can't really blame the media. It wasn't until junior high that I grew out of my girly-ness.

In college a good friend of mine was a cross-dresser. Antioch was probably one of the few places in the country where a trans-gendered person could be out without (much) fear. Still, I was too embarrassed to really talk to him about it. When he hit on me or my other women friends I just felt confused. I had no issue with friends who were gay or lesbian or bi, but I didn't "get" his identity.

These issues get really confusing. For example, last week at a party some folks were discussing the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival and Osento Bathhouse. Apparently the Womyn's music festival only allows "womyn born womyn" to perform meaning that transgendered male to female performers aren't welcome but transgendered female to male performers are allowed. Osento on the other hand permits male to female transgendered patrons, which makes some other female patrons uncomfortable.

All of this still confuses me. How can someone who is two be confused about his/her gender? Could the desire to be a girl arise from some trauma? From the recognition that the way that men are socialized in this culture leaves many men disconnected from their emotions and unable to connect with other humans? Or are some people born with an innate desire to wear frilly pink dresses? Can anyone talk us out of this desire? My parents certainly couldn't.

Update: NPR has more on this today. Now transgendered teens can choose to get hormone treatments that allow them to fit in better as adults. Never having gone through puberty in the opposite gender, as adults they are more like other people of their chosen gender. Somehow this comforts me, and yet I wonder how much of this has to do with the need or desire to hide one's transgendered-ness. Could more acceptance help transgendered people feel comfortable with their in-between-ness?

As a woman who doesn't fit the idealized image of what women should be, I wonder about transgendered male to female people and their desire to fit that mold. My college friend tended to wear make-up, high-heals, and short skirts much more than my hippy women friends. As a young woman I felt a lot of pressure to "fit in," yet in some ways my transgender friend stood out as more feminine than the women she was friends with. I hope we were both "being ourselves" and not bowing to outside pressures or internal anxieties about who we "should" be.


Brigindo said...

You might want to read "She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders" by Jennifer Boylan. It's a great account of growing up and living as a man when you have always identified as a woman.

Breena Ronan said...

Thanks Brigindo!