Gender, Sex, and Identity
Who Made the Rules?
I remember being very little, maybe about three years old, when I started hearing that some clothes and toys were for girls and others were for boys. I didn’t understand why, and I hated the rules. My brother, who is six and a half years older than I am, had his toy cars, trains, and tractors, and I had stuffed animals and dolls. The trouble was that I liked toys that did stuff. My toys just sat there. My brother’s toys sped around race tracks, dug holes in the sand, had whistles and horns, and more. I loved the tiny cars that had working tires and doors that opened. Those were the toys I wanted, but I was a girl.
As I got older, my parents understood that I liked toys that actually did something. So, they bought me a child sized ironing board and iron. I loved that. It did bug me, even as a very small person, that this was a “girl’s” toy, but it worked! At least until I burned myself on the iron, and then my dad cut off the electrical cord. As soon as it didn’t work, I never touched it again. Then they gave me an EZ Bake Oven. That was great until I ran out of the tiny cake mixes that came with it. My parents had to work all the time in order to support our family and home. So, there wasn’t time to spend with me making tiny cakes from scratch. After three uses, the oven sat there, never to be plugged in again.
One year, my brother got a camera, and eventually a dark room. I got a toy vacuum that didn’t work. I did play with that for a while because it had balls inside that would bounce around when I pushed it. So, it did something, just not anything real. I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out why, besides age, did my brother always get toys that functioned and had something to do with life outside the house, and my toys only functioned if they had to do with a chore inside the house. When I got old enough to realize that it was a boy/girl thing, I thought that was the most stupid concept I could imagine. What real difference was there between my brother and myself that should mean he gets to be part of the world, and I had to stay home?
As much as I hated the rules, I bought into them to a certain extent. I accepted that I should be more focused on finding a husband than a fulfilling career, for one thing. However, I wanted both. So I went to college, and I also got married half way through. I finished, and started my life as the woman who follows her man. I gave up every dream I ever had, until I forgot that I ever wanted most of it. My kids would ask me why I wasn’t pursuing something I was obviously good at and had a passion for, and I never had a satisfying answer for them. I told them I was happy with the way things were. But I wasn’t. Not even a little bit.
So, here I was, intelligent, educated, capable, and trying ever harder to be the “good wife and good mother.” Somehow, I had bought into the belief that to be good at either of these things, I couldn’t follow my dreams. My kids could see what I couldn’t. Following the gender rules had made me afraid of not being good enough, not just at being a wife and mom, but at anything I wanted to try. But, as happens with many people who follow the gender rules, I finally reached a point where I questioned if the rules were valid. I remembered wanting more to play with my brother’s toys than my own. I remembered how excited I was about teaching. I remembered enjoying feminine clothes, getting bullied for being too much of a girl, and not caring one bit. Most of all, I remembered that I used to be a person with dreams and passions and goals, and that I had no idea why I had let that all go.
Who made the rules? When? Why? And why are we still obeying them to a certain extent? Future blogs will have some of those answers. For example, before ownership occurred in early societies, people worked together to survive. There was little or no gendered hierarchy. If anything, many early societies valued women above men because they bore children and ran much of the home and agriculture that allowed everyone to live. But when those same cultures started defining land ownership, not only did successful neighbors start to become enemies, but ownership became more about power, and so included anyone that could be dominated. Physical strength determined if one was owner or owned. Then they started writing the rules about who could be owned. Etc, etc, etc.
Dramatic and Innapropriate
The following are thoughts on accepting ourselves for who we are and then finding the right people to share all that with. Often we try to change ourselves because we try to please the people who are currently in our lives. However, we may need to put in real effort to finding new people who are going to help us be more boldly ourselves.
In the one and only couple’s therapy session my ex husband and I attended, after nearly an hour of bringing things up that he hoped would make the therapist see how he was wonderful and I was terrible, my ex became completely exasperated at the repeated question, “What’s your point?” The therapist didn’t see a problem with anything, and the longer that went on, the more angry my ex got until he proclaimed that I was dramatic and inappropriate. I agreed, with my whole heart. I love to tell stories that really keep the attention of my audience, no matter who they are. And yes, sometimes, I have no idea that something I think is hilarious simply is not to those in the room. I don’t always have a filter, and I love that about me. I left that therapy appointment realizing that I needed to find people who enjoyed who I am and how I express myself and not tone myself down for the comfort of those who don’t even enjoy quiet me. The rest is history.
I adore appropriately inappropriate people, at least if they are funny. (Getting handsy or not taking no for an answer does not count.) This started when I was 14, and two friends insisted I listen to one of Eddy Murphy’s comedy routines. It was full, top to bottom, with curses, and I thought all of it was hilarious. I don’t know how much I laughed out loud because I was so intent on listening to Eddy’s timing and comedic persona that often I was too focused to fully enjoy myself, but I was thrilled. From the time I was little, I couldn’t understand why we all had to be so uptight about sex, manners, etc. I participated in all the uptightness because I thought I had to. But the older I got, the less I wanted to maintain the status quo. I wanted the freedom to be crass, rude, shocking, and hilarious.
Humor has helped me survive a lot of stuff. It’s my resilience magic wand. If I can figure out how to make a joke of it, I might be ok. The trouble is, sexual trauma, emotional abuse, abandonment, and the eventual PTSD are often not thought of as appropriate to laugh at, even for the inappropriateness pros. But I don’t care. I think I just need to find my audience. I have to believe I’m not the only one that would rather laugh at horrifying things than be horrified. I think there are people who enjoy a flare for the dramatic as much as I do. And maybe everyone else needs to know that giving ourselves permission to laugh at life’s most unfunny moments might just help us survive them.
My Private Parts are None of Your Business
As a society, we are addicted to gender. For some reason, we believe, deep in our guts, that it is our business to know if someone has a penis or a vagina. We can’t even say these words comfortably in public, but we damn well have a right to the information from every single person on the planet. Right?
No! It is not anyone’s right to know what I zip up in my pants or cover with a dress or skirt. Whether or not I have a penis or vagina gives no rights to anyone else in how they treat me, what they think of my intelligence, strength, capability, etc. My sex organs are only relevant to someone I may want to mate with or to medical people I choose to consult. That’s it! What I have between my legs should never dictate what I wear, what job I hold, what chores I do around the house, what degree I get from college or technical school, who I love, with whom I have sex, or anything else.
Society wants to regulate my body, to make laws based on my sex organs about what medical care I may have and when, about who I can partner my life with, about what is “appropriate” with which to clothe myself. And for some in our society, if I go against these made up rules, they feel justified in making my existence illegal, beating me up, and even killing me. I reject this entirely. Who I am is not about my sex organs. Who I am is about what I offer in benefit to friends, family, my work, my community, etc. I am equally capable of being an ass or an asset no matter what sex organs I have.
We are aggressively trained to believe what we wear, how long our hair is, and what colors we like make us a person, and that person must reveal to everyone, at a glance, what their “private” parts are. If they don’t, society can cast them out, reject their humanity, and even take away their right to live. Is that really the world you want to live in? Has it ever given you peace of mind to be limited by someone else’s standards, or have the gender rules instead sometimes caused you to doubt who you are or your worth?
My value has nothing to do with whether or not I have a penis, a vagina, both, or neither. No one should feel entitled to any information about me that I do not choose to willingly offer. We are all humans, worth the air we breathe. How we choose to adorn ourselves, wear our hair, speak, create, love, and more should come from our hearts and souls and not be limited by anything.
Mary Taylor Moore was My Hero
For those of you too young to know who I’m talking about, this blog will still be useful. Basically, pick any vagina owner that has shown you that vagina owners are strong, capable, intelligent people that don’t have to be like a man to validate their existence. That was my favorite childhood tv character/show, Mary Taylor Moore, for me.
As a character, Mary was strong, independent, had a job, and people listened to her when she spoke. I thought that was amazing, and I wanted to be just like her. Little did I know that even in my 40s, I’d still be combatting the idea that a woman who spoke up in meetings, wanted to lead, and had ambition was still thought of as “too much.”
In 2016, at a contract job I had taken for a year, I was called to the office of my boss to be told that the three times I had spoken in a meeting were too much. I was being pushy, according to my boss, by offering ideas when the group was asked for them. The other women at the table said nothing during the meeting. So every other thing said was by the men. My three things were too much, but they got to carry the entire rest of the meeting. How exactly does that work?
I was taught as a child how to sit, stand, talk, dress, and act like a “lady.” Knees together, shoulders back, head up, unless of course a “lady” is talking with a man. Then it is important to soften your stance just a bit. Otherwise you come off as overly confident and pushy, and we wouldn’t want that.
I read Lean In by Sherryl Sandberg not long after it came out. By chapter three, I was so angry about all that I had simply accepted about being a “woman”, a vagina owner, that I went to the head of the children’s camp my kids attended and asked him to read the book. I thought it would help him be a better boss and more in tune with the rising generation in the camp’s care. His response was that he’d been getting too many calls from other moms saying the same thing. He said that he already had enough strong women in his life with his wife and mother-in-law and had no desire to read about another. He knew all he needed to know about girls and women, and he walked away from me. He was younger than I, and I had assumed that would make him more open minded. My bad.
I had this kind of experience over and over. I would ask men to read the book, and they would tell me they had no interest. I was told by several men, and women, that the book was full of lies designed to make women uppity. It was 2014. How did so many people still have the impression that not only did men rule everything, but that was just fine, thank you? Women who want to run things are suspect. That’s just not natural. They are labeled as aggressive, unpleasant, or even bitches. Really? Why? Because they own a vagina? That’s just wrong.
Yes, things are changing, getting better, but there is still so much farther to go. I shouldn’t have to fold my hands, bow my head a bit, slouch, speak quietly and only after having apologized or asked permission, just to get the vague acceptance of the men, and yes many of the women, in the room. So, my question is, how resilient am I? How many times can I be told to sit down and be quiet before I actually will? The best answer I’ve had so far is that my resilience needs work. I start off strong, but the negative feedback can get to me.
I’ve wondered, in the past, that if some people think I’m “too much,” are they correct? No, not if I want to help things change. I want intelligence, drive, passion, and more to be as celebrated in vagina owners as they are in penis owners. I guess I’ll keep being gloriously too much until people start getting used to the idea that my private parts have nothing to do with anything that bosses or colleagues should get a vote on or have an opinion about. What’s in my boxers has nothing to do with my intelligence, capability, or my right to speak. If I’m at the table, I’ve got just as much right to offering ideas and solutions as anyone else at that same table. Period.
Why do we think we need gender? (TW- stuff related to unwanted sex mentioned)
What if there were no rules about how we dress, what colors we can like, and what job we can qualify for? What if our sex had nothing to do with with anything but how we enjoyed physical intimacy and if we could bare children? It wouldn’t matter if the person in the dress, heals, and makeup had a vigina or a penis. It wouldn’t matter if we called them he or she, they or them. We would spend none of our time negatively judging a passionate person because they have a vagina or a florist because they have a penis. We would simply go about life without these specific worries and judgments. This is the world I want to live in.
Because I have a vagina, many penis owners believe it is my job to make them feel good. So, if I am not smiling every moment of the day, they feel entitled to tell me to do so. I have never once heard a penis owner told to smile in order to make others feel better or so that they look more attractive. Penis owners, if smacked on the ass by a stranger, might punch the smacker in the face. However, I as a vagina owner, am supposed to accept the smack as though it is a compliment. A penis owner can tell someone standing too closely to them to back up, even aggressively, and there is nothing wrong with that. I, as a vagina owner, get told to calm down, don’t be so unfriendly, and asked what my problem is. I get called a bitch and a cunt, all because I may not want an individual to touch me or stand close to me.
On the other side, penis owners may get called a pussy or fag if they dress even slightly like a traditional vagina owner. They may get yelled at, intimidated, beaten up, or even killed if another penis owner doesn’t like their clothes, walking gait, vocal tone, or fingernail length. Penis owners who get raped are statistically 98% more likely to be raped by a “straight” penis owner than a gay one. (https://ywcaofmissoula.org/2000/01/facts-men-rape/) Approximately one in ever thirtythree penis owners has experienced sexual assault and or rape, that we can track. (https://bit.ly/2U7uN0o) Most rapes for penis owners, just like vagina owners, go unreported.
If you feel you need to defend gender rules, please ask yourself why? Do gender rules play any useful part in today’s society? Why do you feel it is not only your right but your need to know what someone zips up in their pants or covers with their skirt? Is wearing a dress and makeup a truly good reason to ban someone from employment, housing, food sources, or even a public bathroom? Does having a penis automatically mean that person must rape people? Are penis owners innately dangerous and violent, and all society must be protected from them?
Ask yourself why you feel it is your business and right to control what another person does with their body. Really dig deeply into how you feel, and see if there is really any sustainable logic to forcing people to stay in a current social construct of “acceptable” gender presentation. Every century and culture has brought changes, sometimes drastic ones, to how gender is presented. In the 21st century, is there any remaining need for gender classification? Isn’t medical sex classification enough?
If your need to know about what someone has between their legs is driven by sexual desire, you could simply tell a potential partner what you are looking for. If they don’t have it, you can move on. No one has lied to you. No one has tricked you. No one has done anything wrong. If you were looking for a long term relationship and the potential partner was looking for a one night stand, you could say so, and then you would know they are not for you. Simple, even if disappointing. It is not another person's responsibility to save you from disappointment or embarrassment.
We have been trained to believe it is our right and need to have, upon hello, very intimate and private information about every single person we casually pass on the street. With every fiber of my being, I disagree. My body, my business. I can use it, dress it, adorn it, and share it how I choose. No one else should have any rights to my body, nor I to theirs. For me, it is truly that simple.