Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gender Identity Okay

I'm okay with my femininity even if I'm not very feminine.

Femininity as strictly defined as things women do that men don't--mostly in relation to appearance--has actually always been difficult for me, or just never worked for me.  My hair was a mess of untamed frizz, my face was a mass of pimples, I had hair in places I shouldn't that just grew back faster and thicker when I tried to shave it, I would sweat profusely and easily even without having to do too much exertion.  (Those things are all still true.)

There is makeup and hair-taming products and laser removal and intense medication to fix all of these things--but I was also unwilling or unable to spend the money, wake up the extra hour(s) early, stop the physically exerting things I enjoyed doing.  I think if achieving the correct standard of femaleness had been easier to attain, I would have bought into all of it happily.  I wanted to be pretty, and sexually desired, and accepted.  I hated how ugly I felt, how dirty, how disappointed my mother--despite her otherwise progressive tendencies--clearly was by my lack of propensity to get those details right.  But it all felt so hopelessly unattainable:  there were always new pimples, always more hair to shave, always curls sneaking back into being out of the straightness I used various irons and greases to fry into my hair.  I also quickly came to wonder why it was all so important anyway, and I hated feeling bad about myself so much that I decided not caring was so much better.

I was reminded of all of that teenage angst a few weeks ago, when I had to dress up to high femininity for a family wedding.  My mother vetted my dress--not hiding her concern that I couldn't quite be trusted to pick out something appropriately normal on my own-- she begged me to shave my legs for my aunt's sake, and not-quite-hinted that makeup would improve things dramatically, as well.   No big deal, really, I can do it for a day, but it reminded me how alien to me are some things that many, perhaps even most, women do all the time.

Yet despite my distaste for artificial appearance enhancers and many other feminine pursuits, I don't feel like I'm not a woman.  I don't want to be anything other than a woman.  Okay, yeah, I envy men their physical strength and the body types that make them such good rock climbers--but that's pretty much where it stops.  Even though I don't feel particularly feminine I am very attached to my self-identity as a "she"--whatever exactly that means.

For better or worse--and I think mostly for better--I am accustomed to the cultural implications involved in being female.  The negative ones sure do suck.  Getting cat-called or leered at by strangers is the one that really bothers me the most, but those are just social problems, not problems inherent to being female. (And culturally, it's not all rosy for men, either.) At the same time that I recognize some disadvantages in being female, I see so many things to love. I love the way I  maintain my family and my social circle, and I devote a typically female energy to my relationships. I love how I can bond very quickly with other women, I like long hair and being slender and graceful and even feeling "pretty" wearing a skirt once in a while.  I love that I am mostly rational but allow passion about things that matter to enter into my equations at appropriate times, that I am adept at seeing things from other peoples' point of view, that I can follow and understand social nuance, that I can cry if I need to without feeling like I've lost a huge piece of myself, that I can come to understand the strength in feeling and processing emotions rather than keeping them bottled up inside.

Intellectually I am very much not a fan of a cultural gender binary that says men are one way and women are another.  I and most of the people I associated with do a lot of things completely outside of it. It is a gross oversimplification of human behavior, meant to be descriptive but that ends up becoming prescriptive instead.  It is extremely destructive to the self-esteem of people who can't fit themselves into it's rules without sacrificing something crucial about their identity.

But I really I like being who I am, and who I am is inexorably wrapped, in some cultural and biological ways that I can't all sort out, with the particular set of chromosomes and genital arrangement I received at birth, and the acculturation I theretofore received telling me that I was a girl.  And I am fine, more than fine, with that.

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