Monday, April 18, 2016

Gender questions and the bathroom

Growing up in the 60's and 70's, I was a "tomboy". My mission was to run faster, climb higher, build bigger and jump my bike farther. Entering my teenage years, I didn't "grow out of it" and one day Dad asked why I didn't "act more like a girl." I wasn't interested in make up, dresses or high heels. In his question was the answer - I did not care to "act" based on anyone's definition of my gender role. I just wanted to act like me. I wanted to do what I could do and do the things that interested me.
Fortunately for me, I grew up in an era where many women were breaking free of gender roles and seeking their own identity.
I wanted to create my own identity. I simply wanted to be me. It wasn't easy and people often expressed their vision of gender identity. Breaking into broadcasting and video production at a time when few women were in the field, I heard "the broad in broadcasting does not stand for women." Twenty years ago as I lugged video equipment underground, the mining industry was just opening up to women and I was often the first woman to have ever entered certain mines. "It's considered unlucky to have a woman underground," I was told. So I ran faster, climbed higher, built bigger and jumped further.
There have been times of frustration wondering why I had to work harder just to prove myself worthy of being treated equally. At times it was challenging to avoid a sense of paranoia or developing a defeatist attitude. Add the dynamic of not identifying as a straight woman and the challenge grew even larger. Some would argue that I made my life difficult by refusing to conform. I thank my lucky stars, the divine, and my guiding angels that I never conformed to an "act". Through all my mistakes and misfortunes, I have been me - just me.
In 1972, during many study halls, I talked about life's frustrations including gender roles with an older student; a girl I most admired. She was smart, pretty and about to graduate so I thought she had the world by the tail. One day she said the most baffling thing; "I feel like I am a man trapped in a woman's body. I want to get a sex change." I thought she was perfect the way she was and I had never imagined wanting a different body. After she graduated I called her number - a number I had called and talked with her before - and they told me no one by that name lived there. I wish I knew what happened to her.
Not feeling right in the body you were born in - your gender - is difficult to understand for those of us who have not experienced it. It's not our experience. But I can readily identify with being expected to "act" like something other than what I know to be true for me. I know what it feels like to be condemned for refusing to conform to what makes others comfortable. I fully understand what lengths people will go to in their attempts to drive non-conformists to "act" as they may visualize one should "act". They will say it's just "not right", "sinful", and name every extreme fear they can name to try to put pressure enough to make you go away. And they will try to eliminate your ability to work, to live in certain places and to be part of an extended community.
Know this - once a person discovers that there is a path to be true to themselves, they will follow it. No amount of obstructionism will stop them. Truth - Truth - Truth - prevails. I won't wear heels. I don't wear dresses and I don't wear make up (though I may regret not knowing how to hide the wrinkles I'm noticing.)
Passing bathroom laws will not make Transgender people go away. Actually, we've been sharing bathrooms with Transgender people for years and didn't even know it. Why not? Because it's not an issue! I fully embrace my transgender friends right to use the bathroom that fits their identity. If that frightens you, please get to know a transgender person. Really, they have much bigger concerns to have to deal with than trying to figure out if they are safe to use a bathroom or not.

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