Defining Your Own Gender

A few days ago, I had somehow stumbled across Janet Mock, an Associate Editor for PEOPLE.com, who is also a transsexual. She tells the story of her gender and sexual confusion in an interview with Marie Claire  and I found it rather inspirational. But I didn’t think much of it until I see a post about it on Clutch, earlier this evening. The post’s comments had more to do with religious persons being upset with Ms. Mock for switching her sex.

Personally, I’ve always been fascinated by transsexuality because so much of my relationship with my sex (female) is cultural. You’re raised as a girl, and in the most stereotypical fashion, your parents probably gave you dolls, dresses and stuffed animals. Actually, growing up I had black barbies and an extensive collection of stuffed animals who I pretended to play school with. I went through puberty as a girl, and experienced a lot of the same frustrations other not-so budding teen girls experience. My female-ness was reinforced in every facet of my life; there was no way I could mistake myself for a boy.

Perhaps part of the trans-phobia is our own lack of understanding of what creates gender; who or what defines it? Is it a personal choice or is it something innate to our sex? I believe it calls into question our own shortcomings in regard to how we express ourselves. If a transwoman chooses to embody all the stereotypical mannerisms of a female-bodied woman, does this somehow mean that make-up is part of my sexual design? That I’m denying my true sexual nature by not acting distinctly feminine?

At least – this is what I think about.

As I take a small glimpse into how some transmen and women choose to express themselves, I wonder about my own relationship to my gender. I have never felt particularly feminine, nor entirely masculine either. Over 90% of my friends are female, and even most of my family members are women.I relate to and have a deeper relationship overall with girls than boys.

But unlike the characters in Judy Blume’s Are you there God? It’s me Margaret, elation was the last thing I felt when my monthly tormenter first popped up. I do remember measuring myself excessively in early high school, hoping that puberty would kick-start me into my version of womanhood, so I could blossom into Salem Hayek and put everyone who ever teased me to shame.

Totally didn’t happen. 

And I think of MTF transsexuals, and how they KNOW that they’re the wrong sex, and will feel complete once they take the hormones and get the surgery. In a way, I envy that quest; I envy them. I envy the knowing because I feel so disconnected to both my sex and gender. In the privacy of my own mind I often lament the misfortunate of being born a girl, and I wonder how other girls can stand it. But I never wanted to be a boy. I don’t feel like the Universe misplaced me, but I speculate at great length why I don’t feel like a girl. Why I don’t understand what it means to be a girl.

*cue Madonna*

So I enjoyed reading Ms. Mock’s story of success, happiness and personal quest to achieving her sense of self because I also envy her for it.

7 thoughts on “Defining Your Own Gender

  1. Love this post. Sometimes I don’t feel like “a girl” either, in the sense of how society constructs what a girl is and gender overall. Gender is both innate (I am definitely female and wasn’t born into the wrong body) and socially constructed (I don’t like the color pink and hate shopping).

    • Oh thank you!

      Yes, I agree. I oftentimes find myself at odds with how I’m supposed to be as a girl. Like, make-up is part of the social construct of what it means to be female, and a lot of people accept this. Few people seem to question the necessity or legitimacy of make-up. Do I really need it? Why is it so important and such a definitive quality of femininity vs masculinity? Girls are required from a certain age to want and need make-up to the point that to go without it is seen as radical or alternative. And yet – I don’t like make-up and don’t wear it. Though a huge part of me feels like I need to be fascinated by make-up and that I should want to wear it.

      I like shopping for gadgets like video games, and movies and books. When it comes to clothes and shoes… I couldn’t be bothered.

  2. I recently read an article in the news that you might find fascinating — a couple is choosing not to tell anyone the gender of their child (named Storm), wanting the child to choose for themselves who they want to be and not wanting to place limitations upon them.

    Personally, I don’t know how I feel about it yet or if I even should have an opinion. But I know I don’t adhere to the “dolls are for girl and trucks are for boys” stereotype for children — find what interest you and helps you grow.

    The idea of gender *roles* fascinate me, hoever, as even now as an adult and owning a house, I find myself doing what many consider the “boy’s work” –taking out the trash, plunging when needed, even laying down my own patio, etc, etc. It makes you wonder how much gender roles and society play a part in who you are vs who you are inately as a person.

    Does society define you and your gender? Or do you define it for yourself?

    Really interesting post!

    • Oh thank you! I’m glad you liked it. :D

      That article reminds me of this teacher I had back at college. Well, I never took a class with her but I had heard that she and her spouse let their daughter choose if she wants to be a boy or a girl on any given day. The person I heard it from expressed a lot of anger, feeling that the child would grow up to be confused and would probably need a lot of therapy. At the time, her complaints made sense. I think the biggest obstacle in gender identity is realizing that you have the freedom to express yourself however you want versus ignoring your gender altogether. I think the importance of parents educating their children and giving them that personal freedom is often ignored. People tend to blame everyone else but the very person or people who are raising their kids. Parents are the people who tend to reinforce gender stereotypes onto their children – other people just make it worse or better.

      I like to think I am able to define it for myself but sometimes I wonder…

  3. I think the lines have gotten blurred and so many people are confused exactly because we focus on what other people tell us we should be like. Just because a female doesn’t like dolls, makeup, pink stuff, and dresses doesn’t mean she was born the wrong way or isn’t a true girl. Being a girl or female means you are born with a vagina, you will be able to reproduce in ways men cant, your breast will grow to be able to supply a baby with nourishment, and you will genetically be able to do things men can NEVER do. Some make physical changes to their bodies to be able to simulate what the opposite gender can do, but in the end it’s all fake. I say focus on who you are as a person and let it be that. If you don’t do the “typical” female or male stuff, who cares. you define who you are as a person, but genetically you are, who you are. It’s like a frog having surgery to look like a cat. In the end, it’s still a frog- it’s just a frog that feels better about it’s self.

    • Recently, I’ve been thinking a bit more about masculinity and femininity, and how even the words themselves are very either/or. Personally, I don’t consider more one of the other. I have interests that typically associated with males, but am also interested in things associated with females. I haven’t had the chance to really do or be part of the things that typically associated with womanhood and getting older: like dating, for example, or having a close group of female girlfriends. And I have often times wondered if masculinity and femininity are words we should even continue to use.

    • I think that a kinda limited limited few…from what i have seen when it comes to self identity and gender I’m pretty sure, given the opportunity, many individuals would change there genetics if they could (i mean HRT is a precursor to this and is already wildly in use, although to strictly regulated). I have even had this same conversation with several trans women…one of which was a transhumanist and believed it was an innate human right for her alone to decide her own gender. Perhaps we are not very far of from this actuality either with the advancements in bioengineering we are unearthing. I think we as a society should be tackling these as hardcore ethical question instead of relying on a dogmatic binary that science only appears to back, when choice is not an option.

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