It really bothers me whenever someone talks about how guys and girls are different, not because I think it’s nonsense (I do) but because I never identify with whomever I’m supposed to be identifying with.
“Guys are stupid.”
“Guys don’t understand women.”
“Women are better at expressing themselves than men.”
“Women are better with body language than men.”
My responses are usually something like this, respectively:
“Excuse me? I’m right here.”
(insert rant with too many obscure adjectives here)
When I was a teenager I was all about being manly. I was super intense about how girls should be feminine and boys should be masculine, or at least I talked that way. In reality I probably acted quite differently. I was super convinced of traditional gender roles and looked down on anyone who strayed from the obviously superior definitions of fundamental religious sexism and ethnocentricity. I suppose I was just a teenager struggling to define himself and happened to do so via pretty outdated methods. Nobody really taught me how to grow up – I lived on a farm so I never hung out with my peers enough to pick up their habits, and when I did, I thought they were so wrong and ignorant – my teachers were all Christian authors writing books on traditional Jesus-ness, or self-imposed “mentors” who didn’t understand their own gender identity but were old enough to be considered an appropriate role model for me. Whatever, it happened.
Somehow when I graduated high school I became a rebel. I started challenging everything. Nobody really noticed because I still had my reputation of being the good kid so I got away with a lot, but I stopped accepting easy cop-outs to tough questions and starting searching for real answers. I read books, I watched movies that really pushed the boundaries on what I used to hold true. I slowly started accepting the idea that people had sex. I watched MILK (at the time, this was a huge deal, since where I grew up any movie about a gay person was pretty much evil) and wrestled with that for a while but eventually came to consider it one of my favorite screenplays, and a vastly important movie. I cried at BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. Twice. After that I figured, well, I’m on this side now.
So that’s my heart-to-heart backstory.
Maybe it was a bit of a thrill to rebel and that’s why I kept going, but I don’t think it’s just that. I began to notice things about the world and about myself. I decided I didn’t like being macho. I was and still am a bit of neurotic mess, unable to sit up straight or sit still, or focus on one thing at a time, unable to keep my feelings to myself for too long, daydreaming most of the time and filling notebooks with ideas that would probably get me committed if someone else ever read them. My mother would say things like, “that’s not how a man acts” and I would just brush her off. Why? I have no idea.
Over time I became more comfortable with myself. I used to struggle a lot with dissociation in my high school years, never able to shake the feeling that I wasn’t really inside of my body, that I was floating above it, watching myself do things. I don’t feel that way anymore, although I do sometimes feel like my arms are a bit too long for my aura (I don’t believe in auras, but the analogy works so shut up). Now I don’t care what people say. I’m confident, I can look others in the eye, I’ve even learned how to carry a conversation. If I flail my arms around, don’t hold up my wrists as straight as I “should”, spin on my heels like a ballerina, and wave like a pre-schooler, so what? I started challenging others, trying to test people’s limits to see what they were comfortable with. I was disappointed.
Lately I’ve come back around to this issue with gender identity. I don’t think there is such thing as male or female other than just as a guideline definition that we invented because it was biologically convenient. We keep discovering ways that male brains and female brains are more similar than we had thought, but we also keep discovering how individual brains can differ so much. I think the old boundaries don’t work, at all. I think they’re harmful.
It’s a lot to take in.
Do I consider myself gendered? Well yeah, I guess so, the same way I consider myself a fan of David Bowie. I am, but what exactly does that mean? I’m a straight male but I feel like I have a female brain. Doesn’t mean I do, but that’s just sort of how I feel. It also doesn’t mean I’m less masculine or more feminine or anything like that because… well, what difference would that make? I am me. Awesome.
I haven’t had that many struggles with the whole gender issue, but it was not easy. It was very confusing and I never felt that I fit in with my guy friends. I’ve always gotten along with girls better. I like it that way.
I just think that it’s very important to consider what others might be going through. We so easily adhere to social norms simply because it never occurred to us that things could be different. Every time I see someone say “guys are dumb,” or “men and women don’t/can’t understand each other” I cringe. It hurts because it closes the door on ever connecting with one another. How are we ever supposed to grow together if we think we are irreconcilable? That’s a myth that needs to be debunked. Actually…. it kind of has. It’s a lie that we need to stop telling.
Daphna Joel gave a TEDtalk on whether or not brains are gendered. Her conclusions are fascinating, and might surprise you. Or not, maybe you’re smarter than I am. Actually you’re probably smarter than I am, but I’m still posting this.
This is my story of how I realized genders are silly, arbitrary, and mostly useless. It’s incomplete and an ongoing journey, but I want it to help.