[Guess who once again did not start writing today’s blog post in the morning? Me!]
For a long time, I thought that everyone would choose to be male if they were given a choice, and the only reason anyone would ever say differently was because it was a wrong thing to want and therefore a shameful thing to admit. Whether because it was in accordance with God’s plan or because one’s body was part of some “true” self, both my religious upbringing and more secular worldviews strongly pushed the idea that genuine happiness and peace could only come from accepting one’s body (and also the gender assigned on its basis).
Once, when I was a teenager (maybe fourteen, or fifteen) I stood with a group of teenage girls, and one of them actually asked whether we would rather be men. One after the other shook her head, looking to all the world like they really, truly meant it, maybe even slightly puzzled, as if they’d never had even a second of doubt and longing about the question.
When they looked at me expectantly, I quickly bit my tongue and shook my head. I had learned quite a while ago that outing oneself as a freak was not a good idea, and now this desire – one I’d considered ubiquitous, if taboo – was one more thing making me one.
(Strangely, I never had the same issues with being attracted to women. Despite a staunchly heteronormative religious community, I had no trouble at all with accepting the idea that people could fall in love with others regardless of their gender, and when I wondered about my own attractions, I didn’t feel like they made me a freak in the slightest.)
It was not until I started reading blogs written by trans women years later that I started honestly considering that some people liked feminine-coded things not just despite their association with femininity, but in some cases and to some degree even because of it. That some people actually liked being female. That for some people, their femaleness was not something they had to grit their teeth to bear, but something they valued and wanted recognized and seen.
That someone could feel like maleness was a burden pressed upon them as much as I felt like femaleness was a burden pressed upon me.
It’s still not something I can genuinely understand without putting it through at least one layer of abstraction (by comparing it to my own feelings about gender, for example). And it’s not about the feminine-coded things themselves – I don’t have trouble understanding how people could like swooshy skirts, or dangling earrings, or colorfully painted nails, or eyes emphasized by eyeliner, or lips made shiny by gloss. I don’t have trouble understanding how someone could like feeling graceful, or being kind.
But the idea of myself as a woman in a swooshy skirt, rather than a man? A woman with artfully painted nails? A woman moving gracefully, or being kind?
Does not compute. Feels wrong, in an unnatural, stilted, awkward way, like trying to artificially construct an image of gracefulness or kindness or me in a swooshy skirt around a hollow core.
This is what I mean when I say I am male. There is a core part of me that clicks with maleness, and fails to do so with femaleness. All the frustratingly vague and uninformative definitions or explanations of what the term “gender identity” means are trying to get at this core, and yet there doesn’t seem to be a really good way to explain it.
Maybe try to frame it in a different way than by thinking about your gender – you might be so used to taking your gender for granted you can’t tell what it even is, or you might not have a very strong gender identity (or any gender identity at all). Imagine it’s you-but-not-you, imagine you’re wearing a mask that looks really very much like your face but is still off, imagine that feeling most people get sometimes when they leave their house that there’s something – some indefinable thing – they forgot, imagine a familiar music piece with the rhythm or the instruments or the tune just sounding wrong and strange without you being able to name what exactly is wrong. Maybe there’s some aspect of yourself you consider fundamental to who you are, a certain way of thinking, certain preferences, a certain way of viewing or interacting with the world: imagine one of those gone, or strangely foggy and murky and unreachable or hard to remember.
Does that make sense to anyone out there? I don’t know.
Even if it does, it might not make sense to you to that one of those fundamental aspects should be someone’s gender. It doesn’t make sense to me either. It seems weird that there should be an aspect of my identity that somehow naturally lines up with this very specific cultural concept.
On the other hand, there are parts of me I consider rather essential that don’t have words to describe them. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that this one happens to be one there’s a word for. (And it’s even arguable that there is a word for it – after all, maleness means quite different things to different people.)