If Gender is a Venn Diagram, My Gender is the White Board

I’ve been struggling with a riddle in the values of my upbringing:

“Men and women are equal.”

“You can be whatever you want to be and do whatever you want to do when you grow up.”

“You will probably be more successful than most men, and that’s okay.”

“Times have changed. Women can do whatever they want now, just like men.”

“There’s no difference between men and women anymore.”

They’re fabulous mantras, and I believe in them. The intentions behind them have carried me far. But when I come across double-standards, sexism, and gendered power struggles in “the real world”, the Upbringing Values voice in my head short-circuits and starts yelling, “La! La! La! I can’t hear you!”

I think this is a common experience for women today.

My experience goes a step beyond this, however. Over the years, I’ve felt out of place in the female gender, and found myself floating toward a more androgynous middle ground. Throughout this process, I haven’t been able to understand why a mild and natural shift in my gender feels so radical. I’m not changing my body shape or my third-person pronoun… I’m just adjusting my self-image to be less gendered. I’m paying attention to the gendered details that I’ve been taking for granted in my life and listening to what feels right for me.

And after all, if “there’s no difference between men and woman anymore” dropping “female” behaviors that don’t suit me anymore really shouldn’t be a problem. So why is it?

I have arguments with the Upbringing Values voice in my head a lot, and it serves two purposes:

1) to reconcile my gut-reaction assumptions and preferences with what actually and truly matters in my life today.

2) to figure out how to explain my deviances to my family without fucking up our relationships.

I’ve dealt with #1 a bit in therapy on this topic, and the resolution was here:

I benefit from being in the middle-ground in so many walks of my life. I was raised by a Republican and a Democrat, so I can mediate political conversations and relate to all sides. I was raised by business owners, so I can balance autonomy with career and protect my own interests. I know enough about engineering and design to speak both of those languages and coordinate web development projects. I’ve floated between social groups and relationships enough to understand what people need and how to give it to them without giving them too much of myself. And there’s more. But the top of the mountain is gender: by being able to adopt male or female qualities, appearances, or behaviors whenever I feel is appropriate, I can navigate so many situations, and protect myself in so many ways, and I benefit immeasurably.

So when I come up against a wall, where my middle-ground nature is unwelcome or not working, I can stop and remember that I embrace this path for a reason, that it provides me with so many benefits, and that little bumps in the road like this one don’t compare to the magnitude of how fucking rad my life is.

That angle sure does help.

But it doesn’t address #2 — it’s not a story I can easily explain to my family. But this is:

I’ve decided not to let gender get in my way anymore. I think men and women are equal and I don’t see why we should have to be different. So now, whenever I come across a situation where there are two different appropriate responses — one that men would have and one that women would have — I look at those responses as options, and I choose the one that makes the most sense to me.

Posted by on October 20th, 2007 at 12:55 pm

Category: thoughts Comment »

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