I had a conversation tonight, and which I revealed, as I often do, that I connect with females a lot easier than men and that a lot of my friends are female. This conversation reminded me of those days, and given some of the recent coverage of gender issues in the news I thought I’d share a bit of a story.
I grew up in Haliburton County which has many beautiful things about it–it’s in cottage country so the scenery is beautiful, you’re intimately connected with nature, and there’s not a lot of violent crime so it’s a pretty safe area. Great place to raise kids, and great place to grow up. Yet its very tourism dependent, and the Canadian Shield tends to complicate the original plan of farming the area–combine that with is remoteness and you get a very poor (the poorest county in Ontario by some measurements), conservative, and close-minded community.
As is common in such communities, boys end up having a fairly macho culture. Any deviance from the hunting, fishing, driving, athletic, stereotype is harshly punished. Given that my Developmental Coordination Disorder limited my physical capabilities, and my Generalised Anxiety Disorder left me a nervous wreck, timid, shy, and rule-abiding, I definitely felt ostracized as a kid.
As I got into late elementary school and early high school, I found that I could build connections with females. My four closest friends for most of high school were female. True, by the end of high school we were all growing up, and I was able to gain some male friends, but even into university I still made female friends with ease whereas male friends came a lot slower.
Much of my adolescence was thus caught up wishing I was female. I don’t know why I thought this would have made my life any easier–my friends were proof that being born female had its own share troubles, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that if I had been born female my life would have been a lot easier for me personally. I suspect this feeling was largely due to the fact that I didn’t fit in with traditional definitions of the masculine and feminine–at least not the definition of masculine prevalent in the rural cottage country of Ontario.
Let me be clear: I was not, and am not, transgender. As much as my adolescence was spent wishing for a magical history re-write, I remained quite stubbornly male. My gender identity was male, my sex was male, and my sexual orientation was heterosexual. The only things that weren’t masculine about me were culturally imposed ideas of masculinty–I disliked conflict so I preferred to use my brain over my fists; I wasn’t athletically skilled so I preferred reading a good book to playing most sports; I had deeply rooted compassion, honor and love as part of my core make-up; and I loved animals, babies and kids.
Here’s two main take-aways from this. Number one, is that given how much I, a cisgender heterosexual heteroromantic male, struggled with being male because of the traditional conceptions of masculine and feminine, I can only imagine how somebody who is transgender must struggle–as such, I defend anyone’s rights to not fit into the gender mold.
Number two is this is not the way things should be. I should not have had to struggle so much to be a different kind of man than the others around me. And I will fight for my children to be whatever they want to be.
Now I’m in my mid-twenties, and I know who I am, and am comfortable in it. Yet I am also aware that I have enormous systemic privilege as a Christian, Caucasian, cisgender heterosexual heteroromantic male. True, my disabilities have given me a knowledge of what it is to live in the margins, and my friendships with females have taught me a lot–but even still, I have a lot of privilege and I have wrestled with that reality.
Gone are the days when I wished I was were female. I know now that I am male, fully and deeply. Yet I have vowed, and work everyday towards being a different kind of man. A man who is an ally to those across the gender spectrum, and a man who takes systemic privilege and uses it to be an ally not an oppressor. A man who works for the day when systemic privilege will be a thing of the past, and we can all live together equal and free.