I am writing about gender identity for many reasons. The reasons are, but certainly not limited to:
- The fact that I recently applied to work at the Human Rights Campaign.
- That I wanted to tell my mom I’m thankful for how she raised me; free to choose my identity as I saw fit. As of this week, she will have been gone two years.
- I finished reading Simone de Beauvoir’s chapter in The Second Sex: “Childhood.”
- And today, while getting lunch with my male friend—and after a long talk about feminism—he alone was given the check. I owed him a favor. We agreed that I would pay for lunch. The irony left us with a long laugh.
It’s high time I put my thoughts about my gender in writing.
I was a tomboy.
At age three I told my mom I wanted to get rid of my blonde curls and shave my head bald. Mom thought that was too extreme, so she settled for something better than a bowl cut, but the same length.
I would tell adults that I was a girl with confidence so they could shake their heads in disbelief. Once, on a family vacation out West, my mom overheard a couple at lunch debating on what my gender was. The woman thought I was a boy. The man said I was a girl. I remember my mom laughing, prideful about this memory.
I was Molly Gene. How I presented myself was by choice. Red was a girl color, so I stuck with blue. Halloween costumes were either of animals (Simba the lion, or Lucky the Dalmatian) or conquerors: Darth Maul with a double sided light saber, the Grim Reaper with a bloody mask, and later, an astronaut.
I love these memories of myself. So much. But sometimes who I was and still am is riddled with feelings of shame. I have memories of trying to play with the boys and being ostracized because of my gender…
I was with neighborhood boys at my family’s old tobacco warehouse in Maysville, Kentucky. After watching them both pee standing up, into a bucket, I attempted the same feat. Too young to understand why this wasn’t “the way it was”—I acutely remember their snickers. I remember the feeling of shame because I wasn’t part of the boys club.
These moments of shame typically came from interactions with boys who didn’t know me well. I was taunted for my gender while trying to compete and assimilate.
I resented feminine gifts. An aunt of mine has a talent for sewing. She made all the growing girls in our family American doll look-alikes. I ripped the wig off my doll’s scalp. All I remember is my rage. Criticizing the doll for how stupid I felt it was, and the blank stare it returned.
I once received a pink dairy with Barbie on the front.
I said, possibly at age four, “How can I write in a diary if I don’t even know how to read??…”
Everyone laughed of course. And granted, I was an incredibly spoiled child. But my spite came from the insult of the Barbie diary itself. A stranger gave me that gift. Anyone who knew me would not have presented me with anything pink. The constant struggle.
All of this, at an age when it would have been impossible for me to know about gender constructs, I knew that I didn’t agree with all that “being a girl” entailed.
Imagine. Every time you go through the McDonald’s drive-thru—which in eastern Kentucky happens to be a lot—you have to yell “boy toy!” across the driver window. You actively have to choose against a happy meal accouterment that doesn’t accurately represent who you are as a person.
To this day not much has changed. I still experience many of the same obstacles. The only difference is that I’ve learned how to become a woman.
How does one learn how to become a woman?
Here are a few examples:
- In 6th grade the boy with the premature mustache picks at the small of your back in line to the bathroom and says, “You ain’t got no bra.”
- Everyone tells you that boys would like you more if you grew your hair out.
- Not knowing how to respond to, “Get your hands out of your pocket and stop walking like a dyke.”
- When you ask you mother how to use a tampon, she yells from the kitchen, “Read the Tampax insert!”
The isolationism. The hidden and untold experience of transition into womanhood. To realizing that there is a Panthers basketball team, and a Lady Panthers basketball team. You, and your existence is now secondary to the main participant. Who runs the world?
Sorry Beyonce—it’s still not women, apparently.
But that is why we sing her songs….To express the reality of “learning how to become woman,” and how that often feels so very out place and unnatural, to being a functional human being that truly loves herself and owns her existence on this earth.
If you care about one of Beauvoir’s many excerpts I identify with, please read the following. Also, the attached two-year old Super Bowl ad explains the seriousness of this issue.
Thus, the passivity that essentially characterizes the “feminine” woman is a trait that develops in her from her earliest years. But it is false to claim that therein lies a biological given; in fact, it is a destiny imposed on her by her teachers and by society. The great advantage for the boy is that his way of existing for others leads him to posit himself for himself. He carries out the apprenticeship of his existence as free movement toward the world; he rivals other boys in toughness and independence; he looks down on girls. Climbing trees, fighting with his companions….
On the contrary, for the woman there is, from the start, a conflict between her autonomous existence and her “being other”; she is taught that to please, she must try to please, must make herself object. She is treated like a living doll, and freedom is denied her; thus a vicious circle is closed; for the less she exercises her freedom to understand, grasp, and discover the world around her, the less she will find its resources, and the less she will dare to affirm herself as subject; if she were encouraged, she could show the same vibrant exuberance, the same curiosity, the same spirit of initiative, and the same intrepidness as the boy. (pages 294-295)
To this day I hear the voices of self-doubt creep into my psyche and say, “Now Molly, do you really think you’re capable?”
I am thankful my mom gave me the freedom to choose my own avenue of self-expression. To reject passivity and choose activity. But this freedom has put me at odds with the world. It has left me feeling aggressive, boisterous, direct, and dissonant when in fact, I’m trying to self-actualize and be human.