Let’s talk about gender

Truth is, I’d really rather not. I’ve got better things to do, like live my life. Like create meaning and connections and establish strong relationships with people who care about me too. I know I can’t please everyone, or make everyone like me. For the most part, I couldn’t care less. But most of us would like to be liked, to be understood. Most of us want to be seen. I’m no different.

It’s no fun being invisible.

The gender facts: I am male. Twice a month I inject testosterone to be within normal male range. I have all the secondary sex characteristics of a man: deep voice, facial hair. I’m 6’1″ which is unusual for a woman, but not that strange for a man. My hair is short and neatly trimmed. My chest is flat and contoured like any man’s. I have some scarring around my nipples.

You don’t deserve to know whether I have had surgery and where. I don’t ask other people about their breast reductions, breast augmentations, botox injections or kidney transplants. I don’t ask because it’s not polite. Because it’s not fundamentally important for me to know. Because there’s a difference between having boundaries and being secretive. We get to choose the information we share. And unless you’re a public figure or have chosen to live your life under a pretty unforgiving microscope, let’s agree that privacy is a human right. It’s a right that I embrace.

That said, here are a few more facts I choose to divulge. Because it’s important to me that you understand. Because describing my experience might help you see, if not fully.

When I was born I was not a man. Nor is anyone, really, when we enter the world for the first time. We are born children, with varying temperaments, likes, dislikes, looks and behaviours. When I was a child I was not raised to become a man. I simply existed as I was. I played with hot wheel cars, liked swords and plastic guns and gravitated towards climbing trees and hockey rather than My Little Pony and Barbie Dolls. But even if this weren’t the case, I’d still claim the right to be the person I am today. Many roads can lead to remarkably similar places. Sometimes the path winds through a forest or into a valley or two before it winds back onto familiar terrain. Let’s not get too focused on forging a single path.

As it turns out, my chromosomes, if not my behavioural inclinations, destined me for womanhood – I have XX chromosomes. My body felt alien to me, like it wasn’t really part of me at all. What was I to do but hope that one day I would get used to it and, who knows, even feel at home in it. I fully expected to outgrow the deepening discomfort I felt with the societal pressures and the bodily changes I was witnessing in myself. After all, there was nothing I could do about it, was there? I was a woman. My body said so. My chromosomes proved it. Society repeated it back to me like a mantra.

But life has a funny way of interfering with well-laid plans. In my case that meant meeting someone who seemed to contradict everything I thought I knew about the way the world worked. This person was, like me, raised with the expectation that womanhood was the natural fit. But this person decided that no one else gets to dictate our lives except us. While we are influenced by the world around us, and by our chromosomal and biological makeups, we are each designers of our own lives. We take the building blocks we are given and we make of it what we will. This person played with gender like other people played the mandolin, sometimes the tune was more male than female, other times it was perfectly androgynous. I had never seen anything like this.

That was the start of an awakening of my own: though my life was on a pre-destined path, I had the option of bush-wacking a path of my own making. I finally gave myself permission to explore other options. This new direction might not be safe, or neat, or clean or take me anywhere I was familiar with, but it promised to be interesting. And I wanted to go somewhere I hadn’t been before. Or, at least, a place I hadn’t been since a long, long time, when I was a child and free of the concerns of what others thought of me. I wanted the right to explore my own way, find my own truth, live my own life in a way that felt most aligned with who I was. So I did what, only a few years earlier, I would never have considered at all because it was dangerous and scary and I wasn’t brave.

The thing was: the well-worn path I was already on was killing me. Slowly, ruthlessly, unbearably. So, when I  woke up one day and realized that I had to choose between ending my life because I felt like I was already dying inside, and doing something so drastic that it would forever, irrevocably alter my existence on this earth, I chose uncertainty over actual death. I chose life over suicide.

It’s been a rocky ride. I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge the days, especially early on, when I questioned my own ability to carry through with it. Suicide seemed so much easier. But I wasn’t ready to die. Not now that I had seen the light at the end of the tunnel. I met more people who had chosen to leave behind the “safe” but deadening trappings of an inauthentic life.

Biology, I discovered, is not destiny. At least, not the superficial kind of biology that gender is typically based on. Turns out science and sheer observation was showing that gender was not as easily defined as previously thought. In fact, it could get downright complicated.

(to be continued…)

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