When I was young, I shaved my legs every day; EVERY day. Spring, Summer, Autumn, AND Winter; every day. The media told me that having smooth, moisturized, soft legs was an important part of being pretty – and as a teenager and young person I bought into it. I believed the myth of beauty society fed me.
As I came into adulthood, I still shaved – though not with the same frequency. I spent a great deal of my time as a young adult sick and in pain… pretty just wasn’t as important when you hurt so bad that you can’t get up and down stairs without dissolving into tears. But I still shaved and moisturized. It was part of being a girl. We couldn’t have people thinking I actually grew hair on my legs.
Then I became a Mom. And yes, even then I shaved my legs. By then it was just one of those chores you do. Going swimming? Better shave. Wearing shorts or a skirt? Better shave. Just part of the self-grooming routine. Something I didn’t think about. Something I did in a rather robotic fashion, another member of the trained masses.
I want my daughter to grow up knowing these things are choices – even if we don’t always feel they are. Not all Women shave. In some parts of the world it would seem odd to do so. My daughter believed this until she was three. Then one day she laughed, astonished, at the ridiculous notion that a Woman could choose not to shave. That was the day I stopped shaving my legs.
Lily-Ann has other Women in her life who are non-shavers, my sister for one. But clearly this was something she needed to see with more frequency. It may seem like a small thing, but I needed her to know that we have a choice. We don’t have to shave. We don’t have to buy into the view of beauty that the media is selling, we can choose something different.
I may be the odd Woman out here in North America, sporting hairy legs all year long – without shame and, quite frankly, with a little pride. And yes, it may seem like a strange thing to take a stand on… but I couldn’t let my daughter grow up thinking she has no choice, that she has to go along with whatever ideals society sets before her.
She has options and choices. We all do.
Sure, I could have kept on shaving – but she shocked me out of it. Sometimes, that’s what we need. Something to shock us out of that robotic state we get lulled into. Something to bring us back into personhood. A sudden splash of cold water, a bucketfull dumped on us while we lay half asleep, lounging in the sun. Something to remind us we’re alive, and we have the right to make these seemingly small, seemingly insignificant, choices for ourselves. And sometimes, those small choices end up being some of the biggest.
On Thursday my attention was drawn to a new part of the daily routine for the girl’s kindergarten class. As soon as I saw it I knew I had to do something to have it changed. Today was my first chance.
A simply drawn boy wearing a baseball cap, and holding a bat and ball, coloured blue with the word BOY. His counterpart in pink with a pretty dress and holding a flower with the word GIRL sits beside him. Both on the bulletin board next to the calendar, a counting chart, and other simple items used to subtly teach the kindergarten class basic numerical skills.
The teacher touches the head of each student she deems as “boy”, counting as she goes. “Seven boys.” The number gets written on the wipe off board under the picture representing “boy”. She then touches the head of each remaining child, counting. “Five girls.” That number gets written on the board too. An addition sign gets added between them, and everyone counts on their fingers. “Twelve kids. Seven boys and five girls makes twelve kids.”
Now, my ideal kindergarten is gender neutral. At this age there really is no reason at all to discuss “boy” or “girl”, what each means, and how we each fit into societies gender binary – at least not at school. At the very least, if it can’t be a neutral space, it should be a equal space. And these disgustingly stereotypical figures are far from that. If we must count girls and boys, we need to ask the children “Who identifies as a boy?” Then count the raised hands, marking the result under the word (no picture) BOY. “Who feels like a girl?” Then count those raised hands, marking those results under the word GIRL. But I think we can do better. Why reinforce a false binary by bring gender into question at all? After all, there are more than two sexes, more than two genders (and the terms boy and girl can refer to either gender or sex, which just further muddies the water).
Why not ask “Who likes baseball?” and “Who likes football?” and add those two numbers. Switch it up, and the next day ask “Who likes veggies?” and “Who likes fruit?”. Every day of the week could be a different pairing of questions. After all, we don’t need to come up with the same answer every day. Some kids may vote yes to both, some may not raise their hand at all. This way we practice our early math skills, learn something interesting about our friends, AND we don’t reinforce any false notions about gender or sex – which have no place in a kindergarten class to begin with.
I spoke to kid kid’s teacher about my concerns today, and I’ll be honest. I’m not sure she understood my concerns at all. She thanked me for bringing them to her attention – but it was very much a canned response… what one could expect from someone who has never really given much thought to their own gender or sexual identity, someone with CIS privilege, who has lived in a very small, heteronormative box, their entire life. While I don’t hold this against her, it does mean it may be time for a little educating. Issues of gender and sexual identity are vitally important to the health and safety of our young people (and the adults they will become), and even something as simple as being told they are BOY… simply drawn with a baseball cap, bat and ball, coloured blue… can hurt, when that child knows -inside- it’s not right.
Okay, it’s obvious I’m reaching pretty far this time. But it’s April 30th, the last day of the A to Z challenge, and I had to find a way to pull together a title with both a Y and a Z. I thought about Yonder Zenith – but really, that’s just as far a reach.
In any movement of importance, there are always zealots, and they never bring a level head or a spirit of cooperation with them. So while our ideals may speak to equality and acceptance, we do need to keep an eye out and guard our hearts and minds against those who take these notions and force them upon people. Because, in doing so, we’ve turned against equality and acceptance.
Do I advocate accepting a society that treats you as “less than”? Definitely not. But we do need to accept those who would try to force you into their mold of what a man or woman should be. We don’t need to accept their condemnation or bow to their will, but in accepting them for what they are, we can move past them knowing that we don’t need them or their acceptance. It can be a confusing idea. But but ultimately, when we accept others for what they are, even if we don’t necessarily agree with them, we free ourselves of the constraints they’d harness us with.
So, my last message for you during this month of discovery on the topic of sexual and gender identity? It goes back to the letter A, with the word acceptance. Just as we can free ourselves of the restraints others would place on us by simply accepting them as they are (and thus not giving them power they don’t deserve), we can claim our own power by accepting ourselves as we are.
Accept yourself, and find the freedom and love you so rightly deserve!
Two things to share tonight. One is the We Give Books website/program. It’s simply too awesome NOT to share. And the other is a book we stumbled across while there.
We Give Books is an incredible website where you can read new, classic, and popular Penguin Books titles to you children… for free. That’s right. FREE. We only discovered the site this afternoon and have already gone through seven titles that were brand new to us (the girl loves the Ladybug Girl books).
You can sign up for free (there’s that word again) using your FB or Twitter account, or the old fashioned way by filling out a form. Then you choose a campaign to support… which is where We Give Books gets even better – yep. Better than free! Can you imagine? What happens next? Just pick out a book and start reading. When you get to the end, a button will show up that says “give a book”. Click it. Know what that means? It means a book has just been donated to whichever campaign you chose to support.
Check it out!!! Seriously!
We Give Books – www.wegivebooks.org
Now while you’re there, you have to look up “Goodnight iPad”. It’s way too freakin’ awesome. A parody on the classic bedtime story “Goodnight Moon” for those of us who are plugged in. It really is fabulous, and, no joke, it had my husband and I laughing out loud as we attempted to read it to the kid.
So, there you go! Two fabulous discoveries!
Now get reading!
I’m still out sick, officially, but this couldn’t wait:
The Ugandan Parliament is currently looking at a bill that would allow the death penalty for something called “aggravated homosexuality”. Sexual Minority and Gender Variant people in Uganda already face a dangerous rode, as Uganda is one of the few nations where homosexuality is illegal. Please take a minute to write to the Prime Minister, urging him to NOT pass this bill during their upcoming session.
Action must be taken immediately, with a deadline of April 2nd. So please, please take a moment to write a brief email or to send (with guaranteed delivery prior to the second) a letter to the Hon. Amama Mbabzi.
Facing judicial punishment for simply BEING is a human rights travesty, but the idea that an individual could be put to death for love? There are no words that are adequate.
Rt. Hon. Amama Mbabazi
Office of the Prime Minister
P.O. Box 341, Kampala, Uganda
For more information on this bill, and other human rights issues, please visit Amnesty International at http://www.amnesty.org/ and http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AFR59/001/2012/en/fa2f38d6-dc7e-44cc-b295-5016f57154c5/afr590012012en.html
So, it appears Canada is again on the chopping block thanks to Harper. Our flags once waved proud, but now are just as often full of disgrace. This newest measure allows discrimination based on gender, going so far as to allow airport security the right to allow or deny access to individuals based on their gender.
Under section 5.2(1)(c) of the Aeronautics Act:
“An air carrier shall not transport a passenger if: the passenger does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents.”
Why is this an issue? Because for many Trans individuals the sex on their passport may not coincide with their gender. There are very strict rules in place for changing the sex on your international identification that only a very small segment of the populace qualifies for. These rules make it impossible for non-operative Trans people to have the M or F on their documents changed to reflect their actual gender. A better solution, if this wording is to remain in place would be to allow for an “Other” designation. Gender is, after all, a social construct that has nothing to do with an individuals sex (which, lets be honest, also has more than two possibilities). Alas, we are stuck in a society that appears to enjoy this incorrect, yet entrenched, gender binary.
This goes even farther though. The instant we allow those with limited power the ability to select who qualifies as female and who as male – based on how they present, we are opening ourselves up for all sorts of abuses. Gender is a social construct that changes with time. It used to be that we dressed our long haired little boys in pink dresses, while the girls wore blue.
What happens when the thirteen year old girl, with short cropped hair, wearing low rise baggy pants and a jersey is denied access to a plane to fly home to her parents after spending part of the Summer with her grandparents? This policy gives airports the right to determine who is female enough, or male enough to board their planes. The potential abuses this brings forward are downright scary. Don’t think for a second that because you are not a genderqueer, or trans individual, or because you don’t have a gender creative child that it won’t affect you. This is something that has the potential to harm us all. Will we all have to don a dress and kerchief in order to be female enough to avoid speculation? It’s a scary idea. Men, don’t even think about wearing that salmon coloured shirt, you too may be pulled for questioning regarding your gender presentation. Is this really a slope we even want to start on?
There is a petition here: http://www.petitiononlinecanada.com/petition/tell-harper-to-allow-trans-people-to-fly-on-airplanes/758 Add your name, and let Harper and his yes men know that you are saying NO to this government sanctioned discrimination. And for more information and ideas on what you can do to combat this, check out what Chris Milloy has to say here: http://chrismilloy.ca/2012/01/transgender-people-are-completely-banned-from-boarding-airplanes-in-canada/
Not all of us are lucky enough to be born into a body that matches our gender. We all bare our battle scars. Growing up is tough. Growing up transgendered is even more so. And sometimes – thanks to the ignorance and brutality of others – it is actually impossible.
Today is the 13th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. Today, I ask you to do ONE THING. Regardless of your beliefs, regardless of your feelings, regardless of who you are or who you know or who you want to be. Take a few minutes and read through the list of people at this web page: http://www.transgenderdor.org/?page_id=1663
The people listed there are all individuals who have suffered and died at the hands of others for being born different and having the strength to live honestly. 23 people who have suffered horrendously because they had the courage to be who they were. 23 people who lost their lives because of bigotry and hate. 23 people, this year alone, their lives stolen, savagely, all for the crime of living a genuine life.
I’m not asking you to change. I’m not asking you to weep. I’m not asking you to speak out. I’m just asking you to read their names, read how they died, and remember that they were people once.