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.
I had to share a recent project by an artist whose work I really enjoy. It’s not their usual medium, however they were inspired by a find at the family cottage and so set to work. She is refinishing a dollhouse originally built by her Grandfather and played with by her mother, and is sharing the progress on her Deviant Art account. Why do I feel the need to share this? Well, the most recent addition to her tiny home is a Transgender doll that began it’s existence as female, but has transitioned to male… right down to the binder (worn a little low, but still poignant).
I’d like to introduce you to this bibliophile of a doll, who is yet unnamed, but seems quite happy in his new life:
You can check out more of Ulla Thynell’s work at DA, where her username is ullakko. Here is a direct link to her journal, where she first introduced us to our unnamed friend and shared a little about his transition: http://my.deviantart.com/messages/#/d595iqi And while he was not created with the intent of any kind of deeper meaning, I believe there is some truth to be found in how his physical self had to be ground down to find his final and true form.
Do I get triple points for coming up with not just one or two O words, but for hitting a homer with three??? I think so. Even if I’m just giving myself the points and they don’t actually accumulate towards a win of any kind. 😉
So, the idea that our sex organs define who we are. It’s a pretty heavy one, and rather long standing. And the longer folks have believed something, the more ingrained it is, the harder it can be to shake it. However, the fact of the matter is that our parts have little to no bearing on our actual sex or our gender.
A person’s “assigned sex” is based on their genitals. It’s when the midwife, doctor, or doula sees a baby’s bits and announces “it’s a boy/girl!” Actual sex, I’m afraid, is a LOT more complicated.
If you want to get right down to it, a person’s actual sex is determined by their chromosomes. And here, many folks would happily jump in with “Okay, so that means it’s XX or XY!” Yeah, but not really. Sure, those are the two combinations we’ve all been taught in grade school… but those are FAR from the only options. It’s not as uncommon as you’d think for individuals to have X0, XXX, XXXX, XXXXX, XXY, XXXY, XYY, or even XY/XXY chromosomes. And unless you’ve been tested for chromosomal abnormalities, you may be XXX or XYY and not even know it.
Still with me? Assigned sex is based on your organs, actual sex is based on your chromosomes, and Gender? Gender is the realm of the philosopher (back in the day, I was either practicing art or studying philosophy). Gender is about how you feel, it’s about who you are. It’s how you define yourself. And with gender there are as many options as there are individuals. No one can define your gender except for you, and it may or may not match up with your assigned or actual sex. Heck, it may or may not be the same from day to day. As we grow, learn, evolve, and change, our gender may do so right along with us, and that’s totally okay.
So our organs really can’t define us, not in any real way. And the idea of a sexual or gender binary? It just doesn’t work. There are more than two sexes (as our chromosomes clearly indicate) and there are more than two genders. Our parts may convince some that a binary view works, but all you have to do is check out the myriad within even the physical bits to know humans are more complex than that. And I, for one, am grateful for all of our beautiful and amazing complexities.
Okay… today I’m going to again share my gingerbread cookie drawing. The one I did to accompany my session at Breaking the Silence. I think it explains the basics of Expression, Gender, Assigned Sex, Sex, Sexual Desire, and Affection rather well. After all, that’s the entire reason I created it.
So… at it’s most basic? Expression is “all this” – and if you could see me you’d see me waving my hands and fingers over my entire body from my head to my toes and everywhere in between. It doesn’t exactly translate the same way to a blog post as it does when I do it in person. 😉 Your outward expression of gender doesn’t have to match your assigned sex, your actual sex, or any particular gender. It just just how you feel like presenting yourself at any given time – and there is no wrong way to express yourself.
I have to be honest. I’m kinda glad we’re on “E” with this challenge. Sure, my blog posts have been really fast and easy to write since the challenge started. I find this type of thing really easy to talk about. It helps that I talk about it with such a range of people on a day to day basis. From toddlers to teachers, I talk about orientation a lot and in a lot of different ways. So writing about it comes fast and easy. But I miss the challenge that comes from writing about myself and following the whim of my muse.
It really is a far greater challenge to share about important parts of my day, and how those things led to moments of self discovery or laughter. Sure, it means I end up with the occasional “sorry for being so boring today” post. But generally, it’s a very satisfying part of my day. It allows me time to put everything into perspective. It is time for me to reflect on the days joy or frustrations.
That’s really what this blog is all about. It’s about my expression of self. What I feel, who I am, what’s important to me on any given day. And this challenge, to a degree, has robbed me of that. It’s a good thing this is such an important topic or I’d be likely to scrap the whole darn thing at this point. 😉
It is an exceedingly important part of who we are. Without it? (get ready for the exceptionally geeky reference dead ahead) We might as well be assimilated by the Borg. Taken into the collective, sharing a mind…
It’s easy to think of it as the least of the parts that makes up our orientation, but when it is robbed from you? It’s easy to see it as potentially the most important. Without it, we are but shades of ourselves… lost, and without the will to communicate.
So value your ability to express yourself, through the way you look, the things you do, how you interact with others… Express yourself freely and without regret. BE WHO YOU WANT TO BE! Be the very best you, you know how to be, and inspire others to do the same.
One of the very best things you can do for yourself is to build community. Having a “family by choice” will provide you with the supports we all need and don’t always get after coming out to our family by blood. Even in those instances where your family is fabulous and supportive, it always helps to have a community of people who really understand what you are going through and who have either been there, or are currently right with you.
The internet is an amazing resource when it comes to finding a sense of community. These days, even individuals with severe, life-limiting anxiety disorders can still find others and build camaraderie. We can find a global community, always ready and waiting thanks to things like email lists, online forums, and FB groups. But I do encourage you to also seek out local individuals, because there are times when we all need to reach out and actually FEEL another person whom we can trust and know will be there for us.
Here in Saskatoon I can’t recommend the ACC any more highly than I already do. They run a number of excellent programs for individuals of almost every age range in almost every situation. You can find them online at http://avenuecommunitycenter.ca/. PFLAG is also another amazing resource, and there are branches all over North America. Check them out at http://www.pflagcanada.ca/ and http://pflag.org/. For those of you in high school, talk to your guidance counselor to find out if there is a GSA you can join. And for more information on resources in your neck of the woods, check out http://www.gaystraightalliance.org/ which includes a directory that is world wide.
There is no reason to feel you have to go it alone. You aren’t alone. Far from it! No matter how you identify, even if you aren’t sure how exactly you fit into the whole spectrum, you can be sure there are others out there just like you. And now you’ve got some tools to help you find them.
As I mentioned yesterday, I was considering taking up the April A to Z blog challenge. I already blog almost daily, so that wasn’t the issue. For me? The biggest challenge is actually staying on topic. I enjoy writing on whatever hits me as interesting or important at the moment. I lose my interest otherwise. But, I figure, if I pick a topic that is dear to my heart – putting in 26 days shouldn’t be an impossible task. So, I’m going to do it. …and if I feel the need to go off topic, well… on those days I’ll just post twice. LOL So here we go. Day one: Blogging our way from A to Z on sexual and gender identity.
For some folk, the most intimidating thing when encountering someone who doesn’t clearly fit into box A or B on the sexual and gender binary, is asking. And honestly? It’s something we need to become more comfortable with as a society, because even when someone appears very clearly to fit into “HE” or “SHE” it doesn’t mean that’s their preferred pronoun. A wonderful individual, whom I am proud to call “friend”, recently posted the following on their Facebook status:
“I find it is no longer important or useful, and in fact has become a negative experience to identify as male. Rather than identifying as another type of gender, I will leave the spectrum of gender identity altogether. This means that the current English language of gender identity pronouns, such as she, her, his, her, xe, and hir, become problematic when referring to me. So with great respect and earnestness, I ask that you refer to me simply by using my name, for in a name the entire soul resides. Thank you.”
This is an individual, whom upon appearance, would very easily fit into the neat and tidy package we call “male” or “masculine” and is proof positive that we cannot, nor should we, presume to use male pronouns based solely on our impressions of said individual.
How we each identify is an intensely personal thing, and it is perfectly okay to ask someone what pronouns they prefer – if any. In fact, for many of us, it’s a question we welcome. So the next time you are introduced to someone try asking. Not sure how to word it? Give this a go: “Hi Francis, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Would you mind telling me which pronouns you’d prefer?” Plain, simple, straightforward. And if you feel the need to say more, try this: “I’d hate to offend by insisting on using something that you don’t identify with.” Chances are they’ll be happy you had the respect and courtesy to ask.
And hey! Ever had something you wanted to ASK (see? I’m keeping it on topic) about gender, sex, affection, desire, expression, orientation or on any other topic of interest to the acronym community now’s the time. 26 days is a lot to fill, so help me out. Let me know what YOU would like to see me blog about. And thanks to Sarah for her suggestion of “Asking” as our very first in the alphabet series.
Some of you may already be familiar with this piece. It was something Ivan E Coyote wrote for her column in Xtra. I remember reading it, and applauding it at the time.
For those of you who have never had to stop before going into a public washroom and consciously make a choice which door to walk into, be thankful. It’s not an easy choice to make. A person takes their safety into their own hands every time they walk into a public washroom, especially when the individuals on the other side of the door may not agree with their choice. We don’t all fit neatly into one gender box or another – nor should we have to. So here is Ivan, on being shrieked at, on life in the gender variant spectrum, on discrimination, and on compassion:
It’s well worth the watch folks, whether or not you’ve read the personal essay that ran in Xtra.
When discussing something, relaying a story, or describing an event the logical place to start is at the beginning. So, with the fifteenth anniversary of Breaking the Silence that would seem to be with Ivan Coyote’s performance on Friday evening. I’ve got a couple clips that I know you’ll love.
…However, that’s not where I’m going to start. I’m going to start at the end. Or, well… almost the end. The last session of the day, before we all gathered for the conference’s conclusion:
“Sex, Gender, and How the Heck I Fit into it All.”
I had printed 25 of the handouts I’d created, expecting 15 – 20 youth. We had 176 (it was 176 or 172, I can’t quite remember) registrants, and five options in each session slot. And with a title like mine, I didn’t expect a huge turnout. Not when competing against some of the amazing options that were presented this year. I figured by printing 25, it would give me a little wiggle room, and also allow me to share a few copies with people who were in other sessions, but were still interested in the topics I addressed.
Walking up the stairs to find the room I was presenting in I passed two people who had veered off into the other upstairs lecture hall – I’d attended a session earlier in the day there (a great one by Jim Drake on personal narrative). I kept walking… And that was when I realized, the throng of folks walking up the stairs with me were headed into room 103… into my session.
The room was already packed when I walked in, and more people kept coming. I was shocked! And I’ll admit it, I was suddenly nervous. My throat swelled, my legs felt weak, my stomach did a little turn. These are not feelings I was used to, however they weren’t entirely foreign either. I remember them well from the days I first entered politics when I feared I wouldn’t be good enough, days long past now.
George Georget, a fellow member of the board gave my introduction. He’d asked if there was anything in particular I wanted him to mention. There wasn’t really, and I told him as much… but I didn’t want to leave him lacking for something to say, so told him he could always just tell them I was a Mom and photographer. I didn’t need to be worried. He had plenty to say, all of it lovely. I thank him for that. 🙂
I began by apologizing for my lack of handouts, and asked that they share in groups of two and three… just so everyone could see what I was referring to. I began handing them out. Then realized it would be a lot more efficient to enlist a little help. I handed some to Chance Briere, an absolutely wonderful young man I met this Summer and am proud to call friend, and some to a woman across the row from him and asked for their assistance.
Still feeling a little shaky, and surprised not only by the amount of attendees by also by their diversity (I was expecting youth only, but there was a brilliant array of ages, it was inspiring to see them all gathered for a session I thought would have such narrow appeal), I began to speak.
It took two or three minutes, but I found my voice… the same as it always was. Honest, open, and willing to talk about anything.
I didn’t expect the laughs, loud and openly shared. I didn’t expect the cheers, unbridled and on point. I didn’t expect the types of questions, asked with heart and intention. I didn’t expect to inspire or to move people… but that seems to be what I did.
Very honestly? I was presenting a mainly informational session. I knew I wanted it to be more of a discussion than a lecture – but I came prepared with an activity, just in case questions were slow to come. I didn’t realize that I would touch lives, or give people hope they didn’t arrive with.
To everyone who came up to me afterwards, to shake my hand, to get a hug (or two or three), to share a story, to ask for help… THANK YOU! I appreciate each one of you. You are truly amazing people. You have touched my life. You have inspired ME. And to all of you who wanted to do the same, but for whatever reason felt you couldn’t. Thank you for being there, for listening, for asking questions, for returning my smiles when I met your eyes during my talk. I know I won’t change the world, but I believe that you can.
Now, for anyone who would like to see it, here is my handout. Please feel free to share it wherever and with whomever you like. I only ask that you refrain from editing it or claiming it as your own. 😛 If there is interest in a printable version (do let me know if that’s something you’d like to see) I’ll find the best way to make that available.