Friday, April 03, 2015

Gender Stories

Today, someone in my social circle shared this article: I Was a Transgender Woman

Here's a different "story". It's just as real. It's the story of my family.

My kid always loved being naked as a kid. That kid would take off hir diaper or anything else the second I wasn't looking. When ze did have to wear clothes, ze would wear any combination of clothes without any concern for their intended use or targeted consumer. Because I loved my child, ze was allowed to wear what made hir happy except for when we went to religious services 3 times a week. This unwillingness to make clothes something we fought over made it possible for my child to make hir artistic flair apparent from very early on.

In Louisiana Creole culture, girls are expected to look like baby dolls. I preferred to let my child get hir hands dirty catching frogs (and returning them to where they were found), making frybread, using my fingernail polish to "dazzle up" everything ze could get hir naughty little paws on. I refused to limit my child's ability to explore the world around hir for the sake of other people's ideas of what a girl was supposed to do. I taught hir that girls could do ANYTHING. We have women in our family who are doctors, attorneys, politicians, teachers, stay at home moms, nurses, et cetera. In fact, the women tend to have more formal education than the men. Women play a very significant role in our Indigenous cultures and girls are prized and pampered.

Since Indigenous women are so often sexually assaulted, ze was guarded like a hawk. My mother had been assaulted as a child and so had I. We wanted to make sure my child never experienced that. Thankfully, we were successful. I never had to leave hir with strangers until ze was old enough to talk and once ze could talk, ze was armed with strategies for dealing with adults that made hir uncomfortable. We lived in a wonderful neighborhood in a four bedroom house in the suburbs as an extended family, so my child was surrounded by aunts, uncles, and grandparents who doted on hir. Ze went to a very exclusive and expensive preschool. Ze went to school with children from around the world and ze was allowed to express hir creative desires. Ze went to one of the city's most exclusive elementary schools where ze had French lessons and swimming lessons and plenty of play time. Even in the schools ze went to, ze was in both the Gifted and Talented programs which meant that ze received the very best that these schools had to offer. Ze starred in community plays, had hir art exhibited in state buildings and galleries across our region. Ze was a professional artist starting in middle school.

In other words, ze has had the life that many parents in this country wish they could provide for their child. With this sort of background, gender wasn't really a limiting thing. Being a girl didn't mean ze couldn't do anything ze wanted, because whatever ze wanted to do, you can be sure that my politically connected and financially comfortable family could make it possible. I'm not bragging, I'm simply stating the truth. So ze never grew up with the idea that it was a hindrance to be a girl. I made it clear from when ze was young that I was having none of that nonsense about girls not being good in math or that girls can't achieve anything. My dad was a math professor and I was proof that these ideas were false. My kiddo also showed a great deal of aptitude for math (better than mine, actually). In other words, there was never a point where ze had a reason to prefer to be something other than a girl.

At certain points, my kid expressed some worries about the idea of growing up to be a woman. I thought it was because ze didn't like the idea of menstruation and ze'd absorbed some negative messages about it from the outside world. Over time, it became clear that this wasn't hir issue at all. Ze never had an issue with those natural processes of the body. Ze simply did not relate solely to the identity this culture refers to as "girlhood" or "womanhood". I had no language to describe such feelings, so like most folks I just ignored it and figured it was some passing whim. Only, it didn't go away. Ze would go through long periods where ze could not be induced to wear "girly clothes" no matter how much I cajoled and bribed. Then ze would go through long periods where ze wouldn't leave out of the house without super fancy eye shadow styles and would use her pin money to buy cosmetics that I'd never even heard of (What the heck is BB cream?).

One day, my kid showed me a tumblr page ze had created. In the part about hirself, I saw that ze had put that ze was "bigender". I thought ze was a bit confused and I told hir that I think ze meant "cisgender". Ze informed me that ze knew quite well what ze had written and that was the proper term for hir. I wasn't exactly sure what the heck "bigender" meant so I just politely backed off and googled it.

I'd heard of transgender folks and I thought it basically meant someone who didn't think the body they had matched what they knew about themselves and needed surgery to feel comfortable with their body. I'd never heard of trans* folks who were quite comfortable with the bodies they were born with and had no desire to change them. I'd never heard of people who considered both "girl/woman" and "boy/man" to be terms that didn't describe them. Even trans* folks were either one or the other, I believed.

Around that time, I was making the effort to preserve and pass on my child's rich cultural inheritance. I wanted hir to know hir French aristocratic roots and hir privileges as a descendant of the Gens de Couleur Libre, and a member of Indigenous nations that had been proudly matriarchal for thousands of years. Because we are so matriarchal and ze was (thought to be) the oldest girl in that generation of our family, I'd been grooming my child to value keeping the family together and being the bearer of our history. Ze loved it. Ze has never dealt with confusion about who ze is or where ze fits in racially. Ze decided that ze fits in wherever the heck ze wants to. That was as I wanted it. I wished I could have been so certain about these things during my childhood as a person of mixed heritage. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that ze was also just as certain about who ze was with regards to gender.

In the process of learning more about our matriarchal Indigenous roots, I came across information about gender. Of course, in our cultures there's a "nobody left behind and everything has its place" commitment that I already understood. But I'd never had any reason to focus on our gender roles, identities, and expectations. It turned out that there was a very long history of people like my child. There were still social prohibitions about who such folks could and couldn't marry, but they were also extremely prized and it was/is considered a great blessing to have such a person in your family. They are often turned to for advice about relationships because they are both a part of and outside of the most common gender identities. They saw the world as we often can not and had the role of helping others find their place in the world. My child's identity wasn't something new. It wasn't something foreign. It was lovingly appreciated.

Over the years, my child and I have been able to connect with many others like hir. This isn't a novelty for our people as it is perceived in Western cultures. This isn't something that I "raised my child to be". This isn't some disorder or dysphoria. This is my child as God, the Creator of All Worlds, made hir. We aren't some people out there fighting for "gay marriage" or to make some point about lifestyles. This just is.

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