“She is not gender nonconforming. She is gender role nonconforming.”
I know I am not in the headspace to write eloquently or even patiently about anything right now, let alone about this issue. The issue of gender. I am buffeted by grief and anger and belly-deep intolerance and frustration that makes me want to shake senseless the next person I encounter that doesn’t get it. That doesn’t get that we need to let people the f*ck alone and keep our judgements and assumptions to ourselves, and let people live their authentic selves however they are called to do so.
I find nothing objectionable to the author’s point in this piece. My anger flares because the responses she and her daughter face are just the flipside of the same unexamined prejudices that transgender people confront. The teacher, the doctor, the adults who inquire whether the author’s daughter isn’t actually transgender probably think they are being sensitive, welcoming, tolerant, and current. But actually they reveal themselves as biased and bound by traditional gender norms as the transphobic individual. The author’s “tomboy” daughter isn’t looking to fit herself into anyone’s boxes — no matter how progressive. She is just living her truth and should not have to explain it or make it work for anyone else. The point is, gender isn’t anyone else’s damn business. The point is that even transgender people remain trapped by these same onerous gender roles.
My transgender daughter is not a “girly-girl.” She does not wear makeup and does not wear skirts. And why should she have to? I am a cisgender woman who doesn’t wear makeup, rarely wears skirts, and has a life-long aversion to heels. No one questions my essential woman-ness, and yet my transgender daughter and I often feel intense pressure for her to “conform” to expected gender roles. To make it easier, more palatable, less confronting for others to accept her as a woman. And not because either of us are conformists, or timid to buck a trend or expectation. But because her ability to be successful in society, and in fact her ability to be physically SAFE in this world, might require it.
Her SAFETY might require it. Because our socially programmed responses around gender [and sexuality] are so volatile that when they are threatened, some people actually become violent. And those “some people” are so often cisgender men.
Her SAFETY might require it. Because our socially programmed responses around gender [and sexuality] are so volatile that when they are threatened, or upended, the discomfort, the pain, the isolation is so great, that some people do harm to themselves.
So, forgive me my anger to the well meaning and “open-minded” adults that the author’s daughter encounters who want to make sure she isn’t actually a transgender boy. What I want to say to them is, “F*ck you and your outdated, unexamined assumptions about who people need to be in order to make your comfortable. In order that you can put them into a box you can understand — even if it is a new box, you are just learning about.” These assumptions are no less harmful, no less potentially deadly, than the older ones.
Edited to add: as I have decided to publicly promote this response via Twitter and Facebook I thought I would explain the depth and heat of my current anger level. A family very dear to us just lost their transgender teen son on Monday. The social toxicity around gender norms is lethal