The History of Gender and Sexuality is so far focused on defining and understanding the different words, phrases, and states of being in the vast world of sexuality. It is a place where students are expected to participate in the frank discussion of sexual matters. This is something I love, and don't get to do enough. Astasia and I are able to have these discussions, but most of the people I run into, especially my 19-year-old classmates, are embarrassed or mortified by such talk. This particular class, however, is an upper level class that was full of juniors and seniors before sophomores had started registering, and I managed to squeak into it by waiting for someone to drop out and snatching up the seat, rearranging the rest of my schedule in order to do it. This also means that I get to have a class with slightly older children, who are still much younger than myself. I'll take what I can get.
We talk a lot, so far, about intersex and transgendered people, so far, I presume because they really force you to challenge ideas about gender socialization, the way people are born, and the way society has changed in the ways it enforces gender norms. Supposedly we will move into American history and study the subject within those different time frames. It's the first time a class has excited me in quite the same way. I look forward to classes, even though I have to leave the house at 5:30 am to get there, and I love the readings. I feel engaged at every moment. It's exciting to have a professor with a sharp wit and humor discussing this stuff with us.
Gender has always been a touchy subject for me. I am, apparently, female. My mother, I am told, fully expected me to be male. She had dreams that I was male. She was shocked when I was not. These little factoids did not enter my consciousness until I was much older, yet I developed into what people liked to label "tomboy" right from the starting gate. I played with boys mostly, and sometimes with girls. I played in the woods, built forts, got dirty. I begged for toys like walkie talkies and legos, though for the most part I received more "gender appropriate" toys.
I frequently, as a child, wished I was a boy. Boys get do to fun stuff. They are expected to do fun stuff. When boys are sweaty, they can pull their t-shirt up and wipe their forehead with it, even if it exposes their chests. They can even take their shirt off altogether and bask in the sun, feel the breeze on their skin, play unimpeded. How very convenient for them. They can get dirty, they get all the cool toys. They make all the cool clothes for boys. Have you ever seen a thundercats t-shirt made for a girl? Have you? You haven't. Because they don't.
Yet, as I escaped the controlling influence of my parents, I found that I liked being a girl. I liked it because I could decide how to be female. I could have a custom made thundercats t-shirt made to fit my body. I could wear torn jeans and a wifebeater and fix the lawnmower. I could get as dirty as I wanted. I could wear my hair in a mohawk. I could get a job as a plumber and use power tools. I could do all these things and do them as a woman. I could express my femininity in a way that was attractive and comfortable to me. I could express it as a capable, strong, independent force, complete with T&A. As an adult, being female rocks. I really like it.
It's interesting to me, because I know that my expression of femininity is at odds with society's ideas about what constitutes femininity, and that is what compels people to label me a tomboy, or attribute my gayness to a gender identity disconnect of some sort. Society doesn't know what to do or how to react to those who don't fit into gender norms, so it looks for categories, disorders, stereotypes, anything to organize people into boxes that all fit together nicely. Society needs to know what I am. To myself, I am Grasshopper, I am all the things I love and think and feel, I am a complex human being with a complex set of memories and experiences. To the people who need to know what I am without actually knowing me, I am Grasshopper: dyke, or Grasshopper: Canadian, with all the stereotypes attendant with each limited label.
Those who feel the need to label an individual may make some assumptions that are right, but they are likely to be making even more assumptions that are false. It's interesting to me that so many of these assumptions are made based on the clothes we wear, completely external identifiers, and these assumptions do a pretty good job of ensuring that we never really know one another, not really, not in a way that fosters community and closeness.
I suppose in that way, we use labels and stereotypes to hold everyone at arms length. Sometimes, this is exactly our intention, other times I think we do it without meaning to. In both cases, we rob ourselves of knowing all kinds of fascinating people and benefiting from relationship with them, and all the wonderful ways they might enrich our lives with their defiance of our little boxes.