When I was little I was convinced that I was supposed to be a boy. They got to do the things I wanted to do, they could pee standing up (apparently I really wanted to do that when I was little and was super jealous of boys), and they were always told that they could do whatever they wanted – while I was supposed to grow up and get married and have babies. Turns out, I didn’t have gender identity issues – I am just a lesbian. However I think my confusion when I was young was directly related to what society thought I should be (based on my gender) and what I wanted to be – because I liked race cars and dirt instead of dolls and dress up. Until I was older and knew I could do ‘boy things’ and still be proud of the fact that I am a woman – it was confusing to say the least. Now that I understand myself and don’t really care what society thinks I am perfectly happy with my lady parts. For me, my actual gender wasn’t the problem although being a lesbian in society is no picnic sometimes – at least I feel at home in my own skin.
Now imagine you are one of those kids who REALLY feels they are the opposite gender. A boy trapped in a girls body or a girl trapped in a boys body. They don’t get over these feelings as they grow up – they get worse. The fact that we as humans can think about why we are the way we are, and that we set up arbitrary behaviors that we assign to certain genders is something unique in nature. I don’t think that cardinal in the picture spends it’s time worrying about how others perceive it or that other cardinals have any issue with their multi-toned friend. I would be curious though to know what gender behaviors the bird expresses – does it look for mates the way girl birds do, or the way boy birds do – or do they just take whatever comes along and adjusts? Whoever wants to mate with it – wins? For the bird – it is a question that can be answered by observation – when we talk about humans though, the answers are more elusive because we have an understanding of ourselves and we have a desire to be accepted for who we are in society – but what if you can’t define who you are? Why should we have to? Society is slowly changing to understand and accept those of us with different gender identities and sexual orientations but the fear of what we don’t understand or accept still paralyzes us.
I found a nice article on Understanding Gender that explains the spectrum of gender and sexual identity in nice plain English to help understand the various differences in humans. Humans though are no different from our animal kingdom relatives. Every gender and sexual identity that we experience is mimicked in nature and in human cultures all over the world. We are unique in that we have to explain and understand it before we accept these differences in our peers; and the social constraints we place on gender and behaviors – well we are the only ones who do it. Humans are the only animals that force people to try and change their gender or sexual orientation to accommodate gender roles.
I have known quite a few transgender individuals and I sort of dated a person who was in the middle of her MTF (Male to Female) transition. I’ll be honest – It was an experience that I couldn’t handle. I think it would have been different if she was done with her transition – but to be a lesbian and dating someone who got up for work and looked, talked, and acted like a man for most of the day; well it was confusing for ME. I can’t imagine how she felt her entire life if I was that confused. I am not attracted to men and seeing her as a man was a complete turn off for me so the relationship was kind of impossible for me to be comfortable with. I don’t think that makes me a bad person – it just means that I don’t want to be in a relationship with a man – for even part of the day. Also – aside from her gender – she was just a weird person who I ended up really not liking – gender played no part in that.
As science helps us to understand our gender identities and differences – society is slowly letting go of gender roles as being a concrete way to be – which I think is obviously a good thing. As humans we are diverse in every way and once we learn to embrace that diversity I think gender roles will become less specific (hopefully) and that we will one day be able to help kids earlier who feel that their gender does not reflect who they really are. Just from a mental health standpoint – it would eliminate a lot of depression, suicide, and adverse personal behaviors if as a society was can accept diversity instead of trying to force people to conform.
Here are some related articles if you are interested in learning more:
How can we accommodate transgender children (this is a blog and there are several other very informative posts on the subject in addition to this one).