This article got me thinking, and it made me realize: When I visualize the fictional me, I don’t conjure a woman.
Context: I have been writing fiction for myself for years, mostly to practice and play with the English language. It’s episodic, and doesn’t really go anywhere, although there’s a general plot and defined characters. It’s for me to read and enjoy and refine, and it does help me with defining the language in which I choose to express myself.
The main character of this fiction, the one that represents a fictionalized, idealized version of myself, living in a very different world, is male.
It’s not gender dysphoria. My body is just fine the way it is, for the most part. I do see myself as tending towards the awkward side, with a couple of nervous habits, but those are not particularly related to dissatisfaction with being female. I will say that being told most of my life that I was “handsome” or “striking” rather than “beautiful” might have some bearing on things, but…
The issue is gender role dysphoria.
Like the writer of the piece I posted, most of my heroes growing up were not women. It just didn’t really occur to me, for instance, that there was any problem, when I played Star Wars with my cousin, taking on the roles of Luke or Han or Darth Vader. I didn’t feel a particular need to be Leia. My playthings and activities were both typical and atypical for the average girl in the 70s and early 80s. I played WWII spy dramas with my Barbies. I had Legos and Hot Wheels cars; I also learned to sew and embroider. I played basketball and took ballet. Like a lot of girls, I went through a horse phase. Unlike most girls, my passion was for horse racing.
As my musical tastes developed, I never went through a period where I crushed on a modern band or a singer. Instead, I wanted to learn to play the music, to write insightful lyrics–or to look like the musicians. I cosplayed Peter Gabriel (who in his early career was famous for the costumes he wore during concerts) before “cosplay” was a thing. I was amused that I had the same somewhat frizzy long mullet as Geddy Lee. I did have a couple of amusing “crushes” on long-dead composers (hello, Chopin and Schumann!) in my early teens, but this, again, was a reflection of the emotions their music induced, along with the respective tragedies of their stories (Chopin dying young of TB, Schumann’s descent into insanity before his own relatively young death). Again, those I admired were male, and I saw myself in them more than I saw myself in any female musicians.
As I got older, I started to shun things that were stereotypically “girly.” I associated those things with the high school cliques that I was not part of, where shopping and fashion and makeup and attracting boys seemed to be the main motivators. But yet, I loved shopping on my own terms, and finding clothing that suited my own idiosyncratic tastes was–and remains–pleasurable. And yes, I liked guys. My idea of a romantic ideal was someone who was absolutely brilliant at something I cared about–history or music, particularly. Other than a sort of lean angularity, there was no one particular “look” that attracted me. It was brains, wit, and acuity. I realized only recently that for a long while, what attracted me in an abstract sense were guys that were often an idealized version of how I saw myself.
I have since acquired female heroes, most of whom are or were strong, fiercely intelligent and creative people–the same type of people I would admire were they male, but with the added bonus that they share my gender. The two Eleanors: Eleanor of Aquitaine and Eleanor Roosevelt–loom particularly large, as does a woman who played the former in my absolute favourite movie of all time, The Lion in Winter, Katherine Hepburn. The pioneering scientists like Lise Meitner, Marie Curie, and Rosalind Franklin. Authors like Jane Austen and Dorothy Parker, and modern political figures like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Michelle Obama. The vast majority of these women were or are not traditionally feminine; in fact, many were mocked as mannish for either their clothing or their willingness to tread on “men’s ground.”
It seems I have a profound lack of identification with any stereotypical gender label. I am a woman who never wanted children. I have not the faintest streak of maternal feeling in my bones, and that never, ever changed. I don’t not like children, nor do I like them–I can’t generalize across the entire spectrum of “children,” any more than I can about any other group of people. I take each on an individual basis, usually giving them the benefit of the doubt to start, as well as the understanding that they are not small adults–they’re still learning and growing. They are just people of a somewhat undeveloped variety, and I get on with them if we have something in common, much like adults. That’s more or less the way I was treated growing up.
But I do not feel the stereotypically masculine overrides the feminine in me–I have no identification with those labels, either. Perhaps the issue is the labels themselves. It seems to me that my ideal is a balance of all of the best qualities of male and female. Maybe a version of me born 25 years later might identify as non-binary or agender, but those labels don’t work for the actual me, either. Much like my spiritual beliefs, I end up with my own definitions, and the one that seems to best encapsulate what I identify as is “human.” I identify as the balance, or perhaps as the intersection (as in a Venn diagram).
Or perhaps–in a system where the Sun is male and the Moon is female–perhaps I am the Earth, part of that system, influenced by the dance of those bodies in the sky, but grounded in my own rather solipsistic reality that knows that words are, in the end, a way to describe what only a person him or herself can know. The Universe, after all, does not care what organs I possess. Neither do my cats, or Lake Ontario, or a C minor symphony, or the Lakeshore West GO Train schedule.
Would that we all lived in such a world.