This week I stumbled across two posts about gender that really resonated with me. Gender is a tangled and complex subject, and there are people who can speak far more eloquently about trans issues, the intersection of gender and sexuality, and breaking the gender mold than I can. But I wanted to highlight these two articles, as they spoke to body identity, trauma, support, and strength.
The first made the rounds among my female friends who are into Crossfit and kettlebell training: This One’s For The Butch Girls. In it, a fitness instructor visits a Pilates class to learn about it, and is treated in the following way:
After pointing me to my machine, the instructor turned back to the other students and said, ‘That one’s for the butch girls.’
Excuse me? Now, I get that not every woman wants to look muscular…This doesn’t mean I’m a lesbian. This doesn’t, in fact, mean anything about who I am as a human being or my identity in the world.
So, it comes back once again to this idea of strength versus femininity. Of strength being in opposition to what it means to be a woman – that is, in opposition to some sort of archaic sense of what it is to ‘be a woman.’ Does being strong mean you are man-like? Does being man-like make you a lesbian? What if I’m a lesbian, but I’m not strong? Seriously. I’m being ridiculous because this whole train of thought is ridiculous. None of these concepts has any impact upon or anything to do with each other.
The article goes on to encourage women to find places – or make them, if necessary – where how they work out, or how muscular they are or aren’t, won’t be automatically judged in a particular way. “Where you can lift weights and grunt. Where you can wear pink and rip your shins open. Where you can paint your nails, do your hair, and have calves that make men green with envy. Even a place where you can be as ‘butch’ as you want to be.”
The idea of there being limitless possibilities for gender expression is one that I hold sacred, and one that I’ve spoken about here before. So this article spoke to me, as a woman who has weight trained for some time but was never much of an athlete, and one who has started rock climbing and loves it. (Now there’s a place where female muscle is respected.)
But I wasn’t prepared for the punch in the gut the next article gave me. The Girl Who Said She Was a Boy is by a blogger who has raised five children with disabilities. I’m grateful she liked one of my posts this week and therefore alerted me to her sensitive and funny writing on this topic. Her foster daughter, at age 7, started insisting that she was a boy. She wanted to dress, cut her hair, and be identified as a boy, and her mother – particularly once she adopted her – supported her in this. At the doctor’s office at age 10, “she blurted out to him that she was a boy and that she did not have the right part. She begged him to “sew a penis” on her. He was very comforting and reassuring, and said she was fine the way she was for now and when she was older she could make that decision.”
I was already impressed at this point at the supportiveness of the mother, and the sensitivity of the doctor. But I wasn’t ready for what happened next, as I was prepared for this to be the story of a transgender child.
At 11, her mother cautiously began to introduce her to what it would mean for her when puberty came. To her surprise, Marie, was excited about the prospect, and very inquisitive. And then, the truth emerged.
“She shyly admitted to me that she was happy to be a girl. She told me she only SAID she was a boy because men ‘hurt girls’ and she didn’t want to be hurt any more. She said ‘the men’ never hurt her brother, so she decided if she was a boy she was safe.”
In a world still reeling from Friday’s events, I find myself wondering when it will finally be safe to be a girl. Or to be a woman, in all the ways that one can be one. A woman becomes strong, and she is seen as less-than, as not womanly. A little girl wants to be a boy, because being a girl means pain. The catch-22 of femininity still has us profoundly in its grasp. Don’t be too strong or you’ll be threatening. Don’t be too weak or you’ll be threatened.
What might happen if more of the world saw the human body as the sacred property of the human being, not to be tampered with, undermined, ridiculed or destroyed?