November 28, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

As it is for many people, going home for the holidays is a mixed bag of emotions for me.  I love my family and spending time with them is so great.  However – especially as I’ve begun exploring my new identity – I’ve begun to realize how clueless they can be about things I take for granted.

In this household, there is absolutely no concept of gender.  I’ve tried to explain how sex and gender are different, and all that meets me is this unwavering belief in the rigidity of gender roles.  Typically, even when I try to point to the example of a feminine gay guy or a butch lesbian, the answer is: “Well, they’re confused.  They shouldn’t dress that way.”  I’ve attempted to venture into the territory of discussing transgendered people.  My parents are actually better about that than my sister is…my sister will say, “Yeah, now she’s a man”, without realizing how virulently transphobic she sounds.  My parents, at least, make an attempt for polite conversation about it.  However, it’s difficult for them to separate out how a person can be a man without trying to get surgery, top and bottom.  And my mother just shudders at the thought of a double mastectomy.  Even when I try to point out that their worldly truth is not everyone else’s…well, my family is nothing if not opinionated and stubborn, so even if their worldview isn’t the same as everyone else’s…it SHOULD BE.  “Should” is a word that gets used a lot in this household.

I’ve tried to understand why it is that my family clings so stubbornly to gender roles.  It seems strange to me, given the way they can be enlightened about a lot of other issues.  I’ve given it a lot of thought over the past few years, and my belief is that it can be reduced most easily to my family’s class status.  I see a lot of my upbringing reflected in my own views, particularly in the way that I understand appearance is important for first impressions.  But I think my family carries this to an extreme that is unhealthy:  “It’s not just that appearance is important for the way that others view you…appearance is what you are.  And you should present as what you are.  Anything else is just a lie.”

It’s really hard to be at home.  I pack all my girly underwear for these trips, often sneaking in one pair of boxers that I can maybe wear, if I think I won’t be caught.  I can wear button down shirts, but I’ll get asked why I’m not carrying a purse.  And if I show a wallet that has everything I need in it, it’s pointed out that I’ll need to carry a purse anyway, for appearance’s sake.  My mom and sister noticed that I hadn’t shaved my legs in about two and a half months, and started screaming bloody murder. They looked so confused when I said I didn’t want to wax my legs.  And I would shave them when we got home (I didn’t).

An anecdote that pretty much sums it up: I broke my shirt playing basketball with my brother and dad because my sleeves are too tight (my amazing arm-balls are growing!).  I thought it was pretty awesome, but needed to ask my mom how to fix it – this butch can sew, but only a little.  She remarked, “You know, you don’t want to get too big.” Of course I do! I play rugby.

The worst though, is when they actually get to my head, and I think, “Maybe I am making this up. Maybe I’m not butch.  Maybe I just want to be lazy, and not care about my appearance. Is that what this is about?” And then I remember the care with which I put myself together on the weekends, the careful construction of a masculine appearance, and more importantly, the way that it’s never felt right when they’ve told me these things for 20 years.  I think about the way I just relax when I get home to Chicago, and the way it makes me smile when someone calls me handsome.  Gotta remember those things, when the going gets tough.

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Categories: Family, Introduction
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