(Post inspired by this post from Donna Rose)
So, many of you have probably seen my name popping up recently in comments around here (and other places, such as 360 and Livejournal) and wondered “Who is this strange person and why is she here?”
A brief summary to start with – I am female-bodied, and female-identified (Cisgendered, or Genetic Girl). My spouse of almost 13 years is currently questioning their own gender identity, which has made me reflect on my own life and discover how much of it has transcended gender norms and led me to a place where gender identity is almost a non-issue for me.
I was raised in a small town in Southern England in the 1960s. My mother was a single parent, and we lived with two elderly, never-married sisters who had been friends of my late grandmother. Thus my home environment was very much a matriarchal one, with females performing all roles – driving, finances, home maintenance, breadwinner, as well as the traditional female roles. My mother maintained a fairly androgynous appearance and would frequently get “sir’ed”, much to her annoyance. One of the sisters ran a Cub Scout Troop which met at the house, and thus my earliest playmates were male. I preferred my ‘Action Man’ (G.I. Joe) to my dolls, my train set to my doll’s house, and spent many hours climbing trees and becoming a “little woodsman” in our vast backyard. To me, none of this seemed odd and the only difference I was aware of between boys and girls was that we used different public restrooms. As you can see from the photo of myself aged 4, I looked like the typical ‘tomboy’.
All that changed when I was 7 years old. Suddenly, I was thrust into an all-girls convent school. I had to wear a dress or skirt in uniform. If I wanted friends, they would have to be … girls. I was enrolled in Girl Scouts. My classmates mostly came from traditional two-parent families and I started to learn about the differing societal roles of ‘father’ and ‘mother’. I stood out as different, the odd one out and suffered peer ostracization throughout my time at that school, until the age of 16. I was still a ‘tomboy’ but trying to fit in with the other females of my age. I wore makeup, dated a couple of guys, swooned over the members of the Glam Rock bands of the early 70s and didn’t understand exactly why I was seen as different. So, I was the only one in my class to excel at Math, or really understand Physics principles. Just meant I was smart, right?
At sixteen, everything changed again. My mother decided I should be sent to my father’s old school for the last two years of high school. This was a typical British private school with a long history of producing naval officers. If you’ve seen the Harry Potter movies, that’s exactly how the buildings looked – they could have almost been filmed there. They had started accepting girls as an ‘experiment’ just two years prior to my arrival, and at the time, the male:female ratio was around 20:1. And somewhere along the way, I had lost the art of beings friends with boys. I approached them now, not with the carefree camaraderie of my kindergarten self, but with the ‘ZOMG BOYZZZZ I must have a crush on you’ mindset of the other girls in my class. And of course, that was disastrous. The only successful interactions I had with my male peers were when I was providing emergency tutoring to them for the math and science classes that I understood better than they did.
And then came college. I naturally gravitated towards the more technical subjects, and ended up attending a university known for science and engineering where I obtained a degree in Systems Engineering, with a minor in French. Women were only just starting to be accepted in the field of engineering, and I was one of only three taking that major in my year, compared to over a hundred guys. Overwhelmed by the presence of males, I made the foolish mistake of dating and marrying the first one that showed interest – and yet that mistake freed me to finally return to my natural social state and I relearned how to become friends – true platonic friends – with the male gender. I was finally ‘one of the guys’. To clarify – I did not want to be male, I was perfectly happy with a female body and a heterosexual attraction to the male gender – but oh, how much more comfortable those platonic friendships were with men than women. I seemed to have so much more in common with them. I understood how they thought.
After college, I spent over ten years working in the British automotive industry as a computer analyst working on conceptual designs. It was during this time that it was brought home to me how unusual I was as a woman in a man’s world. During my apprenticeship, I spent time on the assembly lines, where I was cautioned not to wander too far from my assigned station. Why? Because the mere appearance of a female in the production area would cause the Typical British Male to down tools, let loose with a series of wolf whistles, and completely fail to tighten that vital engine bolt as it went by. They used to talk about buying a ‘Friday Car’, one with a multitude of failures, supposedly because it had been assembled on a Friday when the workers were ready to go home. NOT TRUE! They are much more likely to be a product of the sudden appearance of a female in the workplace. (If you ever bought an unreliable British car manufactured during the early 80s, you have my personal apology – sorry! It was my fault!) It was at this time that I erased curse words from my vocabulary – almost overnight, after an incident where I was enjoying a casual lunch with the rest of my assembly line workmates, and the foreman came up and reprimanded them strongly for using foul language in front of me – “Would you talk like that in front of your wives or girlfriends? Of course you wouldn’t! So don’t do it in front of her!”. After that, I just wasn’t comfortable using the colorful language that I’d never questioned before.
(Are you bored yet?)
From there, my identity started to stabilize. I was able to leave my abusive marriage and moved to the US where I married my current spouse. Interestingly, we first ‘met’ in an internet-based roleplaying environment where I was the big strong knight in shining armor and he was the tiny female dryad whom my character would pursue relentlessly and eventually marry. Although we quickly came clean as to our real life genders, it was not a big issue for me – I fell in love with the person, not their gender. We are both at ease in a roleplaying environment as both male and female characters, though my selection tends to a 50/50 random proportion, whereas my spouse leans more heavily towards female roles. Our friends have always been mostly members of the GLBT community.
And my sexuality? Looking back over the people I have been attracted to of both genders, over the years, I can now see a pattern where almost all of them have been close to that androgynous middle line – the guys who were teased because of their lack of traditional male characteristics, the male teacher whose nickname reflected his high, female-sounding voice, the women who would easily fall into the ‘butch’ category. I’ve never had a lover with more body hair than I have!
And recently, I’ve been rediscovering my own female identity. I had somehow become entrenched in a place where I didn’t consider my own gender. My workplace is now one where women are in the majority, although as I am in I.T., my co-workers are still male. But I am forging the beginnings of a bond with the woman with whom I’ve shared an office for the past couple of months, as well as a few others here. And getting to hang out with my friend Lori on a regular basis brings home to me how much I’m not doing to appreciate my own femininity too. I’m working on it!
So that is me. I don’t have a neat, tidy definition to give you right now. I’m not MtF, or FtM. I’m not quite an ‘SO of a trans person’ even. But I know I’m somewhere off the gender-normative track, and I hope you all will accept my presence here based on that alone. I feel honored that Lori invited me to help run this valuable space with her.