Saturday, June 5, 2010

Gender, Aging – a memory

Submitted by Magenta

I have begun to do something that I wanted to do 55 years ago. I’ve started to shave - my face. I remember watching my father when I was about 4 or 5, and wanted to know when I would get to shave, when would I grow a penis like his. I don’t remember his reply, but it made it clear that no such things would happen.

I was never the classic tomboy, wearing jeans and playing baseball. I read all the time and wanted to be indoors. But I certainly wasn’t the typical girl of the time; I had no interest in clothes or talking to other girls, playing girls games. I liked to cook, but since my dad cooked on Sunday, and my younger brother also liked to cook, it seemed a human trait, not gendered. I did very little housework, just chores that seemed like make-work – the rug looks perfectly clean, why vacuum it again, I did that last week. Since my brother had chores as well, some of them worse than mine, again, it seemed like something everyone did, not gendered. I don’t think I read any gender into being allotted certain chores rather than others. So my sense of gender was somewhat more fluid than others of my age.

When the hormones kicked in around age 14, I was attracted to girls as well as boys. I was attracted to people, not really knowing much about the physical possibilities of sex. The book my mom gave me explained menstruation and babies and all, and the father puts this special part of him in the mother. But never why. My mom said because it feels good and it make you feel close, but having someone put something in me sounded gross at 9. The hormones gave me urges but no ideas or techniques. So I liked the idea of being close to another person, but no idea of what to do.

I had been nicknamed “it” in junior high, partly because I didn’t sit with either the girls or the boys in the lunchroom, only by myself with a book. I was terminally shy. I ended up with boys the first few times because I had no idea how to start, and they did, or pretended well enough to fool me. This was not intercourse, because this was the other 60’s, the suburban 60’s, when a teenage girl getting pregnant was still the WORST POSSIBLE THING that could happen to her. This meant I learned lots of ways to get myself off, and had about 3 years to learn about my body’s reactions before I had intercourse with a male.

Meanwhile, flipping though a psychopathology textbook in a bookstore, I found a chapter on sexual pathologies. There I learned the word “lesbian”, and said it was more difficult to spot them because it wasn’t unusual for perfectly normal women to hold hands with each other, and even kiss and hug. Women were more affectionate than men. Hard to spot – no kidding. I didn’t find one for years, despite living mostly in large cities. But I didn’t go to bars, and that was the only gathering place in those days.

It took me to my mid-twenties that I had my first real sexual experience with another woman. By then, I’d learned the word bi-sexual, and claimed it for my own. I was attracted to both women and men, no matter what actually happened to me in bed. Males were still easier; heck it was difficult to avoid them. I never wanted children, nor conventional marriage. I was lucky to become sexual active at a time when the pill and penicillin made sex safer than any other time in history, before or since.

All along, I wasn’t sure I was really a woman. I have strong secondary sex characteristics – big boobs and hips, round face, little body hair - I’m short. I used to wear my hair long, partly because I hate getting it cut. While I look very female, it doesn’t match my interior experience. Dresses felt like drag, so I seldom wore them, except for absolutely necessary occasions – job interviews, formal weddings and funerals and so on. These days, even that isn’t usually necessary. Jeans and t-shirts are my uniform, and I like it that way. I don’t wear cosmetics, and I don’t like the color pink. I hate high heels and bras.

So now I’m getting old. I’m noticing all the sexual traits are blurring. Age may bring wisdom, as well as end of periods, cramps, PMS, and the possibilities and risks of childbearing. I don’t want a beard – I like the clean-shaven look. But watching older people, I notice that the faces blur into one gender – old. “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” was on TV last night. Terence Stamp is amazing; give him long hair and dresses, and he looks like a women. And I’m noticing that among people I know. Gender becomes more fluid, changeable, ambiguous.

I feel more comfortable now that my periods have stopped. I am used to the organs I have, they aren’t the shock they sometimes were at 15 or 20. Back then, when I was most dissatisfied with being biologically female, it was next to impossible to transition FTM. I asked a psychiatrist about it, and he (of course he) said I’d feel better about myself once I was married and had a few kids. RIGHT. But I was terrified of surgery, any surgery. I didn’t know of any other options, like hormones. There might not have been any options for me, besides learn to live with it.

So now age is performing its own genderblurring on me. I wonder what it will be like at 70, 80, 90. I’ll wear jeans and sturdy shoes. I’ll cuddle whoever I’m attracted to. I’ll keep the short hair, because it’s easy. And unless I really get enough hair for a proper beard, I’ll shave my chin.

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