Awesome Melissa’s Burning Question: “What do you do if your internal gender does not match your physical body? I have been struggling with being transgendered for many years and at times when I meditate the gender binary seems to dissolve and I am just a being. I try to bring this state into my daily life, but the gender issue always seems to be very present. Do you have any advice you would like to share?”
Dear Awesome Melissa,
First of all, thank you so much for having the courage to ask this question. I realize that gender identity issues make many people really uncomfortable, which is why I’m so eager to explore this topic. This isn’t just about people feeling as though they’re trapped in a body with the “wrong” gender; it’s a question that really applies to all of us.
What does it really mean to be a woman? Or a man? How many of what we consider to be feminine or masculine traits are cultural and how much of it is really based on our physical gender? If we look back in time, we’ll find a great deal of the behaviors that we now attribute to a more feminine existence, were once actually part of the male domain. Men used to dress flamboyantly (even in skirts and dresses). They were the first to wear high heels. They wore elaborate wigs and makeup. Pink was originally a male color. Male actors played female roles in the theater and even in the opera (although they usually had to be castrated to hit those high notes). I could go on, but I think you get my point. We’re not born wanting to dress a certain way, or play with certain toys. Our beliefs, many of which are culturally based, determine how we see ourselves and what we identify with.
So, when you are born a boy, you have usually already picked up many of the expectations of what it means to be male in the reality you’re entering before you’re even born. Many of the “intrinsic” male behaviors one might observe in you from birth will stem from these beliefs and the resulting expectations. The same applies to being born a girl. Notice that these beliefs can vary widely between cultures and even families, and not everyone picks up the same beliefs in the same way. Even though there will seem to be a lot of commonalities between people who share the same space, it’s actually still very much an individual journey.
When your gender seems “wrong”
But, what happens when you don’t agree with these culturally based rules? What if you were born female but identify more with the “male” traits or vice versa? Were you simply born into the wrong body? Did nature make a mistake? Nope. No mistake was made and there’s nothing wrong with or about you. You’re simply here to help the world realize something they’re slowly becoming ready for: that we get to make our own rules, choose our own beliefs, in every aspect of our lives, including something as seemingly unmoving as gender.
As you’ve correctly noticed in your meditations, when you lift yourself out of the beliefs of your family or culture (or even the majority of humankind), gender becomes a non-issue (actually, a whole lot of stuff becomes a non-issue…). Non-physical doesn’t have a gender. That’s right; your soul, if you will, is both male and female. When you come into the physical, you can choose to be born either a boy or a girl, depending on which set of beliefs will be more conducive to the experience you want to have. And sometimes, coming in as a boy but feeling like a girl, or vice versa, will be the best match to what you want to live. And yes, I know this may sound flippant to some of you. Most people who struggle with the transgender issue consider it to be immensely painful. Why would they choose to come into an existence that harbors such confusion and elicits such intolerance and even disgust from those around them? Wouldn’t it have been a hell of a lot easier to just be born as the opposite sex??
Here’s the thing: the only reason that this issue is ever painful is because we resist it. We push against it. A boy who feels more like what we consider to be a girl feels like he’s in a body in which he doesn’t belong. Girls who want to be boys face a similar predicament. They feel wrong, like they don’t fit, like they’re not acceptable. But who gets to determine what’s acceptable? Oh, sure. Many will try. But just because they have an opinion on what everyone should look and act like, doesn’t mean we have to agree or conform to it.
The new generation and the disappearing gender roles
I’ve noticed an interesting trend in people who are in their teens to early twenties. More and more of them seem to be comfortable being more gender “neutral”. They don’t see the need to conform to traditionally male or female roles. Fashion is becoming more androgynous. Younger generations are much more comfortable choosing professions which used to be the purview of the opposite sex. Men are becoming nurses, caretakers or staying home with the kids. Women are becoming CEO’s, serving in the armed forces, and taking on the role of sole bread winner. Relationships are being redefined. It’s no longer just assumed that the girl does the housework and the boy mows the lawn. Young couples are figuring out what works for them, which is often drastically different from how their parents did it.
However, although the gender gap has been getting narrower, kids today are still struggling against the restrictions that are placed upon their identities. And so are adults. Women are still much less likely than men to stand up for themselves and set boundaries, having been taught to be more supportive than assertive. Men have a much harder time acknowledging and expressing their emotions (causing some women to think they don’t have any, which couldn’t be more wrong). And all because women and men have been taught what it means to be women and men. Wait, let me get on my soapbox and rephrase that for more accuracy:
And all because women and men have been taught some antiquated, bullshit ideas that someone else came up with, of what it means to be women and men. What’s worse, it’s been drummed into us that these ridiculous, fictitious “rules” are the ONLY ACCEPTABLE way for women and men to act. If we don’t stay within these narrowly defined borders (Gawd forbid we color outside the lines), we are shamed back into submission. If a man acts in any way outside the acceptable man code, he’s gay (apparently, this is still an insult…), or a sissy, or someone threatens to revoke his man card. If a woman acts in any way outside the acceptable standards of womanhood, she’s branded a bitch, a ballbuster, a man hater, or a lesbian (again, I don’t get how this is derogatory, but then maybe that’s just me). It’s not ok to be different, even by a little bit. It’s not acceptable to question the norm. Women are supposed to… Men are supposed to…
Well, you know what? Screw that.
It’s not working all that well, is it?
Men and women don’t even know how to be with each other anymore. They don’t know how to communicate, they talk around each other, get into power struggles, and don’t even bother giving each other the benefit of the doubt. We’ve even gone so far as to think we’re from different planets. We’ve spent so much time defining how we’re different from each other, without ever questioning the premise that maybe we’re more similar than we think. We all basically want the same things – we want to be free; we want to be loved; we want to feel safe; we want to connect deeply with others; we want to be happy. And in my opinion, all these gender rules are actually in the way of us achieving that. Rigidly defined gender roles do much more damage than good.
If you have a moment, I’d like to introduce you to Jeff Perera. Jeff speaks to people from all walks of life (from organizations to community spaces to grade school, high school and post-secondary students) about how society’s unattainable concepts of masculinity are affecting men and boys as well as impacting women and girls. You can watch his riveting Ted talk on the subject of gender and getting rid of gender roles here. (Special thanks to reader Kate Love who posted an article by Jeff on Facebook, bringing him to my attention.)
Men are not all the same. Women are not all the same. We have, for the most part, been taught the gender rules of our culture, and of course we’ve been influenced heavily by that. But so what? Who cares what we’ve been taught? We’re not robots or slaves to our programming. We can question those rules and make our own decisions.
Ladies and Gents and others, it’s time for a rant…
I’m tired of hearing about the gender wars. How about gender peace? How about gender equality? Or here’s a novel idea: How about we get rid of gender as a defining quality all together?
How about we meet each other as individuals? How about we stop pre-judging each other by what we can see (let’s just go ahead and throw skin color and any other external markers like affluence in that same pot, eh?), and instead get to know each other before we decide someone isn’t worth our time? How about we stop trying to control how people have to act, so that we don’t have to deal with what’s really bothering us – the fear that maybe we’re not ok just the way we are? How about we let boys cry and learn to cook and play with dolls if they want to? How about we let girls curse and be assertive and value themselves? How about we don’t make it a fucking crime to be vulnerable? How about we stop punishing each other for the fact that we’re too scared to be truly authentic? How about we make it ok to disagree with each other? How about we make it ok to be unique? How about we celebrate the differences instead of condemning them?
How about we redefine the rules, not all together, but each of us, individually? And how about we respect the validity of each other’s rules? This way, I get to define who I want to be, not based on the fact that I’m a woman, or that I’m straight, or that I’m white, or by my age, or my background, religion, culture, or any other arbitrary, meaningless bullshit? How about I just get to be me, and you just get to be you, no matter what that means? How about we just all allow each other to be happy, already?
I know that I seem to have veered wildly off the course of the original question, but I really haven’t. The deeper issue, the core of this question, is judgment. I think it’s time to stop half-assing it when it comes to accepting each other. Yes, we’ve made huge strides in the last few years. Gay marriage is legal in many states and countries. There are places in the world where transsexuals can live and work as fully accepted members of the community. Women are earning more, holding higher positions and make up a larger percentage of luxury buyers than ever before. Men are openly talking about therapy and learning how to express their emotions. I don’t want to in any way belittle these achievements or fail to celebrate them.
But I believe we’re ready to go further (and no, not everyone in the world, just the people I’m addressing here. In other words, YOU). Why not go for the gold – actively begin to treat each other not as people who need to be defined and put into boxes so we can feel safe, but as awesome mysteries to be discovered? Why not assume that you can’t assume anything, that you know NOTHING about a person until you’ve spent some time with them, and instead of being afraid of being surprised, look forward to it? Why not expect those surprises to be positive ones? Why not revel in the diversity, the differing perspectives, the glorious smorgasbord of creativity that is the human experience?
If we do that, then terms such as “transgender” will cease to be necessary (and terms such as “gay” will no longer be derogatory). The idea of gender as a defining quality will no longer exist. You’ll just be you. Unique. Awesome. Spectacular. With all the qualities and traits that make you who you are in each moment, never locked into any one definition, but malleable, changeable, adaptable, and ready to take advantage of your evolution in each moment. You get to decide what being you means. No one else’s definitions matter. No one gets to tell you what you should look like, act like, or sound like. No one gets to tell you what’s acceptable for you. I don’t care if you’re a man, woman, or something new and glorious in between. You get to decide your identity. You get to decide who you are. And you definitely get to color outside the lines.
Can you imagine it? Can you imagine a world where we all just accept each other, where we’re no longer afraid of each other, where we all get to be authentic and vulnerable and cuddly? Where judgment doesn’t exist, and no one needs you conform to their way of thinking so they can sleep at night?
No, this question isn’t just about transgender issues. It’s about all of us, our identities, how we choose to define ourselves, the pressure to conform, and our ability to choose how we see ourselves and step out into the world. We all get to be who we are. Without limitations. Without apologies. Without justification. Without explanation. Booya.