Identification through names and labels is paramount in how we live our lives globally. Our personal names help define us; a name determines where we live, who we vote for and with, our religious convictions and so forth. While this provides foundation, structure, and the ability to communicate with each other, there are more times than not where a word or a label cannot provide proper identification. It simply does not adequately provide a full understanding of its meaning.
More recently, there has been an increased awareness publicly of a wide spectrum of gender identification. The check boxes of “male” and “female” do not seem to be satisfactory identification markers for what seems like a growing number of people.
Agender, cisgender, transgender, bigender, gender fluidity, gender binary, gender fluid, gender queer, third gender, two-spirit, and non-binary are only some of a continually growing list of terms that help define us as human beings.
To be quite honest, while the language and the creation of these terms are new, through writing, blogging, advocacy, and enlightened identifiers, the feelings and the existence of the kind of people these terms mark have been a part of humankind from the very beginning.
As we, as a culture, have grown through history, mostly for the better, we have had an insatiable desire to learn, grow, and explore our minds and psyche through science and psychoanalytic discoveries. We are now living in a relatively free world that allows us (partly due to extraordinary technological advancements that provide us with time) to explore the existence of these feelings and, quite frankly, the internal structure of people who do not check one of two boxes. I say a relatively free world, as there are many places and people in this world who are not free.
I thought I could illustrate the experience of someone who has had a wide spectrum of gender identification actualization by telling a little bit about myself.
When I was a child, I didn’t relate to activities that were aligned with what would be considered “normal” boy (male) behavior. Catching a ball? Two people stand at a distance apart from one another and throw a ball back and forth? What the hell is that? Big toy trucks that you move with your hand, while pretending to move dirt or race along a highway? Who cares? Dirty, messy, and aggressive sport activities? Gross.
….But a doll! A doll you can make up endless stories about. Who is she? What does she do? Where is she going? Who does she love? She also, of course, has beautiful outfits for all of those endeavors, occasions and feelings. That was interesting! Exciting! That made me want to explore the possibilities of the world. The ball, the truck, the lack of fantasy, the lack of color were bleak to me and deadening to my little self.
Ironically, even at that tender age of 3, I was unaware that I was aligning myself with very strict parameters of socially accepted behaviors. Girls like dolls and pink and playing house. Boys like building (and destroying), sports and the color blue.
When I was growing up in the late 60s and 70s, there was no bending of those absolute truths. There was no middle ground except maybe for drawing and “art” or music. I did start violin at three and piano at six, and liked both, but I wholeheartedly engaged with art. The truth about me was easily suspected, because you couldn’t keep glitter out of my little hands for five minutes! I even managed to form perfect long red fingernails that I mounted on my nails out of modeling clay! I wanted to wear my mother’s high heels any chance I could get, and wore a dish towel on my head so I could run around my house with “long” hair. I truly didn’t understand boys. I was terrified of boys (and some girls too) because I was always “found out” at every turn and made to suffer for it. Heart-beating panic. I was made to feel ashamed at home, in school with both students and teachers, and out in the world at large. I was humiliated and punished over and over. Believe me, a three-year-old knows what humiliation is!
ALL of this for identifying with girl- (female) oriented things. I was told over and over again that I was “confused” and plainly wrong. There was a lot of attention poured into me for many, many years to “fix” me.
I wasn’t confused. In fact I was extremely aware, and clearly and richly alive with who I was and deeply connected to myself. I identified with being a girl, or what I perceived to be a girl in societal demarcation.
Most people then, and today still, would consider that to be the terrifying blossoming of a gay boy. It has nothing to do with the political and social label of gay or straight. It is about identification; it is naming yourself within a society that has tolerated, and for the most part still tolerates, only two different people: Males and Females.
I would say in my mid-twenties I started to fully inhabit myself, after having years of my spirit crushed out of me. I surrounded myself with open and loving people. I don’t say like-minded people, because we don’t have to think or want the same things to enjoy, be interested in, and love people who might be different than us.
I became less afraid.
I began a journey as a rather glamorous drag performer, and enjoyed my time doing that. As I got older, drag and “female impersonation” became too limiting to me. I started to resent the process and the preparation, especially the hours of makeup and hair. I also discovered more masculine attributes and behaviors were developing both in my appearance and attitude, and I did not want to suppress them. I wanted to explore that part of me as well. Most people who identify as a man or a woman do not consider any other way of existing. They do not need to feel or uncover or explore that part of themselves because they simply ARE. They are contented in their global identification and do not need to pour enormous amounts of energy into that part of themselves because society recognizes them, and they ENJOY being a man or a woman. This is what I believe creates confusion and anger within society. People who feel comfortable in their gender simply do not understand what the big deal is. They consider it an outrageous self indulgence at best, and a travesty before God at worst, to “question” your gender.
Blessedly, I personally started to like and feel comfortable with me the way that I was, the way that I am. I did not and do not need to concern myself personally with a label anymore, although I still label myself as a gay man in society. I label myself that way because it is easier for me to navigate in the population at large and because I am LGBTQIA.
Just to be perfectly clear: I applaud those people who have transcended limited gender labels and who have identified themselves proudly in their own terms. This is truly advancement, enlightenment, and education for the future of mankind! I enjoy not limiting myself by aligning myself only with female-identified activities and behavior like I did as a child. I think if the world had been kinder to me back then, I would have been much more open. Personally, I think we are far too concerned with labels in general, although a pair of Prada shoes never hurt anyone!
My rather condensed story of gender exploration is only one of millions of vastly different experiences from human beings throughout time that Mother Earth has known. The truth is, most people fall somewhere in that great divide between pink and blue.
Today, many young people freely embrace the way they feel through music, fashion and technology, and don’t even worry that something is too “gay.” (Again, an example of labels that are incorrectly used with regard to societal norms on gender identification, which is not the same as one’s sexuality.) They just simply express! Wonderful.
That is LOVE, by the way. If you are comfortable in your own skin and you’re open and respectful to others, and other people do the same in kind, war would eventually disappear. Or at least dim considerably. There will always be angry, hurtful people…and then there is greed, obsession with power, and the immoral, indecent, and inhuman practices of business and world politics, not to mention the perverse use of God as a sacrificial lamb to commit evil…but that’s a whole other topic.
…But back to love…
In Adam Szymkowicz’s play Marian, or The True Tale of Robin Hood (which is currently running at Theatre of NOTE through September 22), the theme of gender identity is beautifully explored in the script. The beloved Merry Men who fight evil and greed and provide for the poor circa 1199 AD might not be “Men” at all. The discovery of this in one (if not several) of the characters in Marian is so sweetly and tenderly unfolded. There are no long parlances or expository narratives. It does make you stop to think what all the fuss is about. It’s fear…but there is nothing to fear here. It rejoices in one’s own individuality and allows the characters to define themselves. It is Love.
By Joel Scher