Cisgendered?

Grace from arewomenhuman encouraged people to read Julia Serrano’s Whipping Girl and discuss it on Twitter.   I don’t tweet, so I’m sorting out some of my thoughts here.

It is a great book:  well-researched, personal, thoughtful and passionate.   It helped highlight some of my own misogyny as well.

It also made me question if I am cis-gendered or not.

I’ve rarely enjoyed being female, especially before I got married.  As a kid, if I’d been offered the chance to be a boy there are times I would have taken it without a second thought.  As I get older I am enjoying  living in this body more so I guess that makes me cisgendered.

I think that my dissonance with being feminine had much more to do with misogyny than being transgendered.  I internalized a lot of hatred towards the feminine.  I didn’t feel like I was truly a boy; I just felt like I was truly a person.  If females weren’t fully human then I must not be entirely female.

I am also not naturally hyperfeminine.  I am taking a belly dance class at our community centre.  Looking in the mirror I see that while I have wide hips, I don’t move them as gracefully as the others.  I stand like I’m ready to throw a basketball or catch a baseball.  My movements are sharper than the other women’s.  The others get told to put more energy into their moves and I get told to move smaller and smoother and stand differently.

I could not relate to the girls in my class who loved to shop or ogle boys.   The hip swish, the wrist cock, and the head always off balance all feel unnatural.  I can mimic them, but they don’t feel right.  I assumed that those girls who zealously displayed hyperfemininity were just better at playing the game or wanted more social acceptance and attention than I did.  It didn’t really occur to me that those movements felt natural to them.

I also assumed that guys who talked a certain way, pushed out one hip and flipped their wrists when they talked were also putting on an act.  I thought it was some sort of code to signal that he was gay the same way that another guy puffing out his chest and staring aggressively at you signals he is trying to intimidate or dominate you.

It is likely impossible to differentiate between biological and social reasons for why we behave the way we do.  Perhaps part of the reason that walking more ‘girly’ feels weird to me is that I associated it with inferiority.  Could be.  It could also be that how I walk is a survival tactic in the rape culture that we live in that defines femininity as being prey and displays of it as an invitation for sexual aggression.  Or maybe it is just that I like running and swishing hips is an inefficient way to run.

As a kid I thought I really wanted to be a boy and now I realize I just wanted to be respected like I knew certain boys were.  I did not want to be dismissed or sexualized like I knew girls often were.  Birth fascinates me as do most bodily functions, but I never had aching desires to have babies.   However, I did not really want a penis.  (I didn’t really want breasts either.  Floppy dangly things aren’t comfortable when running.)  I just wanted to be a person and didn’t know how.

I guess that makes me a cisgendered woman who was as scornful of and scared and mystified by femininity as most masculine people in our culture are raised to be.

Has anyone else been aware of gender dissonance?  or of fear of the feminine?  or love of it?

 

9 thoughts on “Cisgendered?

  1. Sex and gender are something everyone can talk about for ages, because it’s so fascinating, isn’t it?

    Women are definitely rewarded for acting feminine-but-not-too-feminine.

    I was a girly girl in some ways–I always loved dresses and skirts, for instance. But I frequently wore them with bike shorts (and in high school, pants) so that I could sit however I wanted and play on the monkey bars. I love makeup, but I don’t wear it every day. I am all thumbs when it comes to my hair and refuse to have an everyday style that isn’t wash’n’wear–I don’t even own a hairdryer. (I do have curlers and a curling iron, but I use them each once a year, maybe.)

    I know I’m lucky in some ways. My dad doesn’t identify as a feminist and can be a real jerk, and my mom tends to give in to him too often. But I wasn’t told I was lesser than a boy, or that there were jobs I couldn’t do. I was encouraged to ask boys out (my mom asked my dad out on their first date), I was never told my sexuality was dirty or wrong. I mean, it wasn’t perfect–I was over-protected a bit, and convinced that there were people out to get me because I was female. But I wasn’t raised particularly religious, so I escaped any of the anti-woman stuff that can come through that way. I think also, because I’m the only girl and the oldest, that helped.

    In regards to belly dance: I took classes off and on for a few years. Most Westerners (aka white folks) never learned to move their hips like that, and it doesn’t come naturally. My personal advice on that score: look up youtube videos of belly dancers (Rachel Brice is a favorite of mine, as is Fuchsia Fox) to see the kinds of movements you might like to try. And buy a CD of belly dancing music (I bet your teacher has some good suggestions) and just dance all over the room for fun. Tucking the hem of a skirt or big flouncy scarves into your waistband makes it more fun. And there’s lots of info on belly dance at shira.net.

    • prairienymph says:

      Thanks for the tip. I used to want to be a dancer, sometime after I was told hockey was too expensive. But then something happened. I remember being at a church event when I was about 10 where they had dancable music (not our church though – drums were somewhat demonic). I forced my body to stay still and not move. Something froze and I’ve danced like a WASP ever since. Its changing. Maybe scarves and wine will help 🙂

  2. Kirstin says:

    Growing up with three brothers, there was a major inequality in the way we siblings were treated. My brothers learned to drive tractor and weld, I was expected to do the laundry and get good grades. Yeah, I liked boys. But I also played rugby and soccer, cut my hair SHORT and had mostly male friends. Fashion, beauty and all things female were scarey and intimidating…and still are, to an extent.

    I think as a child I was encouraged to take up the traditional work roles of a woman, but in no way encouraged to embrace femininity. I have learned/am learning those things as an adult…and I would say this positive development has come largely because of the security, contentment and confidence I have gained from being the wife of my husband.

    • prairienymph says:

      I also find being married to a fantastic guy really helpful. Somehow, men valuing things feminine makes it OK which I’m frustrated by but still grateful for. I think my husband has much less issue with gender stuff than I do, which is also helpful. We have great guys, eh?

  3. My husband reminds me often (and fondly, I might add) that I’m not like other women. So I totally relate to this post. While there are certainly social influences at work here (i.e. misogyny and a natural desire to protect ourselves from that), I do think there much substance to your theory that there are also biological reasons why certain things typically associated with being feminine do not feel natural. And I believe that is good for us.

    There are incredible social pressures placed on women (men too, but that’s another post). We are bombarded with stereotypes of the Ideal feminine and they are often demeaning and unflattering.

  4. Taryn Fox says:

    “Boy” and “Girl” aren’t your only choices. You could be gender-fluid or agendered, or otherwise exist outside the gender binary. One of my soulmates is neutrois.

    I personally internalized a lot of misandrianism, but it hurt a lot more than it otherwise would have because I was actually female.

  5. Dana says:

    Once I came across a test for feminine and masculine characteristics. It measures “masculinity” and “femininity” separately. I scored as an “undifferentiated” person – which means I scored pretty low on the masculine qualities and I also scored low on the feminine qualities. It was a new concept for me, but it does seem about right.

    To score as “androgynous”, a person would get high scores in both masculine and feminine.

    I think it was called a BSRI test. You might find it interesting.

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