When I came out as transgender to my parents, my dad was confused. “How can you feel male,” he asked, “if you aren’t traditionally masculine?”
The question stopped me dead in my tracks. He had a point: as far as traditional masculinity goes, I’m not masculine at all. I don’t like sports, I express my emotions, and I’m not competitive, to name a few traits. At the time, I didn’t have an answer, only that I felt a connection to gender based on an intrinsic feeling, not based on what is usually considered “masculine” or “feminine”. However, I kept thinking about the question long after the discussion was over. Am I truly “feminine” based on my personality, or do I possess these traits because I was socialized to have them?
When I was younger, people called me “bossy”, which is the word used for little girls who don’t know how to shut up. (Little boys often get the more flattering “leadership” qualities.) Over the years, I seem to have mellowed out, no longer feeling the need to direct everyone else in my life. Am I really no longer “bossy”, or was I told so many times that my actions were incorrect that I internalized the need to be a follower rather than a leader?
In elementary school, I tried to play with the boys at recess while they played Star Wars or Cops and Robbers or whatever fantasy fighting game they had made up that day. For a while I was the annoying tagalong, never invited to play but always hanging on to what they did. After a few years I grew discouraged, and I stopped trying to force my way into their games and instead joined other girls in my class as we played (much less violent) make-believe games away from the roughhousing boys.
Who would I be today if I had been raised as a cisgender male? Would I still be trustworthy, someone to come to for advice or for comfort? Would I still enjoy theater and music over sports? Would I have the same problems with anxiety? Would my sexuality or gender have changed at all? Would I even be recognizable as the same person?
Perhaps the standards of toxic masculinity would have been hammered into me, rather than the feminine qualities of cooperation and friendliness. Maybe I would be aggressive and competitive, refusing to show emotions or covering them up with jokes, traits I saw modeled in the men around me as I grew up. Maybe I wouldn’t have lost the leadership qualities I had begun to develop as a child, and I would be more confident in expressing my opinions and making things happen.
I’ll never know any of this for sure. All I can do now is look into my past, critically examine the facets of my personality I have never questioned, and begin to unlearn what seventeen years of being a girl has taught me about who I am and who I am allowed to become. Hopefully in the future I can learn to be myself without the chains of masculinity or femininity constricting my growth as an individual.