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21st of August 2018


Gender Bender: Do Hormones Hold Sway? - The Good Men Project

—Yesterday, I was lounging by a pool with friends at a clothing optional resort. One of them works there, teaches nude yoga and does massage for the guests who come to be themselves in all their buck nekkid glory. When I first visited her there a few years ago, I was impressed by the wide range of body shapes, sizes, ages, and conditions. As I described it, these were “normal people with normal people bodies and not the French Rivera where people dress to impress.”

She and I teach a workshop together called “Love the Skin You’re In: A Body Positive Journey,” in which we offer attendees the opportunity to love the person in the mirror as is. Not easy, since we were all given messages—verbal and non-verbal—that were body shaming. Attendees at the workshop run the full gamut of gender identity and sexual orientation, from cis-gender, heterosexual, to gender fluid, non-binary, pansexual, asexual, and monogamous to poly. What they all have in common is a desire to unpack the baggage they have accumulated over the years about what it means to be male or female, masculine or feminine. The truth is, there are more than two flavors of ice cream.

I identify as a cisgender woman, whose gender assigned at birth matches my view of myself. While I have wondered what it was like to be a man, I never felt that I either was or would prefer to be if I had a choice.

To the best of my awareness, I didn’t know anyone while I was growing up who was transgender. I did have a few cousins who were gay and, unfortunately, were referred to by the pejorative Yiddish term, ‘faygeleh,’ which translates to fairy. All I knew was that it felt uncomfortably disparaging to hear.

When I was a tween, I watched a variety show in which actor, singer and female impressionist Jim Bailey performed. I’m not sure who he was impersonating, but he covered Phyllis Diller, Judy Garland, and Barbra Streisand, among the notables. When he was finished, he took off the wig, revealing that he was a man in a costume. Think Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie. When I saw this, I felt a sense of confusion, but I’m not sure I asked my parents about it. Likely, they would have assumed he was gay, although, in an article in The Advocate that memorialized him following his death a few years ago, he did not self-identify that way.

In college, for a Halloween party, one of the guys who lived in my dorm created a really cool costume. One half of it was jeans and a shirt and sneaker and the other a skirt and blouse and a high heeled shoe. These two dichotomous items were sewn together. He had shaven one half of his face and donned makeup and earrings. His hair was curled and probably sprayed into place. His other side remained au’ natural with a scruffy beard. I laughed when I saw it and was sure that some would find it strange and wonder about his gender identity or sexual orientation. Shortly afterward, I got curious and imagined what I would look like as a man, so I pulled back my long hair and drew on a beard with an eyeliner pencil. Fascinating.

As an independent woman who raised a boy child as a single parent, I question what attributes are masculine and which are feminine. I have long taken on the protective caregiver role, the sole breadwinner I had to be when widowed at 40, the go-to, get-it-done person who wears shorts and t-shirts. Does that make me masculine? I can also be sweetly nurturing, soft-spoken, can rock a dress and makeup. Not big on heels, though. Does that make me feminine? I spoke at an event a couple of years ago called “Walk A Mile in Her Shoes,” which shone the light on domestic violence. Men are encouraged to raise awareness as they raised themselves on high heels. I teetered on them while some of the dudes (gay and hetero) strode comfortably.

Another opportunity to question my gender labeling discomfort arose when at a workshop I facilitated with a friend whose presentation is more stereotypically feminine (long hair, was wearing pink), I was described as “butch.” I was wearing a blue t-shirt with a mystical looking tattooed fairy on it and my hair was pixie short. It really pushed buttons since I had conflated it with the idea of being hard and tough in a Marlboro Man kind of way. I asked a friend who identifies as gender fluid, poly, and bi if they saw me in that light. The response was that they could see why that other person might view me from that perspective. At that moment, I began the process of softening and becoming more receptive, rather than bearing a tougher exterior and consistently giving out. Not an easy transition. I have learned that I need not choose either/or. I can be receptive and pro-active, much like inhaling and exhaling.

The pool-side conversation continued as one of my friends shared that she often felt like the more masculine partner in her current poly triad and that it was a comfortable role as she had often been take-charge and independent throughout her life. That being said, she also knows how to tap into her Goddess-self.

Questions remain (for me, at least): are we influenced by biology or is it choice as to how we view our gender identity vs. gender role? Can we move seamlessly as the need arises? Is it about the expectations of those with whom we interact?—

Related:Talking to Children About Gender and Sexuality (A Call for Submissions)

How do you talk to kids about personal identity versus social norms?

Are Gender Labels Necessary?

Male and female categorization often centers on observable clues, and that’s problematic.

Becoming Wary of the Binary

When we stop expecting ourselves and others to fit into the man box, we can enjoy a happier, freer world.

What’s your take on what you just read? Comment below or write a response and submit to us your own point of view or reaction here at the red box, below, which links to our submissions portal.

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—Photo credit: Flickr

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