A couple of months ago (it constantly feels like two days ago because it keeps weighing on me) one of our 8th grade students asked another teacher, “why does Mrs. Taylor shave her head? Does she want to be called Mr. Taylor?” The irony of this particular conversation was that the question was coming from the mouth of a child that has said some offensive things, only in this situation he was being respectful and caring. It made my heart smile (corny I know, but true) knowing that this student cared enough to make sure he didn’t hurt my feelings. My colleague, that the 8th grader was speaking with, explained that some people have long hair and some people have short hair, but that it’s all about the preference of the person wearing the hair. She talked to him about how to ask the same question to me in a respectful manner.
Strangely enough, in all my 29 years no one has ever taken the time to ask what I identify as..man or woman. Sure, at the jail my clients had their own “questions.” However, instead of being respectful, they usually hurled their questions like insults with the same veracity that they hurled their bodily fluids when trying to nail an officer with something gag worthy. I ignored the slurs, smirked at the funny ones, and cringed at the ones that hit close to home.
Now, before I continue, ya’ll know I can’t miss the chance to tell a funny story… I felt like a seasoned employee at the jail by the time I encountered the young gentleman featured in this story. It was during Keeneland’s spring meet (I remembered his khaki shorts and polo, the spotless Sperry boat shoes that never saw a real boat deck, and his frat brother in the cell next to him. People are only housed in cells if they are rowdy in the seating area where the tv is OR they are known to be violent or were brought in on 1st degree felony (jail people, correct me if I’m wrong!). Anyways, the young man was arrested for disorderly conduct and public intoxication. He would be spending the night in the cell and I was his best friend. Due to his wide range of emotions, my services were deemed necessary. I ruled out any mental health issues other than maybe a panic attack caused by being in his current predicament and continued down the line to talk mental health with another individual. I’m in the middle of an assessment and I hear it… the tapping. Anyone in intake can feel their skin crawl when the tapping begins. Banging on the door is preferred over tapping. Actually, anything is preferred over tapping. I lean back from my crouched position to hear the lovely young man (sperrys, polo, and shorts) tap some more and then add on my all time favorite phrase…”excuse me, Mrs…uhhh…Mrs. Dyke-Ma’am.” Yep. The worst part? He thought he was being polite. And maybe he was being polite; maybe unease and ignorant upbringing made him think that calling me that was polite. Maybe he didn’t know what else to call me? I can’t be mad at his lack of speaking etiquette. And to be quite honest, I think I laughed at him (in a pitying sort of way) and dismissed it.
Let’s steer this back to the idea of gender… Society teaches us from a young age that there are two genders: male and female. Just recently, I saw an “other” box under the male and female check boxes on a survey our students took. I remember glancing throughout my classroom and wondering if any of these children identified as something other than their biological sex. Growing up, I only understood gender as binary. Now, I can honestly say that the idea of a binary gender code seems a little outdated, a little restrictive, and a lot aggravating for kids and adults who stare at only two check boxes…
I’m 29 and I am figuring things out about myself every day. I do like brussel sprouts, I do like sweet potatoes. I do like having more than two options for gender. See? Not a big deal. It shouldn’t be a big deal if someone wants to dress as a man but have the genitalia of a woman. I wear men’s clothing every day and my gender bending has never hurt anyone.
Do I identify as the male gender or female gender? At this point in my life, I believe that I’m a mixture of both, leaning more towards the masculine side of things. You can call it gender bending, you can call it androgynous, you can call it queer. I just know that I believe that gender is fluid and that sometimes it aligns with your biology and sometimes it doesn’t. Or just sometimes you feel like looking kick ass in clothing made for the opposite gender than what society labeled you. Whichever it is, do YOU.
Just do you. And be proud of it.