Gender is on everyone's minds now. Just in the Op-Ed section of the New York Times today, there’s an article about genital surgery on intersex babies and an article about the myth of sex hormones behind the policing of Caster Semenya’s gender.
I think about this stuff, always have. As I’m writing this autobiographical new piece, about my teenage years, I’ve been looking really closely, at least in terms of my experience, turning this notion over and over in the light, this notion of one’s gender as a part of oneself or “one’s self,” which is to say one’s own feeling about one’s gender, or gender identity (if they are not the same thing). (That was a chewy mouthful of a sentence!)
Where does it come from, this neurotic belief, against all evidence, that gender is strictly either/or? It's ancient, though not necessarily universal. For Western Christians there's Adam and Eve, and whatever older stories that story is based on. Are there any anthropologists in the house who can recommend some reading?
I did not, as a kid, feel necessarily “gendered,” except in that I felt very much like not a boy. I felt pressure to be a boy, but I felt more like a girl; still, I understood that identifying with girls, being with girls and enjoying girl things, was crossing an important line.
Then puberty brought physical evidence that in some possibly immutable way I was going to be a male person in the world. Well, and by then I think I’d thoroughly internalized the idea that life would go more smoothly if I could figure out how to do boyness, so I did, quite consciously, start to study and teach myself. Maybe all people do that at some point, consciously or not, learn a gender, I don’t know. It is something I feel like I’ve done over and over at each phase of my life. In my 20s, I learned young man-ness; in my 40s, I learned older man-ness.
I’m almost certain that if '“non-binary” had been one of the choices when I was a kid, that’s how I would have chosen to identify my gender.