What are gender norms and why should anybody care about it? In short, nobody should care. Still, people care a lot and it’s a cornerstone of our society. Gender is the number one approach to dividing people into categories. It seems to be the only method our society knows and uses. There is no place in this world you can go to without being asked your gender. Confusion usually arises in restrooms, airports, town halls, hospitals, … everywhere. For most people gender is obvious and the question isn’t needed, but for some, things are different. I can clearly see why we divide into these categories and understand how it has come to exist. Well, some of us would like to have a choice not to comply with what society expects. Here’s why.
The main issue
Even though I love talking about this, I feel as if I’m repeating myself over and over again. Maybe you didn’t hear my story yet, but I’ve told it hundred times before. The annoying thing is it feels like mopping the floor while the tap is open. I can’t educate everyone. The row of unaware people is just too long and we never even know if they care to listen or if they are willing to understand. It just is what it is. Depending on which extensions or attributes you have, you are assigned into one box or the other, whether you want that or not.
Follow these gender guidelines
Different stigmas are attached to gender, like the colors pink and blue. Girls are supposed to have longer hair, wear skirts and play with dolls or a small kitchenette. Boys, on the other hand, get to do all the fun stuff. They can play more reckless, build treehouses and play soccer. The girls are watching them from behind the window while learning to sew or bake pastry. Ok! I was born in the eighties, so I might be old school. Whether or not you had to attend sewing class while the boys were having the time of their lives, doesn’t really matter. Nobody can deny that we assign roles and activities depending on gender. Our society also expects you to hold on to those and use them as a guideline in your life.
Why I won’t comply
Ever since I was a little kid, I knew I was different. I wanted to play with the boys because they were rough. In my opinion, girls only wanted to play lame games. I changed my mind about that later though! They bored me to death with their stories about puppies and ponies. To be honest, I never waited around to listen to the stories. So I’m not really sure about those ponies. Long before any cute animals were introduced into their talks, I was far gone, climbing a tree. I’d rather run around in my underwear than putting on girl clothing and my hair had to be short, even if I’d have to cut it myself. At this point, my parents weren’t worrying too much and I’m glad they never really tried to change me. Just that one time…
Making a first impression
When I was five, my mom sent me to school in a skirt. I kept nagging and whining, but she convinced me that all the other kids would think I was a boy. If I wore the skirt just this one day, I was allowed to take it off right after school. Dreadfully I walked into the school in an ugly pink dress. The day went by in a haze. I only remember that by the time my mom came to pick me up, I was standing in front of the school building in my underwear, holding the dress in my hand. The school was out and so was the hideous dress. I haven’t been forced into a women apparel ever since.
Things always get worse before they get better
Getting negative attention isn’t something you ever get used to. Not when you’re a kid and still not after growing up. Puberty hit me mentally and it was easy to get me messed up. I was a quiet kid, always on the sideline and never wanted to draw any attention to myself. But if I felt attacked or anyone gave me a hard time, I was bound to make your life difficult as well. I said horrible things to restroom ladies and kids that asked whether I was a boy or a girl. It was so easy to drift off in anger. It was the only way I knew. Being refused to access the ladies room simply drove me mad. I just couldn’t figure out a decent way of going to the bathroom without being dishonest to myself. My bathroom anxiety grew at an immense rate.
The ever recurring
No matter how many people I showed my passport. There would always be a next person who didn’t see proof of my gender and was hard to convince. As a broad-shouldered person with a masculine walk, it was easy for people to be confused by my presence. I can understand that. But I wasn’t inclined to abnegate myself for their peace of mind. What about my own peace of mind?
I had allowed myself to be who I was, even if that was different. Not that I was ok with myself, but I was even less ok with what society expected of me. So I was at peace with just being different. I thought everyone would agree with me. Of course, I couldn’t have been more wrong! Soon, I realized people weren’t going to accept me as I was. They didn’t even see me for what I was. The ones who knew I was a girl, really treated me as a girl. People who didn’t know yelled at me for invading their space. I only longed to be something in between: myself. No laws nor boundaries.
Learn to grow
After a few dodgy experiments where I said weird things to people in restrooms, I finally gave up. I would meet different people each time and it was so exhausting trying to educate them all. Instead, I decided to educate myself and become a stronger person. This appeared to be a more achievable goal to reach. I started to read signals and act on events before they occurred. No. I didn’t walk in while flashing my boobs. I tried that before and it only makes everything more awkward, because then clearly everybody already knew I was a woman. Flashing is just not an all-time problem solver.
Then grow and let go
Learning about human behavior in embarrassing bathroom situations was not a subject we learned in school. The actual technique has a steep learning curve and I’m not really there yet, but I hope on a few more practicing years. If I ever find a way to take away the awkwardness of going to a restroom, I will shout out to all of you and let you know the magic trick. So far, nothing good has come up yet. The most rewarding achievement is that I just don’t care anymore. I just stopped getting fired up each time because it only gives me headaches and I’m not lying awake thinking of ways to change the behavior of others. I changed my own way of thinking. Letting go was the best thing I could ever do.
People around us
At this time, my girlfriend has a harder time dealing with people’s reactions than I do. She now notices how people eye me and she listens to their whispers. When we walk out of a public restroom together, she says:
“Did you see how that woman stared at you? I feel like kicking her!”
For me, it has become so casual over the years, I think it’s just funny. That’s just what people do. They judge you because you don’t look like the manual said you should look. Therefore they can’t categorize you and they get confused. Fear of the unknown is the trigger to their response.
How will they respond?
Basically, there are two possible responses to fear, cause that’s what it is. Shall I fight or flee? That’s what I get to see. It is a privilege that people let me look deep into their souls. Are you a fighter or a runner? I will know it when I walk into the bathroom while you’re washing your hands. The moment you lay eyes on my, I can see your state of mind in an instant. I see the face of confusion, the hasty thoughts, and the aroused instinct. On top of that, I know exactly how you will respond. Runners are easy. They just run out as quickly as possible. Ha! Take a deep breath. The fighters are the ones that give me a hard time.
The fighters huh…
Yes, the fighters. Fighters feel a need for interaction. They feel they have to protect the world from terror and from me. It’s the one response I dread because it’s very hard to read and it can turn very ugly in just one second. I have to think quick and choose whether to overpower or dismiss these actions. Will I have to defend myself from their rage? Will they corner me? Yell at me? Learning how to respond is a great lesson in life. It teaches you that each person is different, but still the same. It forces you to think about the reason why they behave the way they do. You can not change people overnight or over a decade, not even over a thirty-year span.
And the fearless…
But you could also be lucky. A lot of people don’t show any of those behaviors because these are responses to fear. Since there is nothing to be afraid of and no danger whatsoever, there is no need to fight or flee. I love the fearless people a lot, those who just see me and let me be. They don’t see the Armageddon unfold before their eyes and just continue what they were doing, so I can attend to my own business.
The trick is to always be one step ahead. I learned to read what people were going to do before they actually came up with it for them self. With the inside information I hold, I know when I’m going to walk in and I’m very aware of the turmoil that will set into motion. Unlike the surprised ladies in the sanitary facilities, I’m prepared for things to come. Upon entering, my eyes are scanning the room. Within seconds, I know exactly who was in there and who I should worry about. My computer is processing information on who has already seen me and survived the shock, who hasn’t seen me yet but will be fine and who is going to respond to my presence. You must think I’m a nutcase by now. Maybe I am. It’s with this nutcase system that I learned to read human behavior.
How about the rules?
Gender norms live very close to the core of your being. They’re even supposed to come from deep within. They can’t be seen as a separate instance. You are it. Still, it’s just unwritten rules, followed by the entire population of this planet. What if your within doesn’t match your appearance? What if your behavior is unaccepted? Why is everybody telling you that your core is wrong and why should they be insulted by that? Am I hurting anyone with it? Gender norms are the first subject people discuss even before you are born. By the time you see the first light, your pink stroller is waiting for you. Every toy is predestined. Dolls and little kitchenettes await you until you are ready to move to the real kitchen. I have been pressured into dresses and pressured out of restrooms because I didn’t comply with gender norms.
How to see beyond the rules
I was blind before, just like people are blind to my identity. I didn’t see the motive for a response. Convinced that people craved to make my life difficult, I exhausted myself with negative thoughts. Those ideas and thoughts are not very constructive for a young mind and I was a mess for most of my puberty. Oh, the words I’ve written… and burned. I didn’t fit in and didn’t see a way to make that happen, ever. For all I knew, I was a weirdo on my way to becoming a hermit. If you’re being told that you’re wrong hundreds of times, it’s hard not to start believing it.
In order to maintain my mental health, I needed to grow. I needed to find peace. As I said before: letting go is the best thing I could ever do. I no longer felt as if I needed to change or fit in. Being off started to feel good. There was no need for me to waste energy on issues other people had and trying to be what I was not. Of course, there were times when I did. I’ve done the weirdest shit to just get the idea I was mainstream until I discovered that mainstream was the last thing I wanted to be. I started to take pride in being different. In my mind, everyone who had a problem with that could just go to hell! I know! That sounds rude. It’s just what I needed to survive and be sane.
Why so rude?
Since I wasn’t going to change, people would always be offended by me. I needed a way to stand above that to be happy. I have become a stronger person after the shells of society fell off my eyes. I saw the light and felt peace in my heart. Standing above has changed me in a lot of ways and I know people sometimes think I’m cocky. Haha! Wish I was! Wearing the mask of a superior person is more of a boost for my mood than feeling inferior. And my mood means a lot to me. I want to be happy. I’ve had enough of feeling like the lesser person.
How does that help you?
It’s time to step up and spill the truth. I’m definitely not the lesser person. I have enough brain power to make my own decisions. I even have more self-control than a lot of people. I don’t run off crying when a possible man enters the ladies room. I am able to contain myself and act like an adult. And I’m surprised by a number of occasions in which I feel like I’m dealing with a very tall toddler. I’ve seen grown people behave in the most mysterious ways and learned to be one step ahead. I had weighed them, measured them and found them too light to ruin my mood. I dismissed their words before they even spoke them.
One more thing
Religion isn’t really my thing, but that doesn’t mean I never thought about it. In conclusion, reincarnation seems like an interesting way to look at it. This really helped me personally. Reincarnation sounds promising and it’s a great way to look at things differently. Seeing that this life might be part of a bigger circle in which you need to evolve might just give another reason to exist. The difficulties you face on your path are there for you to overcome and grow. Sometimes I feel as if I’ve grown two lifetimes over the past years. I’m in this world to have a good life, not to waste energy on hate and anger. Those are emotions I want to skip as quickly as possible. In the end, I need to prove that I’m able to overcome some unpleasant feelings and use them for my own growth.
Back to the gender stigma on more time! I just wanted to leave you with this thought. Is our gender division still current and useful in our society today? It’s not that gender is outdated or things have drastically changed. People who are gender non-compliant have always been here and they are here to stay, no matter how badly some people are disgusted by it. Maybe we’re are disgusted by the haters as well. I just believe that every person is as human as the next and everyone has the right to live the life they want, without being judged all day. Live and let live is not a difficult goal to achieve. Everyone is allowed an opinion. You can think whatever you want, just don’t act like an asshole!