Which part is me? Which part is illness or abnormal? Which part is side-effect? The multi-pronged problem that haunts me on a regular basis. Most of what I describe when I talk about feelings and mood, interest and energy cannot be easily filtered into these categories. Chances are good that most of the time I am dealing with some combination of the three. Picking out the degree to which one is responsible for my current state is almost pure guesswork.
My gender identity is one such avenue. The doctor who handled the sleep study that uncovered my apnea, Dr. L, asked me about my gender. I told him that I considered myself “loosely female.” This caused a moment of confusion in which I had to clarify for him that as far as sex I am entirely female. The vagueness only comes into play in terms of gender. It isn’t that I feel I am transgendered, but I don’t feel like the typical cisgendered woman either.
I call it being “gender lazy.” Essentially I don’t make the effort to conform to either side of the gender binary. But even the term “androgynous” seems to denote something deliberate. I don’t go out of my way to cultivate my appearance. Whatever consistency I have is passive and mostly subconscious. I can’t help but have some continuity from day to day as I don’t constantly buy new clothes or change the length of my hair back and forth (impossible without wigs anyway.)
For all this laziness I still feel content with the moniker of “woman.” I don’t want to be male, though it doesn’t irk me to be mistaken for a man. (Sometimes it’s even amusing.) I feel like there are really two reasons why someone might be offended at having their gender mislabeled. The first is that they have a certain amount of contempt for the other gender. It could be slight, but still enough that they feel they are superior as what they have chosen to be. Deep down some stereotype holds true to them. (E.g.: “woman are weak” or “men are pigs.”) The second, and hopefully more prevalent, reason that I can think of is that they are the opposite of what I am. Instead of being “gender lazy” they are “gender deliberate.”
In moderation, I don’t see anything wrong with taking pride in one’s appearance. I can imagine that someone who is gender deliberate would have their feelings hurt if their effort was misconstrued. After all, it hurts my feelings when my efforts are undervalued, I just don’t happen to direct my efforts towards cultivating my appearance. This might be in part due to the state of my self-esteem, but it doesn’t trouble me at this point. There may be other reasons why having your gender mistaken is offensive, but the concept is so foreign to me at this point that I can’t think of what they might be.
I have had the odd occasion where someone called me “sir” instead of “miss” or “ma’am,” but the instance that stands out to me is the time when I was directly asked if I was a transgendered woman. (That is someone born the male sex who identifies as female.)
The story is: I was on my way to the bus stop when a middle-aged Asian woman stopped me and asked if we could speak. Her English was a little stilted and I didn’t know what she wanted, maybe directions? If so I could help. But she basically asked: “you are trans?” When I understood what she was asking, I told her I wasn’t. I explained that I probably had PCOS, (this is not 100% certain yet, but my hormones are way crazy.) and that was why I had some traces of hair on my face. She said: “so you are a lady?” and I said yes.
She then explained that she was asking because her son wanted to be a woman. She was concerned that he would not be happy if he decided to transition. All I could do was tell her that I had no firsthand experience, but from what I understood, most people were quite happy to have made the transition, as it was who they truly felt they were. I told her that people were usually only unhappy because they didn’t have support from friends and family regarding their choices. She thanked me and we went our separate ways.
I’m glad that woman stopped me and not someone who would have been offended or intolerant. Someone else could have gotten angry because they weren’t transgender, or even because they were. I wonder what happened to her son. I hope she gave him her support. She certainly cared enough to reach out to a stranger to learn more.