Guest post: We should all be free to be ourselves

Originally a comment by Nullius in Verba on Funny kind of public engagement.

One of the signs in that picture really pisses me the fuck off, as it perfectly encapsulates the doublethink involved in this whole goddamn process. It reads, “Don’t look for society to give you permission to be yourself.”

You know what? That’s what feminists have been saying since the beginning. A woman should not need to fight for social license to study physics, be a doctor, drive a race car, have short hair, or wear goddamn pants. A man should not need to fight for social license to study dance, be a nurse, do interior decoration, have long hair, or wear frilly, lacy sleeves. We should all be free to be ourselves, regardless of our bodies’ reproductive functions.

Daniel Kaufman’s article “Feeling Like a Man” reminded me of a book, record, and VHS tape I had as a child—and watched quite a bit—called “Free To Be You And Me”. Apparently I’m not the only one who grew up with that message so thoroughly ingrained in my brain that the very notion that someone would face negative social repercussions for having girlish/boyish interests is hard to grok. It is so obviously retrograde that I have difficulty accepting that other people don’t share that perspective. Have you ever talked to a “moderate” or “liberal” Christian who simply refuses to believe how widespread literalist/fundamentalist beliefs actually are? I often feel like I’m the Christian when it comes to the gender thing. I suspect that many people supporting the transgender movement have a similar problem when it comes to engaging with potential causes of gender identity disorder.

And that’s the thing: for some number of transgender teens, their cross-sex identity arises from the belief that certain behaviors, thought patterns, preferences, etc. are all the exclusive/proper domain of the other sex. Do you like trucks and MMA and watching football with the boys? You must be a boy. Do you like cooking and musical theater and pink unicorns? You must be a girl. Time to change your name, start dressing differently, taking those hormone blockers, binding your chest, and surgically altering your body—all so that your outward appearance matches your inner self.

This is not freedom to be yourself. This is freedom to undergo a “transition” that gives social license—that is, permission—to be (some subset of) yourself. Truly not needing society’s permission to be yourself would mean that a boy should feel utterly free to play with dolls and have magical tea parties, and his sister should feel utterly free to play in the mud then come back inside and code, solder, and troubleshoot a Raspberry Pi-powered robot. They should both be able to do that without any sort of strange looks or comments from anyone, and they should not have to go through a transition in order to reach that point of default, background, banal, unremarkable acceptance.

The sign nominally supports personal freedom while in fact perpetuating a system that unjustly curtails freedom. But whoever wrote and proudly carried that sign will never recognize the problem, and that saddens me on behalf of all the young people who are being and will be told that they can’t just be themselves. On behalf of my little nieces and nephews who will have to navigate this nonsense:

Fuck you, sign writer. Fuck you, I say.

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