Guest post: To be allowed to be female in my own way

Originally a comment by iknklast on Adolescence is fraught with uncertainty and identity searching.

Claire believes that her feeling that she was a boy stemmed from rigid views of gender roles that she had internalized

I had a lot of gender problems myself as a teen. My parents had rigid ideas of what a person should be based on their external genitalia. So I endured endless years of Home Ec when I would rather have been in Chemistry and Physics. I wore pink as a little girl when I preferred green. I washed dishes after dinner while my brothers watched Star Trek or played cribbage with Dad…or got to do fun things like going out and helping with the tractor. My mother was very firm in her conviction that there was something seriously wrong with me. I was too “mannish”. Not in my mannerisms, mind you, because I was never what she termed a “tom boy”. In my interests. I didn’t want a hope chest. I didn’t want a bridal registry. I didn’t want a boyfriend. I wanted books and magazines and science and politics and philosophy. She made it very plain, very clear, that I was wrong, I was messed up, I was seriously broken. I wasn’t fully a girl, oh no, not possibly. But she never suspected I might be a boy, because in her worldview boys were boys and girls were girls, and had nothing in common. For that, I am eternally grateful.

She also hated the idea of psychotherapy. To have one of her children in therapy would be more horror, more disgrace than she could handle. So I never had therapy for my depression until I was 25, married, and rapidly dropping weight from the most recent manifestation of a lifelong battle with anorexia, to that time untreated. So there were no therapists to ask “are you sure you aren’t really a boy?”

The day came when I finally realized what I was…I think I was about 14…and the truth hit me like a flash of light. It had nothing to do with whether I was a girl or a boy. It turns out, I was a feminist. A female who had her own interests and talents in spite of what society and my parents said. A female who was female and didn’t want to be male for some reason, but just wanted to be allowed to be female in my own way. The battle for ERA was raging, and I had many battles with my parents over the desirability of this particular constitutional amendment. They won on the national level; I won on the personal level by identifying for myself why I was not happy in the roles established for me, and why I didn’t want to wear pink (because I liked green better!) or take Home Ec (because Chemistry, Biology, and Physics are more interesting to me) or marry the first boy who asked me (actually, I did do that, but it was many years later, and a mistake).

That recognition did not solve my depression. It did not make my eating disorder go away. It did not give me control over my own life (frankly, I’m not in favor of 14 year olds having full control over their own life, but that view is not what I thought at 14). I was still an abused, unhappy, scared child who needed some serious help, but when I finally did get help 11 years later, it was the kind of help I needed, not the kind that would assume that my desire to do “boy” activities meant I was a boy inside.

What if the internet had been available when I was going through all this? What if I had been given YouTube videos to teach me the way to live, rather than sorting it out by working through the worst aspects of puberty and eventually discovering through a long, extensive, and still evolving process who I was, separate from my “gender identity” and separate from my “assigned at birth” and separate from my “parents think I am this”? What if I had been a member of the generation who thinks that vloggers hold more answers than experts, or that experts should tell me what I want to hear? Or, worse, that experts should get their information from vloggers and 4 year olds who happen not to like pink and people with baseball bats wrapped with barb wire?

I finally achieved a solution to my depression, my anorexia, and my other worries at the age of 35, and learned how to smile. I went back to school for the Biology degree I’d never dared dream of. I explored my own sexuality without fear or shame. And today, I am more content than most of my peers, and I appreciate that. I still suffer frequent flare ups of depression, but I no longer jump to easy, obvious answers and instead look at my world and myself and see if I can sort it out…if not, I ride it out. It Gets Better. And when my therapist one day asked me, when I explained I felt like some grotesque female-male mutant, “do you want to become a man?”, I had the courage, the knowledge, the insight, and the support behind me to say “no, I just want to be the woman I want to be”. And he had the good sense, the training, and the insight to support and respect that, and understand that I knew what the hell I was talking about. He never urged me to transition, to change my name or my “gender identity”, or to be anything other than the woman I wanted to be.

Thanks to all these things, I am today the woman I want to be, rather than a depressed, unhappy woman who can’t see her way to get out of bed in the morning, or a depressed, unhappy man who found out that my problem wasn’t solved by transitioning into a different body.

If my experience could be of some help to youth and teens who are suffering similar problems, I would gladly offer my assistance. But it seems that people don’t want to hear my story now, because it does not fit with the story they have incorporated into their worldview, and insist (loudly and violently) that everyone else should incorporate into not only their own worldviews, but into public policy and health care.

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