Monday, March 9, 2015

My androgynous journey

From the time I was very young, I never felt comfortable with "girl" clothes or activities. Skirts and dressed were uncomfortable, showed my legs, were impractical, but pants were for boys/men. I always felt alone, different, scared. I clearly was not a boy but a tomboy - and that term was often used pejoratively. I was athletic but cried easily. As a 9- and 10-year-old, I ran a mile every day before school, and ran the 50-yard dash for the school track team. When I wore shorts in the summer, my dad asked why my legs were so big - my runner muscles deemed "ugly." I never liked wearing shorts again in public until recently. Both growing up and as a young adult I only ever felt safe outdoors and alone, where I could be just me, no one watching or judging.

Puberty was a nightmare. I didn't have any role models. My flannel shirts hid my femaleness but also led to others mistaking my gender--I didn't like either "miss" or "sir." Being female meant I was vulnerable to rape: a constant lack of safety. Being "lesbian" meant I was afraid that every girl/woman would think I was trying to hit on them. I feared being victimized if I outwardly expressed femininity or masculinity.

Being post-hysterectomy is so much better. Even though I have gained weight and look more clearly female, I am happier now with my body. But, having survived childhood sexual abuse, I still have to set clear boundaries with others over and over.

In high school I started reading LeGuin, which helped me understand gender differently, especially The Left Hand of Darkness. In university, I read Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time, which used the androgynous "per" (short for person?) instead of he or she. That made sense to me. Later, Minnie Bruce Pratt's S/he and Barrie Jean Borich's My Lesbian Husband also helped me place myself.

When I came to work in GR in 1990, I was told by one lesbian not to come out until I was tenured, as her resignation had been demanded when she was publicly out(ed). She refused and fought to retain her position. One of my librarian colleagues told our director before he hired me, "You know she's a lesbian" in her judgmental and denigrating way, but he respected my privacy until I chose to tell him myself. In 1991, the university was discussing multiculturalism, which only included African-American issues, not other races/ethnicities and certainly not religion or lgbt. I asked to speak at the Faculty Forum and was reluctantly put on the agenda. The first few speakers were all white men who read their speeches (mostly anti-multiculturalism). I only had a few notes on one index card and spoke about the lack of representation of an invisible minority, both in books and in classroom discussions, passionately pleading for lesbians and gay men to be included in this definition of multiculturalism. The white man who followed me stood up and began to sing "Homo on the Range." No one stood up; no one called him on it; no one protested.

In the early 1990's, I volunteered at the LGBT Network of West Michigan. One of my friends came out as a female-to-male transgender man. I valued this friend, his confidence in me, and I learned through our conversations what this meant, as he learned himself. I learned to address and refer to him differently. I witnessed the difficulty he had with the medical system, without insurance, trying to get the right hormones. When he had the double mastectomy, I brought food and changed his drains, squeamish though I am, because he didn't have money for nursing care. When I read about feminist separatism, it did make some emotional sense to me, but not at all practical sense, as I had so many men friends. Michigan Womyn's Music Festival's policy of admitting women-biologically-born-women only was hateful to MTF transgender women, and it did not fit my views on equality. I joined Allies & Advocates at work, the LGBT Fungroup and later iteration Faculty & Staff Association. I became a convinced Quaker partly because of their views on the equality of all people and social justice activism trying to make the world better for all. When my wife and I became a couple, I experienced coming out all over again. But I faced my discomfort and fears, worked through them. Finally, these groups gave me a sense of safe community, where I am accepted as I am. And I keep learning, though other transgender friends, through my reading.

Lately I experienced an act of emotional/verbal violence in what was supposed to be a safe place and discussion, by someone who knows nothing of my story but who exercised his priviledge and power to label me, incorrectly, as "cisgender," i.e., born biologically female and identifying as female. His labelling was an act of aggression, trying to silence me. By labeling me instead of asking me to identify myself or asking for more of my story, he engaged in de-legitimizing and implicitly denying my perspectives, experiences, understanding, beliefs. No one stood up; no one called him on it; no one protested. And that motivated me to write some of my story here.

So here I am, an androgynous lesbian, an activist for most of my life. Setting boundaries, taking care of myself (with the help of wife, friends, therapist, psychiatrist), and hoping to challenge this man to learn to communicate nonviolently and facilitate difficult discussions without reacting with emotional/intellectual violence.


Mary Peed said...

Good luck with that, Kim. I'm not sure if you saw the story about my daughter and my dad on Facebook a couple of days ago... that happened in 1987... and my dad was floored that my 4 year old not only knew gay men, but knew they were gay and that I wasn't freaked out about her knowing gay men or what gay people were. When I tell that story now, people are like "" but then it was a BIG DEAL! Now? not so much. Times change... people change. So keep pushing forward and in a few years, something else will be a big deal... because we're fighting the fight now.

Amy Ranger said...

Hang in there, sweetie. You are loved by so many people for your gentle-ness, sincerity and activities on behalf of social justice. I suspect that the young professor who verbally attacked you is dealing with a lot of pain and confusion in his own life - striking out is one way to deflect that pain onto someone else.

Kathryn Waggoner said...

I just don't understand any of this prejudice & never will. You are just a person like everyone else, with your own idiosyncrasies like everyone else. It's high time other people stop making an issue of it. You are who you are, & I love you for all that you are.

Your BFF, Kathryn