“Stand up for yourself. That’s hard to do when you don’t know who you are. We’re expected to define ourselves at such an early age, and if we don’t do it fast enough, others do it for you” (Shane Koyczan, 2013).
The reality is that from as early as 18 weeks old, we are labeled by our parents, either boy or girl. Likewise, friends, families, and even strangers ask a pregnant person, ‘boy or girl?’ Then, when born, we are coded into pink for girls and blue for boys. There is no room for someone who is born intersex. Historically and to this day, intersex people get shoved into the boy or girl box based on their genitals. As children, girls get dolls, and boys get fire engines. Girls are deemed to be patient, loving, emotional, and subtly submissive to boys. Conversely, boys are allowed to be aggressive, dominant, and in charge. Girls are expected to grow up to be nurturing mothers; boys are expected to grow up and be the ruler and be the head of the household.
‘Femme,’ ‘sissy,’ ‘butch,’ ‘tomboy,’ etc., - all labels that others can proscribe us to describe our behaviors, attitudes, actions, and looks. It is acceptable to be feminine if you are perceived as a woman, but a feminine man is laughed at for his behaviors. For example, people, including other lesbians, seem to assume that all lesbians are butch or have no interest in ‘girly’ things. So if I go to the local lesbian bar as a high-femme queer dressed up for a night out, I get accused of being a straight girl that is interloping and unwelcome. Likewise, as a child, I was told to play with the girls when I occasionally wanted to play in the mud with the boys. I wasn’t welcome there either. I had been labeled as a girl and was expected to be clean and not want to roughhouse. I did not fit in my box from a young age, and now that I know I’m non-binary, I can look back and see how I expressed that at an early age.
In my work as a Dominatrix, I get to help people explore their gender expression and presentation. There is so much taboo loaded around being a man and wanting to be perceived as pretty. The taboo includes wanting to wear makeup, lingerie, and dresses. Men in some cultures used to wear high-heels, makeup, and wigs. When it fell out of vogue, some men still wore it privately, and it grew into the taboo that it is today. Men crossdressing has been the butt of jokes for a long time and is only acceptable on Halloween as a costume.
All of these accouterments that make us ‘pretty’ are perceived to be for women and weirdos only and therefore off-limits to men if they still want to be perceived as ‘manly men.’ Clothing, makeup, and accessories are inherently gender-neutral on their own; they are just things. Unfortunately, our society has created this standard/expectation that only women are allowed to be pretty and soft; oppositely, men must be rugged and hard. I do a lot of emotional labor with clients like these, affirming them that they can be pretty and soft too. Unfortunately, most go back to living as an ‘acceptable man’ after our time together. I find this tragic but speaking as someone often considered a freak of society, it can be tough to live your authentic life, so I understand why we mask ourselves the way we do.
Freak is another label that is often foisted upon us from a young age. We all are expected to look, act, and behave in a predetermined way to be accepted by society from birth. Boy or girl? In my case, even from the single-digit ages, I’ve been a little odd both in my desired gender expression and personality, so I often hung with kids that others wouldn’t. However, my oddness was usually overlooked because I also wanted to fit in back then, so I tried following the standards set to me by my parents, church, and society. As a result, I also fit in with the ‘normies’ and often was the bridge between those two worlds. When the hormones hit me at age 13, I started embracing the weird side of me with exuberance and left ‘normal’ behind me in the dust. Through music, I discovered the alternative world and never looked back. But it came with a price. I lost status in my church, my parents were unhappy, and I was cast out from hanging with the more popular crowd. Like Koyczan mentions in his talk, people say, “kids can be cruel,” but adults can be cruel to children too. Many people’s first and biggest bullies are often their own parents.
This claim that parents are often our first and worst bullies ties back into the fact that our parents are the first ones to give us a label, ‘girl or boy?’ Our immediate caregivers have hopes and expectations for us, which influences us from birth until adulthood and often past that. As we grow up, our caregivers get to know us and vice versa, and we influence each other. Should parents stop labeling their children as boys and girls and let them decide their path in life on their own? It’s hard to do because gender is so deeply programmed into all of us regardless of how we live or identify. All children should know that the world offers infinite choices and possibilities.
Koyczan, S (2013, March 8) To This Day [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sa1iS1MqUy4&t=723s