Gender Non Conforming…and Me

31 Jul

First of all, let me set some things straight.  I’m not gay, lesbian, transgendered or bisexual, and I never have been.  With that said, I do have immense empathy for most of the issues plaguing the LGBT community.  I’m not homophobic, and I know without a single doubt that I will never “catch the gay”.  I’m also old enough that I’m not shocked by seeing public displays of affection between same sex couples, as long as it is within the same boundaries of good taste that I expect from heterosexual couples.  In regards to PDA, I’m probably a bit on the conservative side.

I also live in a small town in the South.  The Bible Belt isn’t particularly sympathetic to the LGBT community, and it’s highly unlikely that I’ll see a gay couple strolling down the street holding hands anyhow.  I suspect that most gays in our small town prefer to remain under the radar or even in the closet rather than face the consequences of coming out.  I guess I don’t blame them.

I’m a bit non-conforming in a lot of ways in regards to the Bible Belt, such as my interests in the paranormal and non-Christian religions.  For this reason, if you knock on my door and I open it, you will not see my bookshelf.  Instead, you’ll see my sewing machine.  The bookshelves are out of sight, preventing me from rocking the boat of any neighbor, witnessing Christian, or casual visitor.  I’m not an evangelist for opening minds, and tend to be a recluse who prefers to be unnoticed in my own neighborhood.

My husband and I, (Gregory is a male and was born one, btw!) knew that we were buying a home in a conservative blue collar neighborhood in a small town in Mississippi.  We have chosen to live here for personal reasons, and they do not include religion or politics.  We also do not debate the topic with our neighbors, although we have talked some local issues with our representative to the city council.  We’re a pretty normal couple, I suppose, other than we spend much more time together (almost all day every day) and rarely have actual angry disagreements.  We get along better than most couples, it seems, but we’ve also only been married a few years.

While this is my second marriage, I still regard my relationship with Gregory as the first healthy relationship I have ever had.  Maybe, as I hovered at the half century mark, I was finally mature enough to do so.  We share a deep respect for each other, as well as love.  We also accept each other’s idiosyncrasies and individual needs.  He’s my best friend, and the first person I sound things off of as well.  I do not feel a need to keep secrets or avoid letting him know certain things about me.  I don’t even mind letting him read things I’m writing when they are still in that vague first draft state, although he isn’t inclined to do so without a lot of encouragement (okay, without me being really PUSHY about him doing so.)  He accepts me, and I am comfortable letting him see me as I actually am, good and bad, along with the mostly in between stuff.  He knows my fears and dreams too.

He also knows that I am a gender non-conformist in many ways.  I was labeled a tom-boy as a child, and since my given name is actually “Georgia” rather than Gia, I grew up being called George, just like my father, even though him and I were nothing alike.  Calling me Georgie was a certain way to end up with a confrontation that usually resulted in someone getting hit, and I was perfectly willing to deliver punishment to anyone that dared do that.

I was also a bit slow to become interested in the opposite sex in any way other than as fishing partners.  My daughter, hearing me talk about my own childhood and adolescence, is firmly convinced that my maturing was retarded.  I don’t know–I do know that my body matured earlier and faster than the other girls and I was immensely uncomfortable with it.  It felt like my own body was betraying me, and being forced into even more “girly” clothes was increasing my own discomfort.  I hated dresses, ruffles, silky fabrics, lace, etc.  I felt stupid in high heels, and despised wearing makeup.  I had little interest in doing my hair and fussing over it like other girls.

It didn’t change much with adulthood either.

I worked non-traditional jobs.  I felt awkward when forced into a traditional feminine role anywhere, except as a mother.  Of course, this didn’t include my sexual side.  I was attracted to men, not women.  I was not attracted to men who demanded a woman behave traditionally, however.  Rumors that I was actually a lesbian were always fluttering around me.  Of course, in a small town, that isn’t uncommon–men who are turned down for sexual favors or even dates are often going to say that you have to be a lesbian.  It’s unfortunate, but true–it’s how small minded men (they are not all like that, obviously) can preserve their own dignity, since I obviously could not turn down such a prize as they are, right?

Yeah, small town life can be interesting sometimes.

As a teen, I shopped in the men’s department.  I preferred Levi 501s, flannel shirts, and football jerseys to anything that was regarded as feminine.  I refused to wear anything with ruffles and bows without a great deal of protest.  Since it was the 1970s, I lost the protest often.  School activities often forced me into outfits that I despised and made me feel like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  I sometimes wondered if something was wrong with me.

As an adult, I didn’t change much in terms of my clothing.  Part of it was my physical build.  From the back, I could easily pass as a boy or young man.  Only my bust size, which I regarded as immense and garnered a lot of staring from guys, told the world that I was a woman.  I used my boyish appearance a lot when walking around at night, dressing to appear as a boy, with my hair in a hat, I was unlikely to be harassed.  It wasn’t hard–a tight t-shirt under a loose shirt or jacket, combined with a ball cap, and bingo, I was neutral.  I felt safer in neutral anyhow, I wasn’t “fooling” anyone then.

When I did have to show up somewhere dressed more feminine and fulfill somebody else’s idea of formal attire, I chose clothing that was more tailored and understated.  I still refused the ruffles and bows.  I still hated high heels, and finally repeated knee injuries made them something that I had an actual medical reason to avoid–they could cause me to seriously injure myself again.

I also had predominately male dominated hobbies and interests, and most of the company I kept was that of males.  I felt more comfortable with the guys, usually.  I understood them.  With women, I always felt like I was missing something, that I had missed a critical chapter in the book of womanhood.  I was lost in that world, whereas the men’s world was comprehensible.  I’d rather buck hay than sit around discussing soap operas, childbirth and the latest cookie recipe.

I often felt inadequate with my daughter too.  She wanted me to be friends with her friends’ mothers, but I couldn’t find common ground.  I finally explained that to her, and as she was navigating her own way through puberty, she began to understand where I was coming from.  She also discovered that the world considered it very peculiar that her mother taught her how to use power tools such as circular saws and drills, as well as how to cook, build a fence, saddle a horse, clean a horse’s hoof, fix the roof, etc.

I do remember a guy friend telling me that I was not feminine though too.  He wasn’t a romantic interest, we were genuinely just friends, and he happened to have a huge crush on my best friend at the time.  He spent a lot of nights at my house, sleeping off a drinking binge on my couch, then playing games with my son the next morning.  At the time, I was confused and hurt.  I was really trying to get with the program, and I obviously was failing if I was obviously not feminine.  So, I asked him what feminine was.

I pointed out that I did all of the expected things: I cooked and baked, I sewed, I did crafts, I wore makeup and did my hair, I wore clothing from the women’s department (and some home sewed items as well).  I wasn’t ugly.  What was wrong with me?

He had no idea what feminine was, even if he did recognize that I was not actually feminine in a traditional sense.  He thought it might be  partly related to my independent nature and the fact that I was very capable of solving almost any problem on my own.  I was not needy in any way, and he thought that maybe, most men found that threatening to their own sense of masculinity.  He might have been right, but I also was not interested in the kind of man that wasn’t totally confident with his own sexual identity.

Still, his comment has haunted me for decades.

I was further confused when a lesbian friend of mine confessed she had a crush on me, and that I appeared to be a lesbian in everything about me, except for my long hair.  (I’m not sure what that really had to do with anything, but okay?)  In my case, I loved her as a friend (and still do) but I had zero interest in a romantic or sexual relationship with her.  She was able to understand that, even if her girlfriend at the time could not.  The girlfriend remained intensely jealous and suspicious of me, as well as openly antagonistic.

It seemed that I was a miserable misfit.  I appeared to be a lesbian, but I wasn’t and didn’t want to be.  I was not feminine.  What in the hell was I?

Then, I saw a video about clothing for people who are gender non-conformists.

Hot damn, I’m not alone????

I had actually come to terms that I was as some oddball misfit.  I was okay with who I was, even if I did dress funny.  I was now past fifty, the mark when women in the South are totally allowed to be eccentric and odd.  I’d found out what kinds of skirts were comfortable in the hot summers, even for me, and learned what I was comfortable wearing and not.  I’m also much heavier than I ever was before, and that has meant that many of my tastes in clothing have changed, as well as my desire for “fashionable” clothing that I was comfortable wearing.  I’d long since gone to wearing women’s suits, choosing simple designs without the embellishments I despised.  I loved blazers with either pants or a skirt, over a plain blouse.  I preferred flat shoes.  I often still shopped in the men’s department (and still do for some items).  I was perfectly happy pairing a men’s shirt with a skirt.  I had different rules than most women did.

A decade or two ago, I would have been thrilled to buy clothing like they are selling to the gender non-conformists, although the price tag would have likely stopped me.  I’m not willing or able to pay the price for a tailored suit, and face it, there weren’t shops that offered tailored-to-fit clothing in Flagstaff, Arizona, in the 1990-2003 era either.  (That’s the closest city for shopping when I lived in Northern Arizona, prior to moving to New Orleans.)  Northern Arizona was okay for someone like me anyhow–I got by with my jeans-and-flannel-shirt look as well as my peculiar assembled outfits without much attention there.

Maybe it’s silly, I’m in my fifties, and after a lifetime of fighting against wearing labels, I’m suddenly ecstatic to have found one that fit me, at least beyond the ones like mother, grandmother, wife, daughter, sister, etc. that I was already comfortable with.  But it defines what it is like to be me to a world that honestly doesn’t “get it” any more than I got the whole feminine thing my entire life.

Greg and I talked about it tonight too.  Not like the fact that I was me was a big surprise to him–he knows me pretty well.  It was the label that we talked about.  We even had the lewd jokes and sexual innuendos that a couple will share privately, because the label doesn’t bother him.  He doesn’t need to see me suddenly become someone else in order to stroke his own ego or make him feel safer with his own sexual identity.  He doesn’t need me to feign being helpless to do so either, although disabilities have made me far more needy in terms of help with various things than I ever was before.  I don’t have to pretend to be stupid or vapid, inept or foolish.  He isn’t attracted to a woman like that.  He loves me, because I am me.

So if I’m happy that “gender non-conformist” is a label that suits who I am, then it makes him happy.

I think the truth of it all is really that I am happier knowing that I’m not a single freak in the entire world.  Nobody likes being a freak, even if their freak status isn’t putting them in the side show at a circus.  I’m happier knowing that being who I am is not that uncommon really, even if I hadn’t been dwelling on it every minute of every day.  I really was uncomfortable with the unpleasant remarks about some of my views, opinions, behavior, and attire being inappropriate and somehow wrong though.  Being honest about who I am is part of who I am, and that should not make me wrong or a freak.  So I’m not feminine in behavior and tastes, that’s no big deal.  So what if I act and appear somewhat masculine despite long hair?  It doesn’t matter if I have an aggressive walk or stance–it’s not that I’m challenging anyone, but rather how a woman who doesn’t behave in the way society has determined she should behave is perceived because she is walking, talking, and standing more like a male.

I laugh because so often, my voice and name has people conjuring up an image of an Italian model to match me and the radio show.  That is so not me!  Sure, I have (or actually, had–it’s going platinum now) dark hair and dark eyes.  That’s not an Italian exclusive thing.  I’m told by many male listeners that my voice is “sexy” and that makes me laugh too.  I actually look more like the stereotypical grandma than I do that Italian model image.  I’m short, overweight, and dress badly.  Tonight, I’m wearing a pair of olive drab shorts with a far too big navy blue scrub top.  My hair is confined in its usual folded pony tail that is neither a tail nor a bun.  I wear oval granny glasses to see with, either my “computer” glasses or bifocals.  My shoes of choice lately are tennis shoe-like clogs that just slip on.  I’m sitting bolt upright in an antique “occasional” chair that is in serious need of re-upholstery.  It’s late at night, and I’m sipping now cold coffee.  When I finish this blog post, I’ll likely either put the finishing touches on a skirt I’m sending to my great niece or work on my writing…or both.  I have big plans for tomorrow–Greg and I will make some ginger-pear preserves from pears from our neighbor’s tree.  We also need to take the box for my niece to the post office and send that to her–she’s expecting twins.  Their big sister is getting some skirts similar to the ones I have made for my granddaughter.

So I’m a gender non-conformist.  I still bleed red blood.  I still love my family and friends.  I still have a husband I adore.  Is it any wonder that I think the LGBT community should have the same rights to have a spouse and family as I enjoy?  In my case, my gender non-conformity is confined to my interests, hobbies, and clothing.  Sexually, I identify completely as female.  I just was never comfortable wearing those badges that society has determined I should wear because of that sexual identity.  I also was and still am uncomfortable with the unreasonable restrictions that sexual identity has put on me.  A woman’s body IS different.  It means that I had less upper body strength than a man of equal proportion, but I had more lower body strength than a man of equal proportion.  I had to deal with a menstrual cycle, cramps, pregnancy, boobs, and mood swings.  It didn’t mean that I couldn’t do a job because I did those things, nor should it mean that I should get paid less because I was a bit short tempered a few day a month.

But that’s a rant for another day, isn’t it?

Just for a head’s up…

This blog is being MOVED to www.exogenynetwork.com in the next month.  At this time, posts are being made on both sites during the transitional phase.

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