Growing up in a Gender Binary World

U.A. Nigro

I have to confess that I was raised in a very gender binary home. My father went to work every day so he could pay the bills and take care of his family the way a man was “supposed” to. My mother stayed home with the children and did the food shopping, cooking, laundry, errands, house cleaning, homework, doctor’s appointments, and getting us to and from school. I was taught that work outside of the home to make money was the man’s job, and all of those other things that my mother did, those were jobs for the women of the house. Thinking about it now, it seems like they were working on brain washing my siblings and I. Whether it was subconscious or intentional, I am really not sure, but as an adult I am trying to undo it all in my brain.

It was my older brother’s job to take out the garbage and help my father with the lawn and outdoor chores on Sundays. Every night I was in charge of setting the table for dinner, clearing it afterwards then loading the dishwasher. On Saturdays there was the dusting, vacuuming, folding the laundry, and polishing the furniture. My brother was never asked to do any of my chores and I never did any of his. I was not allowed to do a lot of things that were totally acceptable for him to do for reasons that are still unclear to me. I can still hear my father saying to me that it was ok for my brother to do those things because he was a boy. What I do remember is how aggravated I was to hear those words over and over again. What I really wanted to say was “who cares, boys suck.”


I grew up subconsciously learning about gender roles and followed those rules well into the beginning of my adult life because my ex-husband also strictly believed in them. The only time that he would let me take a paying job was when he was furloughed for a few months from his job with the union. Furlough pay was less than his regular salary, so in his mind I was making up the difference. He believed my place was home with the kids, which is where I wanted to be at that stage in their lives, so I didn’t complain too much. However once they were in school full time I thought I should be able to work again but he did not. Yet at the same time he was teaching me all of these skills that would be considered “man’s work” that no one would ever teach me before. I learned how to frame out a new room, paint, spackle walls, make a fire, shoot and clean a gun.

Fast forward to the life I live now with my wife. It was not until she came out to me and began to transition that I started to examine this part of me. I feel as though I never really thought about or examined my own gender, I guess that is because I never really questioned it in my own head. I have never had a problem lacing up my work boots and getting dirty, nor have I had an issue getting dressed up and doing my make-up for a fancy affair. However it is not so easy to flip that switch in an instant. Here I am still preforming all of the gender binary responsibilities that were expected of me years ago, yet my wife would like me to take over the dominant role. Sometimes I don’t know if I am coming or going.


I just happily received a chainsaw from my children for the holidays and in that same space made the most delicious holiday dinner. So here I am trying to sort it all out in my mixed up head. My wife likes when I take the lead, make the decisions, cut the lawn, and pursue her in the bedroom, but here I am still doing the major part of what was instilled in me as “the woman’s work.” Years before my wife came out to us, the kids always said that I wore the pants in the house and my wife was more like the princess. I guess they saw things that we clearly didn’t. Through the innocent eye of a child the world can be seen clearly.

I suppose that I am trying to figure out how to disobey the gender binary that I was taught as a child. How to remove all of those awful stereotypes that were installed in me from my parents and grandparents. I am fairly certain that for me, gender is fluid. And I believe that each and every one of us should live our own authentic truth.


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