Gendering activities is stupid. We all know that, but we do it anyway. It’s part of our cultural programming, the same way people who don’t believe in god will still invoke a deity when stressed or as an expletive. We can’t help it. We also can’t help but trawl our pasts for validation: those moments we did the things typically associated with us in the now. This can be anything from how we like to work, interact with authority, or what we find off putting. Of course, we do that with gender.
A common thread in transgender histories is a focus on those things we did that affirmed or confirmed our gender. It’s a thing that helps us in our insecurity: transitioning is demoralising and we need anchors to keep our resolve. Recently, I’ve written about the girly things I did, how I wanted to interact with girls and what things people did to push me back to the ‘boy’ side of the gender line.
> "OF COURSE, I DID BOY STUFF. I DID BOY STUFF AND REALLY ENJOYED DOING IT."
Of course, I did boy stuff. I did boy stuff and really enjoyed doing it. I played with guns. I had sword fights with toy- and improvised blades. I had trucks and He-Man. Ninja Turtles were a particular favourite. My Lego creations were full of space equipment: starships, super weapons, vehicles, robots. At one point I built a space station that took up all the space of my bedroom floor. All this boy stuff, and I loved every minute of it.
I can justify it by saying my only constant playmates growing up were my brothers, both very close in age. I could say how there weren’t other children around and that I struggled to make friends in school of any gender, so I found my own way. That would all be true, but not in a way that diminishes my enjoyment of these things. I was a girl. I enjoyed a bunch of boy stuff.
Being perceived male meant I didn’t have any pressure to do anything else. Nobody worried about my girliness as I ran around fighting my brothers with sticks. If anything, being perceived male pushed me deeper into a closed world of pretend. Enter fantasy games. First pretending inspired by books, then on the computer, and finally Dungeons & Dragons (and the many other games of its type).
I could say it was my mother that instilled a thirst for fantasy and escapism; that it was her computer that I first played on. These things are true, but the pursuits are still considered boy stuff. I find no validation in diminishing the perception; I find satisfaction in diminishing the genderisation of activities because binarism is oppressive. I did boy stuff, inspired by the strong female role model that is my mother.
The irony is that I endured pressure to be boyish despite my wide palette of boy stuff I enjoyed. There never seems to be a point where a person is boyish or girly enough. Computers, plus games, minus sport? Not boyish enough. Barbies, plus skipping rope, minus keeping oneself neat? Not girly enough. Gender is rigidly enforced for reasons unclear; nobody conforms utterly to gender expectations.
There’s the other layer of unacceptability to most of my boy stuff hobbies: they’re largely geeky ones. Hobbies that blurred the gender line just a little bit, but still landed on the male dominated side of the line. Maybe that was what appealed? Except my brothers shared those interests, so it couldn’t have been that. No, I just loved these things.
As I moved into high school, I found myself in the company of theatre geeks. I wasn’t much of a performer, but it fed off my escapist hobbies. Besides, you found more girls doing theatre than D&D. I liked being in female company, so drama class was where I landed. Plenty of boys though, and we appreciated our mutual love of sci fi, fantasy, computers and anything else we could find to be anyone else, anywhere else. Boy stuff? Largely. Male affirming? No. The manly men were playing sport and ridiculing our geeky lot, often by calling the boys that did it less than. Unworthy of their gender.
I’m nearly forty now, and I still love my boy stuff. I love my role-playing, fantasy and sci fi. I still play with my brothers (though we’re no longer swinging sticks at each other). Ninja Turtles are nostalgia; He-Man is hilarious to look back on (remember Stinkor?). Apart from a couple of dark years, I look back on my childhood fondly. Nobody stole my girlhood from me. I had a blast.
> "MAYBE I’M SO AT HOME WITH IT BECAUSE I WASN’T AWARE OF MY GENDER DIFFERENCES UNTIL MUCH LATER."
Maybe I’m so at home with it because I wasn’t aware of my gender differences until much later. I knew I preferred the company of girls and wanted to emulate my mother. I knew I wasn’t happy in my appearance. I didn’t know I was a girl. Maybe. But now I know, don’t really see how my girlhood could have happened any differently. Perhaps I would have a different oldest friend. Could be I would have been expected to play with his sister? Except she was much younger than I was, so the odds are long.
Perhaps I am lucky in that I can look back on my girlhood and find it full of adventure, passion, and fun. It wasn’t perfect — some of it was quite horrible — but I’m coming to understand that I am what I am. I was what I was and none of that makes me any less of a woman today. I don’t need to mark specifically girly things about me as a kid: I was a girl, perceived as such or not. That makes me girly.
If a person finds confirmation or affirmation in their past activities by gendering them, that’s fine. People need all the ammunition they can get transitioning in a hostile world. But before we let ourselves get too upset about our lost childhoods, it’s important to remember that we were ourselves in those moments, whether we knew what we were or not.
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