September 04, 2015

More Than a Woman

I've never felt like I was born the wrong gender. As far as I know, I was born with one kind of private part, and I got to keep it. As far as I know, I have two X chromosomes, and that feels just about right.

But that doesn't mean I've always identified with women. Quite the opposite.

Sure, I like pink. A lot. As a preschooler, I was so vain about wearing nail polish that it helped me kick my nail-biting habit. I begged my mother to let me wear pantyhose and lipstick even before my older sister, and I pored over the cosmetics section of Wegman's while my parents shopped for groceries. When my mother refused to let me go to the affordable Piercing Pagoda kiosk at Shoppingtown Mall, I used my own allowance money to pay a doctor an inordinate amount of money to pierce my ears.

But I always admired men, and I mimicked them inexhaustibly.  I wore rainbow suspenders like Mork from Mork and Mindy. I worshipped the Fonz – not because I wanted to be his lover, but because I wanted to be him. And out of all the Pink Ladies, I would've chosen to be Rizzo, the butch-est of them all.

In truth, I'd probably rather be a T-Bird than a Pink Lady.

In fifth grade, I thought the coolest thing was to walk around with a comb in the back pocket of my jeans. I'd suffered for four years in Catholic schoolgirl skirts, my plump thighs rubbing together, my too-big white Sears underpants riding up with nothing to hold them in place. In jeans, I felt like a badass.

I knew I wasn't like the other girls in school, but I never thought that I wasn't a girl, nor that I wasn't meant to be a girl. I just had a broader definition of what being a girl meant. I could play with Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels. I could wear a red plastic fire helmet around the house and dress up like The Hulk for Halloween. The whole world was open to me. I could do whatever I wanted, and no one would question it. Well, not much.

If I had been born a boy and wanted to play with dolls and cars, they would've thought something was really wrong with me.

Yes, there are chromosomal and hormonal differences between the male and female genders. Men get the benefit of an X and a Y, and women get stuck with all X's. But women get to experience testosterone-fueled aggression and estrogen-linked dysphoria. We're lucky like that. There may be documented psychological differences between men and women, but they're not absolute. Can you be intellectually a woman? Can you be emotionally a woman? What does that even mean?

I've always felt more comfortable around humans of the male variety, from a very early age—preferring my father over my mother, and gravitating toward my godfather and uncles rather than my aunts. I went fishing with the guys instead of hanging out in the kitchen and helping the womenfolk with dinner. I didn't deny femininity altogether or spurn girlish conventions. I just embraced it all.

As I grew older, it seemed to me that I had a capacity to love all types of people, with complete disregard of their body parts. I didn't care what was in their jeans; I was attracted to how they treated me and what made them special human beings. Some were manly men; some were girly girls. Even more confusingly, some were boyish girls, and some were feminine boys, which kind of rendered the whole gender dispute a wash. They kind of just cancelled each other out and seemed the same to me.

Throughout my life, probably since puberty or so, I've occasionally had dreams in which I was a guy. In some cases, I was a male version of Sandi – me, but a dude, penis and all. But I was the same me. This dreamtime gender fluidity never disturbed me, and I never read much into it. After all, for a very long time, I wished I could trade my life with someone else's. (I kind of still do.) Why not a guy's?

I enjoy slipping into the costuming of a skydiver, a race car driver, and a construction worker. I love hard hats and belt buckles and cowboy boots and leather jackets. Might I wear a tuxedo one day?  Sure, bring on the top hat and tails, and I'll sing like Marlene Dietrich.

I have the luxury of being able to do it all, without being labeled a cross-dresser. Sometimes I think I deserve that label when I get my makeup done and wear a gown. That isn't reality for anybody. Pajama bottoms are reality. T-shirts are reality.

In those cases when a man takes on stereotypically "female" characteristics—whether as a sassy West Hollywood gay man snapping and strutting while calling out "Girlfriend!", or a drag queen hosting bingo at Hamburger Mary's, or a transgender celebrity extolling the virtues of embracing their true self as a dolled-up, half-naked cover girl—I recoil a bit. I can't relate to them. It's too much. It's a persona, not a person. It's some hyperbolic fantasy of womanhood that many of us natural born women can't live up to—a fantasy that perpetuates a comic book caricature of what we are or what we're supposed to be. We women are torn down when we live up to that expectation, and we are torn down when we don't.

I never classified myself as a tomboy, but I've definitely been considered "one of the guys" in several different groups of friends. In college, there were fraternities that joked about inducting me into their brotherhood because I fit in so well. In most "no girls allowed" scenarios—even up through adulthood—there's usually an unspoken "except Sandi" clause.

I embrace this. I don't question it. There are women who exhibit stereotypically male traits, and men who are in touch with their feminine side. I try to take what I like, and leave what I don't, regardless of which bucket it belongs in. I like people who are strong and confident and kind and loyal and caring and honest and trustworthy. I drink margaritas and straight bourbon. I enjoy chick flicks as much as action movies. I want to drive muscle cars and ride in horse-drawn carriages. I've flown a sailplane and then gone winetasting. I've taken my aggressions out at the shooting range, and then gone home and cried myself to sleep.

I am genetically and physically a woman. But I'm so much more than that.

Related Posts:
A Good Woman
Am I the Same Girl?
Just My Type
In Praise of the Nice Guy

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