To be quite honest, one of the many issues I have struggled with my entire life is how I dress. Actually, it’s not an issue about how I dress myself; it’s an issue with how others perceive me based on my choice of dress. And let me be clear here that when I say how I dress, I’m NOT referring to the clothing item known as a dress. Oh no, you won’t catch me in one of “those.”
I remember as a kid and later in my life enjoying the television program, “Little House on the Prairie.” I liked everything about the Ingalls’ family and living so simply in life. I realized how similar I was to the character “Laura.” I, too, got dirty and played in the mud, wrestled with boys, caught fish, played ball and won, worked hard, ran fast and all of the other great activities she enjoyed. The only thing amiss was the inherent gender roles.
If I had grownup in those times, I could have never adopted without question the accepted female gender roles. I would have been kicking and screaming the entire time. Well, that is how my own life has been. I don’t accept the more common female gender roles now. I don’t have long hair, I don’t wear dresses or skirts, I don’t wear make-up, I don’t wear jewelry, I hate the color pink…the list continues. Does this make me any less of a female? Of course not! At least I don’t think so.
My entire life, even at the doorstep of 50 years old, I still hear the same question, “Are you a boy?” No, I’m not. I have heard every reference you can imagine. I’ve been in the checkout line at a store and have been addressed by the individual standing behind me (male or female) stating, “Sir?” I have entered the women’s restroom to have another woman tell me, “This is the ladies restroom.” And, just like today, I have been asked at least a 100 times, “Are you a boy?”
It used to be that my reaction was always the same. I never responded, I merely reacted. I would dismiss and not answer. I would avoid all events or situations that might lead to these questions. I would only shop for the clothes I like to wear (in the men’s section), when no one was around. I learned what stores had dressing rooms where I wouldn’t be “put on the spot.” I learned many ways to deal, or avoid, these uncomfortable interactions.
What is most difficult is that they are completely spontaneous. I will hold my breath tight in an expected arena, and then be relieved when I was able to let out a collective sigh. However, it still happens anywhere at anytime. It happened today. I was standing in line at a store to return an item. There was a small line to wait (as always). A mother and her son were standing in front of me. I happened to be wearing what I am usually wearing – jeans, tshirt, athletic shoes, and a baseball cap (I was having a bad hair day!). The young boy was quietly playing with his lego toy. All of a sudden, he turned and faced me directly and stated, “Are you a boy?”
Quite a number of years ago that would have led to an overwhelming sense of panic and fear, as well as embarrassment. I would have most likely fled the store. The boy’s mother was quite embarrassed and immediately began to admonish her son and told him to apologize. First, it was extremely difficult for me to get upset by his question because I was so incredibly impressed with how quietly he had been playing and how well this mother was parenting and supervising him.
I digress. I immediately interrupted the young mother and told her it was OK. She began to apologize and mumbled something else and then I turned to the young boy to explain. I told him why I like to wear baseball caps and I told him why I always wear an Oregon State University Beavers hat! Then I reassured him that it is difficult to tell sometimes whether someone is a boy or a girl. I told him it was OK and I wasn’t upset (well, not angry anyway). Thinking about this now, I am quite certain the young mother discussed this matter with her son after they left the store (kudos to you, mom!).
I can state with some certainty that as the reader, you have already picked up on the fact that I wasn’t and I am still not 100% OK with this specific situation or any others like it that inevitably occur. It has literally taken me decades to realize that this is who I am. I pay for my own clothes and thus I will wear whatever I want. I have always dressed appropriately for my various jobs in the past, as I think everyone should. However, at this point in my life, I wear what I like and what is comfortable and what I can afford (not necessarily in that specific order). If someone doesn’t like it or approve of it, that is their problem, not mine.
However, here I am standing at the door of hitting 50 years old and I still get asked about my gender. I know there are factors that contribute to many folks’ uncertainty and frankly their own insecurities. I am 5’10” and I am big boned, having broad shoulders and I stand up perfectly straight. I am not one of those people who naturally has a smile on my face. That doesn’t mean I’m crabby, it just means I don’t have all those wrinkles already. I have always been assertive in nature and sometimes aggressive when necessary. I’m not afraid of anyone or anything. Well, that’s a ton of confidence in a small paragraph.
I know I can be intimidating. I know my words and actions are misconstrued. I know I have stepped on a lot of toes in my first 50 years and I will probably step on just as many in my next 50 years (not usually on purpose). However, none of this makes me less of a female. Yes, I have all of the sexual organs of a female. No, I don’t want to be a man. However, yes I tend to like more masculine things than feminine. No, I am not a boy.
As someone who suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), I exhibit seven of the nine symptoms wherein only five are required for this diagnosis. As taken from the NAMI website (https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Borderline-Personality-Disorder ):
“Borderline personality disorder is ultimately characterized by the emotional turmoil it causes. People who have it feel emotions intensely and for long periods of time, and it is harder for them to return to a stable baseline after an emotionally intense event.”
The word “intense” is a relative term. What I mean is that what is experienced as an intense event by one person can be completely dismissed by another. This is in addition to the fact that everyone diagnosed with BPD feels and deals with those emotionally intense events differently. A couple of decades ago, in this same situation, I would have come directly home, completely isolated myself and maybe even engaged in some form of self-harm. Today, I came home and found myself reflecting on the situation.
Yes, it still bothers me today. No, it isn’t going to send me over the edge careening into the dark abyss. It does make me think about all of the other women such as myself who deal with this on a constant basis as well. I wonder how all of those women deal with it. I wonder how difficult it is for them. I wonder how much it fills their heads with self doubt and an incredible amount of unnecessary self awareness.
No, I would tell them, “You’re not a boy. You’re just like me and you’re just fine!”