Updated: Mar 22, 2020
Coming out as transgender meant that I've lost friends and family members. At the same time, being embraced for who I am has deepened the level of existing and new relationships in my life. Despite the difficult times, it truly has been a gift.
The last person on earth that I expected to be an ally is my grandma who lives in rural Missouri, the state where I was born and raised. My own mother makes transphobic comments when we talk on the phone (though I doubt she even notices) and constantly misgenders me.
Generally, I'm very patient and understand that folks need time and practice to get used to calling me by my chosen name and pronouns (he/him). My mother, however, would consistently misgender me without even noticing. One time, a year after coming out, she answered the phone and called me by my birth name. I asked her which name she had for me in her phone to which she replied my birth name. Hearing this made me sad. It gave me the impression she wasn't even making an effort. I imagined she was prioritizing her own comfort over mine.
To my surprise, my mother's mom calls me by my chosen name without hesitation. She'll even throw my name in there when she doesn't even need to say it. A cherry on top. Sometimes my birth name will slip from my grandma's mouth, but she'll catch herself immediately and repeat back my chosen name and move forward.
I've always had a soft spot for my grandma, but ever since coming out as trans and moving to California I've felt extra close with her. We talk on the phone now, something we didn't much of before. In fact, we talk more often now, and we share about our lives, our feelings, our dreams, spirituality, regrets, hopes, etc. She asks me open ended questions like "If you don't identify as a man, what are you transitioning into?" Rather than projecting her assumptions onto me, she asks with genuine curiosity and desire to connect, not control or judge. I value this relationship more than words can describe.
Today is my birthday and so my grandma and I connected on the phone for an hour (as we do). We talked about how it can be difficult to accept compliments from others - a universal struggle. I shared that I practice complimenting myself and sometimes it even brings me to tears, to which she replied "Oh no, don't cry! Big boys don't cry."
Oh the mixed feelings.
On one hand, yes it is extremely validating that she's referring to me as a boy. In fact, she even used "he" to refer to me during the conversation, which really filled my heart. I feel so seen and loved. On the other hand...well, toxic masculinity. It speaks for itself, right?
Not only do big boys cry, but little boys cry, teenage boys cry, elderly boys cry.
In fact, humans cry regardless of gender, ethnicity, or sex. Hearing these words felt like being squeezed inside of an accordion, expanding outward with the validation of being seen as a boy through my grandma's eyes, just to be shoved into a box of what not to do based on gender, knocking all the air out of me.
I actually identify as genderless. I understand gender to be a set of rules and expectations. Like a game that you play. Gender has roles. Examples (of more traditional gender roles) are men making money and women doing the laundry or cooking. Of course, there are less traditional versions of gender roles, like men expecting to be tough and strong or women expecting to provide emotional labor or be sweet and social.
I deeply believe that people possess the autonomy to do whatever makes them happy (assuming it does not cause harm). Some people like playing the gender game, it brings them a sense of identity or joy. I'm truly happy for those people. My experience with this game was not super fun or enjoyable, so I play a different game. I make up my own rules, called there are no rules. My gender does not exist because I identify as human, which cannot be categorized into what I can and cannot do.
I might cook, I might clean, I might cry, I might get angry, I might lead, I might follow. There is no rulebook for how to human. I just human. Never will I tell another human how to human. You might identify as a man and also cry, cook or clean. You might identify as a woman and be assertive, a leader, the bread winner.
Though I have stopped labeling my physical body as feminine or masculine (it's just a body), I'm delighted to redefine "masculinity" through how I live. If my grandma has been taught by life that men don't cry, now she knows one that does. I'm showing what is possible. The world doesn't have to be black or white.
I break the rules because I write my own rulebook based off of what brings me joy. I'm not restricted to the men's section or the women's section when I go shopping. My guide to clothing is my heart. Does this bring me joy to wear? Put it on me!
Does it bring me joy to cook? Yay, let's chef it up! My intuition is my compass. I listen to my body, not what people tell me I should or shouldn't do. Besides, who made up that rule book? I think it's time for a revision.
What games do you like to play?