by Hollis Taylor
“Trust me, I am sure your penis isn’t long enough to support you in lifting this!” The sarcastic words that I mumbled under my breath as I walked away from some guy insisting he would load the mattress in my car. Just one example of why I walk away.
Does genitalia dictate your abilities and experiences? Is assuming things about people an act of violence or aggression?
In everyday life I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my gender until I am triggered by an implied gender role. There are some times that I think about it when I am getting dressed so I can present how I am feeling on any given day. Again though, even dressing, is triggered by how I will be seen socially – therefore implied gender roles. In my everyday life I usually present as a butch female, at least I know that is how most of society sees me. I have experimented with various presentations and this is usually the most comfortable for me right now. I think I settle for it because I am still in the last stages of my natural transition and weight loss. So I think right now I end up appearing more feminine although I aim for a more androgynous look. These days I sometimes confuse people although I need to work on lowering my voice again, its a dead giveaway recently.
Regardless of my gender expression I find myself very defensive in a particular situation. When I am assumed to not be able to do something because of my “genitalia” it will infuriate me. I noticed that recently feeling more and more of the binary coming down on me – it is even a more sensitive place for me. I was buying a large piece of furniture with my wife the other day and the man implied that he was better able to load it into my car. As if I couldn’t lift this 50-75 lb item, even though I clearly said 3 times I could take care of it. It gets under my skin in a way that I have a hard time keeping my cool. This is rather unusual for me these days as I strive to be peaceful most of the time. No one is perfect and regardless of my attempts at being peaceful this just pushes all the buttons. That day I walked away. Other times I hear the sharp tongue of my mother come out of my mouth with superb sarcasm that could lash a wound in almost anyone. I am often disappointed in myself for allowing this to get under my skin.
I sometimes want to scream out my messages about gender roles across the room so everyone can hear and learn. But I realize that even for an open mind the ideas I am presenting are hard to grasp. Most traditional lesbians take the point of view that gender doesn’t matter, some don’t get it and others just dismiss it. I see gender as a form of oppression of everyone that lives in a society with gender roles. For me forcing me to fit into a gender role is one way to get under my skin, real fast. I think the reason that gender DOES matter right now is because gender roles exist. If gender roles didn’t exist than I would have less issues with this sort of thing. Its about the implication that since you have assumed my genitalia is a vagina based on the tone of my voice and my chest leads them to conclude that I cannot load a 75 lb mattress into my car, know what I am looking at under the hood of a car or operate machinery. They make this assumption without knowing my experiences or my current level of fitness. That’s the part that infuriates me, the assumptions and implied gender roles.
In reality I work out daily and 50-75 lbs is not that big of a deal – worked with my then mechanic husband on cars for over 15 years – and operated all sorts of heavy machinery including fork lifts of all kinds. Currently I am working on a sort of natural transition for my body and that leads me to exercise and work out as much as possible. I want an androgynous body and work out at least 3 times a week towards this new body image. I also am doing a lot of work with food and emotional eating. I also was married to a man that never assumed anything by my vagina and at the tender age of 13 when we started dating he handed me a wrench. He introduced me to everything in that race car and showed me how to do it. He assumed I would get grease on me and that I was more than capable of removing an alternator. He was perfectly fine with me cutting the grass on the large riding mower. He taught me to drive a manual transmission, an 18 wheeler truck, and other heavy machinery. I learned to drive a fork lift under his training at the warehouse we both worked at, he was in charge of everyone’s license. He was in charge of training people and helping them get a license. I know my way around cars and heavy machinery. I can use tools but am way better with computers!
Interestingly, I am not the only one who struggles with type of oppression. I know many feminists, regardless of gender expression or orientation, find this gender role behavior to upset them to various degrees. I notice though almost none of them say anything out loud to the perpetrator who is telling us we can’t do it because we have female genitalia! Really? So the sadistic part of me wants to lash out at them about their penis but that’s just because it makes me angry, which is why I walk away. Instead I want to formulate a response that will help me speak my mind but at the same time not completely offend someone. I don’t want to make enemies and 2 wrongs don’t make a right. I have used “I am very capable.” with a very strong tone behind it but often its dismissed with a “I know I know but I can do it FOR you” This is the point in which I walk away.
I want to stop them and tell them what I am capable of doing. I want to explain that what they are doing is oppressing me as a female and making assumptions. The assumption that because of my genitalia I cannot lift heavy things, handle what’s under the hood of my car or operate machinery safely. It would simply lead to argument and this is no way to make peace. This is my stumbling block but for sure one way is to show that they have offended me, I will not pretend that they have NOT offended me, ever again. I can do that without saying a word. In the meantime I contemplate a way to handle the position that leaves me with my integrity and allows for them to walk away with a better understanding and compassionate perspective. Is that asking too much?