Defined by Gender
By: Selina Boquet
As a little girl I was never allowed to watch any cartoons with magic in them, for fear that they would somehow turn me into a witch. While shielding me from the sorcery in Care Bears, my over-protective mother failed to imagine the influence that Punky Brewster would have upon me. Her tomboy ways made my cheeks flush as I gazed in admiration. More than twenty years later, I still have the same type. My girlfriend looks just like her.
When I was seventeen, I fell in love with Ellie. She was my first real kiss and I was so relieved. Any other kind of romantic relationship with a boy that my mom pushed me into felt so awkward and foreign. When I was with Ellie I felt pure serenity. We were both deathly afraid of my mother’s Southern Baptist Values and Heavy Texan Hand. My mother made no mistake as to her beliefs on homosexuals. She prayed for their damned souls just as she prayed for the child molesters and the murderers.
At age 18, I told my mom I wanted to move out. She said that the only way I could leave the house was if I was married to a man. No daughter of hers was going to be one of those slutty girls who lived by themselves. When I met Omar, I knew that he was my ticket out of a bad situation. We married six weeks after we met.
Marital stereotypes construed my understanding of a healthy marriage. When you grow up and get married you’re miserable. Married people don’t have sex. And if they do, the wives always have headaches and are unsatisfied with little sexual desire. My marriage fit those misconceptions perfectly. In my innocent viewpoint of the world, the dysfunctional marriages I saw around me were my only comparison. I was unhappy. I was normal. I filed away the attraction to girls that I had felt since early in life into the category of experimentation.
I chose not to see that the things or people that we are attracted to in our youth are the same things and people we are attracted to when we grow up. Social-learning theorists tell us that children are able to identify gender as early as two years old. However, gender is fluid until the age of seven years old. That is when learned gender stereotypes are adapted and most children adhere to the societal expectations of their gender. This is easy for the majority of people who fit into those two categories. For the rest of us, it can be the beginning of a life-long challenge to find our place in society.
As I watch my own kids grow up, I see gender roles being forced upon them. Their father is one of the main culprits. Because of his insecurities of his own sexuality, he makes sure that Ezekiel and Savana are neatly compartmentalized into girl and boy boxes. I know that Ezekiel would enjoy taking ballet with his sister, yet even though I encourage him to do so, he’s paralyzed by the fact that he would be the only boy.
Society has suggested and his father has confirmed that boys don’t like ballet. However, little do most people know that when ballet first began and for more than three hundred years after, women only stood around in their corsets and hooped dresses, while the men were the main dancers. In fact, The Austin Ballet states that the pointing of the foot, which is the foundation for all five ballet positions, was created so that King Louis XIV could show off his shiny shoe buckle when he played the Sun God in Le Ballet de la Nuit. Society’s definition of masculinity has completely flipped since the 15th century. The mainstream definition of gender and sexual identity is enforced by popular thought, which leaves us pigeonholed and restricted from exploring ourselves freely.
Ezekiel’s struggle reminds me of my own as I pleaded with my grandpa to be allowed to drive the four-wheeler on the farm. My cousin Bubba Jack was my age when he started to drive the four-wheeler, but that just was not allowed for girls. My hope is that someday soon human beings will evolve to an androgynous society where everyone can choose what and whom they love and feel no shame for following their heart’s desire.
When it comes down to it, we are all people. Although there are many commonalities between people with the same genitalia, no one can put a stamp on a group of people because of their physical appearance. Sandra Bem, from the University of Nebraska, asserts that research shows ‘exaggerated gender-specific behavior severely limits the intellectual and emotional development of both men and women’. When you define a person by their character and not by their gender, only then can you expect to authentically know that person, and not simply a reflection of false gender roles, acquired by conformation to the societal norm.
When I came out to my mom, she cried that it was all her fault that I was gay. If she wouldn’t have forced me into relationships with guys, I wouldn’t despise it so. Being in bad relationships with guys did not turn me into a lesbian, just as secretly watching the Care Bears behind my mom’s back did not turn me into a witch. Likewise, my crush on Punky Brewster was not the beginning of learning how to be gay, yet a sign that love sees no gender.
When we are told what and whom we may love, it restricts us as human beings. Coming out of the closet does not mean that you change teams or that you become gay. It simply means that you decide to shed the gender roles enforced upon you in order to reveal your true self. That being said, there is no moment when you realize you are gay; instead there is a moment when you realize that you are the person who defines your sexuality and not the society in which you live.