The Scarlet "Q"

I have recently realized that I am totally Queer. Honestly, I was offended when I first discovered this. Just because I don’t let conventional gender roles get in the way of how I want to live, I’m considered "Queer?!" How dare you! I always knew my lifestyle was a bit unconventional and different from the stereotypical woman, but I didn't think I was Queer. I now accept that within Western cultural guidelines, I am definitely Queer, with a capital 'Q.' It took a while for me to adjust to this label and I have decided to embrace it.

As a kid, I hated knowing that being a girl meant I was supposed to conform to the conservative female gender role. My mother pressured me to wear dresses and florals, but I was much happier in my brother's hand-me-down corduroys and t-shirts. I could tell this disappointed her. My grandmother used to comment on how I ate by saying, "you'll never get a husband if you chew like that!” In my mind, I would respond, “f–– you, I’ll eat how I want.” I love my food and no one shall tell me how to enjoy it! I remained assertive in my conventions, but my self-confidence was usually framed as less desirable behaviors for a young lady, in terms like stubborn or hardheaded.

Even as an adult, I have experienced not-so-subtle jabs at my self-expression. My mother used to criticize my appearance by suggesting to me that my male partner, "might want to see me dressed in something more feminine every once in a while." When I had gotten a large tattoo on my shoulder she couldn't help but let me know that it, "makes me look like I have man-arms." Compliments on my appearance would generally be given in a backhanded way like, "you have such a cute figure, why don't you ever show it off?" On the rare occasion when I decided to look especially feminine (lipstick, dress, the whole shebang), I would receive genuine praise. The matriarchs in my family tried to push me into the classically feminine gender role through carefully calculated shame and praise for years. I know they were reacting in the only way they knew how, and I forgive them for it. In more recent months, it seems that my mother has finally accepted that I'm not going to change, but only time will tell.

In addition to the social pressures from my immediate family, there has been another persistent point of contention regarding my gender identity, the women's bathroom symbol. This particular image might seem innocuous to most people; however, I found it incredibly isolating that the universal symbol for women is a pictogram of a person in a dress. The message I inferred from this symbol was, and still is, "if you don't wear dresses, or basically look like a cartoon version of what men envision when they think of a woman, you aren't one." This symbol exists in virtually every public space and is a constantly present reminder that I do not belong to this club.

In the 1990s, "The Girl Power," movement began the third wave of feminism. It renewed my faith in what it meant to be female. Women were united in challenging gender norms and bias and redefining "womanhood, beauty, sexuality, femininity, and masculinity" (Britannica). If you're old enough, you probably remember seeing the phrase "Girls Kick Butt/Ass," plastered all over everything during this time. The young, adolescent me really latched on to this message. To me, it meant that I could be free to exhibit my "masculine" characteristics (such as toughness and assertiveness) and be accepted as a woman.

Today, when I consider all the arbitrary rules, sexism, discrimination, and other troubles that persist when it comes to sex or or gender, I don't want to participate. That is why I abstain from identifying as female or male. I am a person before a sex or gender. My body and its parts do not define me. I have one life and one body – this should not limit me (or anyone) from having a fulfilling life and experiencing the world and the opportunities it has to offer, regardless of sex or gender.

My appearance and behavior reflect the fact that I don't want to be defined as female or male. I have always been slightly androgynous because I do not follow traditional or typical women's aesthetics. I keep my hair short and don't wear much makeup. I also don't make my breasts, a hallmark of femininity, especially noticeable. My activities, interests, dress, body language, speech, etc. have always been a mix of both the "traditional genders."

Most people in the United States still abide by typical gender roles and expression (especially in the midwest, where I'm from). Some regions are more accepting of personal expression than others. The way I look can be bewildering to folks depending on the emotional and cultural intelligence of the region. I have learned this from having experience living in both liberal and conservative environments. I am aware that there are individuals with a higher emotional and cultural intelligence quotient than is typically found in conservative regions. I don't mean to make generalizations on the character of all individuals based on the majority.

culturally liberal region

Occasionally, people call me "sir" before getting a good look at me. They're usually immediately apologetic after making this mistake. I understand how this could happen since I don't match the typical silhouette of what the stereotypical woman looks like – so I don't take offense when I have been innocently misgendered.

culturally conservative region

Every once in awhile, people refer to me as an "it", or a "that." When I entered the line of sight of these people, they must have lost any sense of tact they previously possessed. They might as well have called me "it"directly, as it was said loud enough and in my general direction (while pointing at me). There is never an apology, just awkward silence and confused looks. It really hurts when a stranger offers the same amount of respect to me as they might have for an inanimate object.

Since my appearance has been consistently confusing for people no matter the cultural or geographic region I am in (although, to different degrees). This prompted me to do some research to find out why. I came to find my gender status is and always has been, Queer.

enough about my idiosyncrasies, let’s get into the meaty brisket of this issue – for everyone.

Sadly, even in these modern times, many adults abstain or feign interest in certain activities, dress, behaviors, life events, and actively work to seem normal. No one should have to make themselves invisible or let their truth be known only in a whisper to make everyone else comfortable. No person should have to go through life "reigning-it-in" only to be moderately tolerated by the predominating culture given to us by old, white men – or as they commonly known, the patriarchy.

Tolerance is a dangerous thing. It is synonymous with enduring which is quite different than acceptance, and when it comes to personal differences, tolerance cultivates the perfect environment for contempt. We can dislike or disagree with another person's lifestyle and move beyond tolerance and practice acceptance. Acceptance allows room for us to disagree (even on a fundamental level) while maintaining respect for the other person. We need to work on letting go of our preconceived notions of what another person "should be" (as dictated by the dominating culture) and not try to change or persuade others to meet the needs of our insecurities. Other people's lives aren't about making you more comfortable.

I believe these ideas are most important when it comes to the next generations. Since I have made the choice not to become a parent, I have no personal experience in this area. I can only reiterate a few things that resonated with me from an article by Lindsay King-Miller, Interrogating Femmephobia. Today, when boys show any sign of femininity, it is a weakness; and if girls display too much masculinity is sometimes praised but often reigned in by parents (as to not challenge or upset the boys). We need to actively protect our sons and daughters from "compulsory masculinity and femininity." Children shouldn’t be actively directed away from things that are traditionally masculine or feminine but allowed to develop their own interests and preferences.

If there is such a thing as gender neutrality, it can’t be obtained by carefully splicing together bits of femininity and masculinity. Neutrality isn’t a mathematical average. Neutrality is a wilderness of gender, growing wherever it finds ground, flourishing, reaching for the sky (King-Miller).

It is critical that we move away from standard heteronormative gender roles when expecting to raise children into functional, well-adjusted adults. It is the duty of parents, family members, and other caregivers to only assist when it comes to helping a child form their identity (answer and ask questions, present new ideas and learning opportunities, etc.). It is important to let children be who they are, rather than pressuring them to live up to expectation of what the parent(s) think they should be. Vain attempts to mold your offspring into the "ideal person" or help them "fit in" will not ultimately give them the easier life you may be hoping to curate for them.

Children should not be deprived of autonomy as they grow their individuality through exploration, inquiry, and play. We need to allow boys to develop soft skills so they may become good fathers, caregivers, and practice being comfortable doing domestic tasks. We need to let our girls practice more technical and analytical skills so they become assertive, confident, and self-reliant.

Forcing binary gender roles on children, or anyone for that matter, is oppressive and ends up making the world less safe for everyone by filling it with self-hating, confused, emotionally stunted, abusive, and repressed people when they become adults. Give your children a chance to have "a childhood they don't have to recover from" (Pam Leo).

Today more, and more parents are starting to adopt gender-neutral parenting, I applaud them for it; unfortunately, it is still considered a radical idea.

As a society, we need to give up the belief that specific aspects of the human condition belong solely to either men or women – and rarely both. The actions, emotions, dress, and choices made by a person are masculine or feminine through origin, not societal or cultural norms. It is masculine for a boy or man to cry and express emotion because he is a male. It is feminine for a girl or woman to be assertive or aggressive because she is a female (Fiona Asokacitta).

There is a natural inclination for humans to label and split everything into categories and subcategories within all facets of our environment. However, we must refrain from limiting the entire, complex identity of a person into binary categories, as it is fundamentally toxic. No living thing can flourish when restricted by such rigid boundaries. Training people from an early age to edit themselves to fit in and judge others only perpetuates the cycle of hate.

The way forward obviously isn't to stick with the status quo. Say "NO!" to old conventions, live your life your way and be unapologetically YOU, start today (allow your children to do so as well)! As humans, we cannot lead a fulfilling life or be fully content without being able to express ourselves genuinely and fully in all respects (and allow others to do so as well). Let yourself and others enjoy things and explore without bringing personal identity into question.

For now, if you are like me and live outside the role of a cis-gendered person, you might be considered queer (unless you already know your different association with the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ acronym). Even though I am straight in my sexual orientation, I still bear the "Scarlet Q", courtesy of our current culture. I hope one day it all changes and we can just be who we are without the need to question, label, and classify ourselves like we do today.

P.S. Let boys enjoy the color pink! It's just a muted red, which is a considered"masculine" color. There. Pink even fits with your stupid gender roles that somehow encompass the visible electromagnetic spectrum. Why would you deny another human the joy of one specific color because of what type of genitals they have? Colors don't symbolize sex or gender - they are just colors. Get over it!

I realize my privilege in writing this: who I am, how I look, what my place is in a class society, the geographic region in which I live, and how mostly not difficult my life is. It is only my wish that we could all live in acceptance of one another. I do not tolerate hatefulness or bigotry and will always do what is in my power to stand up for vulnerable peoples (and animals).


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