I am at my father’s house in the Midwest this week helping my siblings take care of Dad while his live-in caregiver is out of town. It’s not always easy to be here. There are many reminders of my former self, my female self, in this house. My father, for example, who has dementia, still sees me as his daughter and calls me by my female name even though I have medically and socially transitioned to male. I’ve written about this before.
The majority of the physical reminders of my previous life are in my bedroom, the room where I slept, dressed and did my homework while I was growing up in the 1960s and ’70s. And as with almost all the other times I’ve come home since I left the Midwest in 1986, I am staying in my childhood bedroom right now. The former light fixture, a white, basket-ball sized glass globe dotted with yellow daisies, has been replaced with a ceiling fan, the orange curtains finally disintegrated a few years ago, the bed has been upgraded a number of times and the color of the walls has been changed. Relics from my former life, however, especially from my childhood, are still around. Some of these items are stashed in boxes in the closet whereas others are sitting out on the bookshelves in plain sight, like this white ceramic unicorn.
I think I leave this sitting out where I can see it because that causes me to reflect on my childhood, and for some reason my mind seems to want to go through that exercise. I guess I’m still trying to make sense of it all or to connect to emotions that I wasn’t allowing myself to feel at the time. But in these past few days, a recent blog post has me wondering about the significance of this unicorn in a different way. So first, let’s be honest. Some of you out there, when you first saw the image of the white unicorn, may have thought something along the lines of, “Now wait a minute. If he has a masculine gender, then why would he, as a boy, have been interested in something as ‘girly’ as unicorns?”
Actually, my early childhood interests (that I can remember) started out rather typically “boyish.” I had a favorite truck that I liked so much when I was about 4 years old that I bought one just like it when I saw it in an antiques shop. As I got older, my interests encompassed what might be considered both typically boyish and girlish. Dolls were out of the question, but baseball, football, unicorns and winged horses were in.
Now all of this may be a gender-stereotypical way of looking at the interests of children, which is something I usually argue against, but for the past few days, I have to admit that I’ve been thinking of this unicorn and my other childhood reminders in exactly that way, and it’s due to a blog post that I read.
The post is titled And He Learned. It’s about the ways our society teaches boys and men to think about girls and women. One passage in particular got me to thinking about the interests of my childhood:
When one of the neighbor kids painted his nails, they got angry. That wasn’t something boys did. And he learned that there were different rules for boys and girls, and that breaking those made people upset.
I knew first hand about that! Any behavior that was deemed inappropriate for a child’s perceived gender (i.e. biological sex) could really get a kid in trouble in the 1960s. Not that it’s much different for many children today, and that’s what the post And He Learned is about, at least in part.
So now, after reading this blog post, I asked myself, did I like unicorns because I just liked them, or because I thought I had to like them in order to be the girl that everyone expected me to be? Acting the “right” way helped me to stay out of what I’ll call gender-trouble. But if I truly did like unicorns and I was allowed to openly demonstrate that because it was okay for a ‘girl,’ then how many boys are not able to openly pursue their true interests because they get into gender-trouble for acting “too much like a girl”?
I have been reflecting back on my feelings and interests from that time, and my conclusion is that I simply liked unicorns. In fact, one of my favorite books was Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, a beautifully written, enchanting story. I still have my copy from childhood.
To be completely transparent, I hesitated to make this admission here because I envisioned some troll questioning my gender because I liked unicorns as a kid, and gee, what “real” boy would like unicorns?
But that is exactly the point.
If I “got away with” liking unicorns because everyone thought I was a girl, then I feel sad for all the boys who have not been allowed to be themselves or pursue their interests because those interests are viewed as too feminine. What an awful way for a child to be constrained.
And that leads to one reason (out of many) why trans people are important. We represent freedom of authenticity. As we become more visible and more accepted, we help society push gender boundaries and tear down gender-based stereotypes so kids, trans or not, can follow their interests and their hearts and not be restricted, limited, ostracized, punished or bullied for simply being themselves. When all children are allowed to be themselves, they can avoid carrying those gender stereotypes into adulthood, and maybe then there will be no more reason for anyone to write blog posts like And He Learned.