Reader NancyP writes:
Boys don’t want to imagine themselves as girls because they see themselves as more important than girls, and because they have to prove and be secure in their masculinity. Any non-masculine endeavor will make a junior high or high school boy an outcast, a target of bullies.
I’m sure that this is absolutely true. However, yet again, we are seeing only half of the picture. Girls and adult women castigate females who depart in any way from the stereotypes of femininity as swiftly as boys and men punish the “traitors” to their gender identity. No matter how much you hypercompensate with hair, makeup, shoes, skirts and dresses, if you are not openly emotional, if you privilege career over relationships, if you value financial independence, if you break up with men the moment they stop being completely perfect and just move on very easily, you will be told, “Oh, Clarissa, you are such a man!” And that isn’t said admiringly, to put it very mildly.
The reason for such attitudes – that, once again, are identical among men and women – is that people cling to their stereotypes because stereotypes make the world seem more understandable. This is not about men despising women. This is about people feeling threatened by the idea that the most basic binary that they use to explain the humanity at large might be completely useless. If the gender identity as a meaningful set of characteristics is gone, one is left with the need to elaborate a way of being in the world completely from scratch.
This is one of the reasons behind transphobia. I always think about this when I hear the favorite transphobic “pronoun objection.” I’m sure you’ve heard it more than once. “So how am I supposed to keep track of which pronouns to use when speaking about my friend now that she identifies as a female?” a transphobe asks. This question always sounds so desperate and so emotionally charged that one might think we are talking about a language with thousands of pronouns. The pronouns are not the problem here, though. The real question that the terrified transphobe wants to ask is, “If the pronouns only mean what we want them to mean, then who am I? Who is going to assign me the part and give me the lines to memorize and to deliver?”
Of course, one could always be grateful to one’s transgender friends for showing that the oppressive, reductive binary is not set in stone. That, however, requires the enormous courage of facing the possibility of a life that doesn’t follow a script one has been handed at birth.