From the moment I was born, the doctor exclaimed, Es ist eine Maedchen! This is German for, It’s a girl and I had zero input on that statement. Although, society treated me according to my gender, I have always identified as feminine. Even though this is how I identify, I was never discouraged from doing anything that was considered masculine or not considered typical girl behavior. I believe that gender identity was always a non-issue in my life. I lived my life without perceiving any kind of judgment from my family or close community. I don’t remember ever feeling societal pressure growing up either.
I had hoped and thought that everyone could live that way. I wouldn’t say I was na??ve but I just didn’t understand why anyone would have to conform to a way of life that wasn’t a true representation of oneself. I read this assignment and brainstormed for a few days before realizing that I wouldn’t have anything substantial to write about because I was always encouraged to play, behave and feel however I perceived when it comes to gender roles. Before I get into my own personal story, I would like to define both the terms; gender and sex. Throughout the rest of the paper, I will elaborate on my childhood experiences, share a story about a moment with a friend who felt societal and family pressure on his gender identity and how my experiences influenced how I am raising my own child.
According to Newman, gender as one’s psychological identity, feminine and masculine, while sex is a biological assignment associated with chromosomes and genitals (Newman, 2018). I have always identified with both my gender and sex. I was born and raised in Heidelberg, Germany and I was very fortunate to live a life where no one cared if kids under the age of 12 ran around naked at the lake or little boys wore fleece tights in the winter to keep them nice and warm. So what if a little girl was playing with boy toys or a little boy was playing with baby dolls and a baby stroller? Looking back, I feel like no one, especially in my little world, felt that we, the children, were supposed to play or be a certain way. I was encouraged to have the best childhood. I realize as an adult now that many other people aren’t that fortunate or privileged.
It wasn’t until freshman year in college where I realized that some people were not able to live life as their truest self or identify differently than the social norm. It made me sad that they had to conform to society’s or their family’s idea of gender identity. When I started college in 2007, I temporarily moved to the middle of nowhere in Missouri.
After a less than two years I ended up moving back to Germany to be with my family. During my brief time in the United States, specifically, Missouri, I met a guy who was openly gay when he was with his friends, but had to live a separate life when he went home. He invited me to his parent’s house one weekend when the dorms closed for the holiday weekend and during the entire 1.5-hour drive he briefed me on how I could never mention anything about him being gay. He even mentioned that he told his parent’s I was an ex-girlfriend that they’d never met so it would be more believable. I was so incredibly sad that in 2007 he wasn’t able to be himself 100%. In fact, as I am writing this paper, I decided to search for him on Facebook and found out that he no longer is in contact with his family but he did share with them that he is gay. He’s married to a man he’d always hoped he’d end up with and has two dogs.
After I permanently moved to the United States in 2013, I still didn’t quite understand the extreme influence society has on gender identity was until the very next year. In 2014, I fell into the pink and blue vortex when I found out I was pregnant. I did a bit of browsing for baby things early on and became ridiculously overwhelmed with how divided everything was. There was either pink or blue and maybe 1% was neutral. I was adamant about not wanting to find out the gender, because it’s truly one of the few surprises in life people have left. Another reason I felt strongly about this is because the other side of the family would put a very pink or blue mold filled with expectations and behaviors around my baby before it was even born.
I have a history of miscarriages and had a scare in my second trimester and decided that if anything were to happen that I would want to know the gender. I found out I was having a little boy. Due to my womanly reproductive issues, I could honestly say 100% I didn’t have a preference, I just was so excited to be a mother.
I’ve known friends that have been utterly disappointed when they were hoping for one sex and got the other and never understood why, especially because becoming a parent in the first place is the most amazing experience, at least to me. Anyways, sure enough, my instinct was right, the other side of the family gifted us with sports gear and name brand athletic wear, along with lots of blue everything and a dash of green. I was so scared that this was it, my son wouldn’t have a choice in any other shades except for boy, dude and bro. I distinctly remember my mom purchasing a two-piece outfit with khaki shorts and a polo shirt. It was the cutest outfit and the best part about it was the polo shirt was pale pink.
When it finally fit my son, I paraded him around in it because the shade of pink really made his blue eyes pop and his strawberry blonde hair stand out. The cool pink and purples definitely complemented his skin and hair color just like his momma. I remember hearing a comment from the other side of the family saying that pink shirts are not for boys. I let the comment roll off my back because my little one was still an infant and he did not understand their ignorance. Another incident was during a visitation from his bio dad. I wasn’t around but my mom mentioned it because she had to correct the statement and behavior. My son absolutely loves dramatic play. He loves to dress up as different people or animals and pretend play.
It’s been the best moment of toddlerhood so far and we (my family and I) totally encourage it. During the supervised visitation with my parents, my son decided to put on my sister’s floral kimono, grab her purse and pretend to be her, his aunt. My mom heard a comment, no, no, that’s for a girl, Max, yuck boy’s don’t wear that. She chimed in and let Max know it was okay to play with it and let bio dad know in her counseling voice that we encourage dramatic play as it enhances brain development and if he had a question about Max’s behavior or fashion choice to ask before making a statement like that.
Fortunately, that side of the family is no longer in the picture, so Max has the freedom to do whatever he chooses with full support and no pushback. I hope that he continues to live life the way he does now as fluid as he chooses. Just yesterday he put on my leopard print pumps and tried walking and then asked me to put them on and I did and pretended to be bad at walking in heels. We had a laugh and moved on to another game where we played in the mud and catching cicada bugs.
I feel very fortunate the way I grew up and only hope that I can create a similar environment for my own son. However, being exposed to the struggle that some people encounter opened my eyes to the difficulties some people have to face just to be accepted. I just never understood why families or society doesn’t accept people who just wanted to live life as their truest self. Society often times wants to put people into boxes and even if you do happen to fit into one of the boxes, life can be difficult. I do believe that within the last century there has been much more acceptance toward sexuality and race. In my opinion people who live life in their truest form without having to pretend or hide who they are, will be able help perpetuate tolerance and acceptance and create a better, more accepting society for the future.
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