A few months ago I decided that transgender issues would be a fitting subject for a Prairie Messenger column. I opened a new document, titled it “transgender,” and left it blank for almost a year. After all that time, my deep deliberations have left with one simple thought: transgender issues are difficult to discuss because gender itself is a remarkably complex thing.
And therein lies the knot I experience whenever I try to enter a transgender-related discussion. Our society is trying desperately to have a conversation about a complex topic, but we have not yet figured out its component parts. How can we make firm statements about transgender issues when we can barely talk about what it means to live together as men and women?
I believe the only way to uncover more about gender is to share our own stories, so I hope that by sharing how I embraced my womanhood (for lack of a better phrase), my attempts to understand transgender issues will become clearer. I am a straight woman who was born female. On the surface that makes me average as average can be, but that does not mean I (like most of us) did not have to go through my own journey on the path to womanhood.
I have five older brothers and no sisters, so throughout my childhood I frequently heard that I was special or different. Despite this, I tried my best to fit in with my brothers; however, my tomboy tendencies became a bit of a problem around puberty.
At this point, boys didn't seem comfortable around me anymore, but I didn't feel comfortable around other girls because we had very little in common. I took far too many of my brothers' juvenile comments about girls to heart, and developed an edge against anything I perceived as “girly,” such as boy bands, dresses, make-up, and anything Leonardo DiCaprio related. If you had asked me at this time if I wanted to be a boy, I definitely would have said yes.
It took me years to figure out how to accept and express my womanhood. I believe I only got as far as I have because I somehow managed to look beyond the stereotypes I had seen as a child by getting to know the real women and men around me.
I saw my mother, who is strong and practical, and my father, who is gentle and patient. I formed relationships with women who were confident and unapologetic for both their traditionally feminine characteristics and their traditionally unfeminine characteristics. I wanted to explore this further, and my gender has become a well of inspiration to which I have been able to return throughout my adulthood.
I am not sharing my story to suggest that all transgendered people are just tomboys waiting to become beautiful butterflies. But I do wonder what would have happened if I had been around a different set of adults when I was grappling with my own gender identity. I worry that with our focus on body modification and stereotypical views of men and women we are making it difficult to have discussions about what it means to discover one's true self and be comfortable in one's own body.
This brings me back to my initial frustration with the way our society has approached our discussion of transgender issues: we have skipped an important conversation about what it means to be a man or a woman and, more importantly, what it means to be a child of God. Whether or not we individually support transgender rights, I think this observation is important because the lack of understanding around gender and the inherent value of persons is undercutting our conversation about transgender issues.
I want to make a point of noting that I have not weighed in on specific transgender-related debates here. My thoughts on transgender issues are a work in progress, and it was hard enough to get these few thoughts out, especially with the considerable fear of being misunderstood that comes anytime someone puts a pen to paper.
Gender is one of those topics where a firm statement generally signals to me that the speaker is misguided. The masculine and the feminine will remain one of the great mysteries of life, to be explored by all human beings for generations to come.
I hope my experience has contributed something to our shared quest for understanding, and that I did not waste an evening writing this when I could have been watching baseball instead.
Deutscher holds an MA in Public Ethics from St. Paul University in Ottawa. She recently attained a PhD in public policy at the University of Saskatchewan.