Does Your Social Construct Make Me Look Female?

A boy and his dog, circa 1900. The dog does look a little like Gracie.

A boy and his dog, circa 1890. The dog does look a little like Gracie.

When I look at my body, I do not see a female body or a male body. I see my body. In my own little world I am myself. I am Jamieish, boyish, butch, transgender, and quite comfortable.

I have made myself in my own image. I wish more people could see me this way. Strangers, even those who initially “Sir” me, eventually read me as a masculine woman or a butch lesbian. How they see me is their truth, not mine.

Nobody knows what a non-binary person looks like. My face, voice, and body shape contradict my clothes, haircut, and demeanor. I don’t easily pass as either female or male. In a binary game of rock-paper-scissors, the social construct of sex crushes the social construct of gender. I am pigeonholed into female.

When I’m out in public, and I have to choose between the door labeled Men and the door labeled Women, I choose the default, Women. It doesn’t always go well. 

How people gender me is an external problem not an internal problem. I don’t need male secondary sex characteristics to feel like myself or to be comfortable in my body, although I wouldn’t mind a lower voice and a little redistribution of body fat. I don’t fully understand my reluctance to take testosterone, but I keep butting up against it and it is real.

Despite feeling increasingly comfortable in my own body, there are still three situations that make me want to throw a tantrum: being called Ma’am, being challenged or stared at in the women’s bathroom, and filling out forms that make me choose between male and female. To me, these are not good reasons to go on testosterone or to change my gender marker. They are reasons to challenge the social construct. I’ve got plans.

I’m an informal person. I’m trans. There are no spoken honorifics that fit me. I am getting the same cup of coffee whether the person taking my order calls me Sir, Ma’am, or gapes at me unable to speak. Better to ask “What will it be?” and leave gender out of it. I am trying to figure out how to object to being gendered by strangers.  I hope I do better than I’ve done explaining pronouns.

I read signs and I know where I am going. It is up to me to decide which facility is appropriate for me to use. As we used to say “I’m here, I’m queer, get used to it.” If a woman is uncomfortable with transgender and gender non-conforming people using the bathroom, let the burden be on her to find a gender-neutral single stall family bathroom. She won’t have to worry about anyone else being in her space. I’m not sure how to express this nicely.

I’m going to revise forms that only have M and F boxes and add a third box for N/A. For years I marked up forms that only had Married and SIngle boxes (I added a box for Living in Sin). For on-line forms, I will either leave Sex/Gender blank or select M, depending upon what the computer accepts. Not because I prefer M to F, but because it is a rare opportunity to choose a default other than female. No one is going to give the form back to me and tell me condescendingly that I made a mistake.

Notes: The picture of the boy and his dog was not hard to read in 1890, when young boys were frequently put in dresses. Social constructs change. In reading about non-binary bodies in binary spaces I came across Eli Clare’s 2007 speech Body Shame, Body Pride: Lessons from the Disability Rights Movement. It helped me think about the difference between changing my body and changing how strangers view my body. I’ll see how I do with challenging the status quo.

23 thoughts on “Does Your Social Construct Make Me Look Female?

  1. Lesboi

    I admire you Jamie for fighting for your right to be who you are and pave your own path in this crazy world. You shouldn’t feel pressured to take T. If it’s right for you you’ll know it. If not then just don’t worry about it. The problem, as you know, with hormones is you can’t pick and choose the sides effects they give you. So unless you’re willing to take them all I would advise you to stay away from them. It’s hard to live a gender neutral life in our binary world but you’re definitely blazing a trail for others to follow. Keep going!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I know, it is the fear of ending up as Elmer Fudd in puberty (I’ll go bald, I’ll have acne, I won’t grow facial hair, and my voice won’t change). It has helped me to realize that right now my problem is with strangers and moving through the world somewhat anonymously. I’m pretty comfortable with how I look, and it doesn’t feel like a problem with people I know – I feel like they get me – it is just awkward in public.

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  2. J.D.

    When people call me “Ma’am” if it is an employee I’ll say, “I know you were probably trained to say that but there are a lot of us who can’t stand being called that. There is nothing rude about saying, ‘May I help you?'” I was saying that for many years before I realized I was trans*.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      That is a good way of phrasing it, and I might borrow your line. My partner (cis and femme and older than me) said what she hates is when she is called “young lady.” She doesn’t mind being gendered, but she doesn’t like someone drawing attention to her age.

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  3. Clare Flourish

    I think wanting to take testosterone- or for me wanting to take oestrogen- is/was an accumulation of factors. Not wanting to be “Ma’am” is not enough, but might, later, be part of the reason.

    The Answer- Yay!- is to expand the range of behaviour people can accept in “men” and “women”, and even to see People rather than either. It is a pain that while everyone meets people who rub them up the wrong way, we are irked by their first greeting and their attempts at courtesy.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Most of what I have been doing has been to feel comfortable in my own identity and in my own skin. I know a lot of people say their bodies crave hormones, but mine doesn’t.
      I haven’t ruled T out, and there are times I am tempted to try it to see how it feels, more than to see how my body will change on it. Fortunately, there is no pressure to make a firm decision either way.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I think there are more of us out there than we think – but we get lost in the medical and psychological protocols for transition (looking for people to fit the “standard transgender narrative”). But anyone who manages to find their authentic place is very cool indeed.

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  4. Kris

    Damn that social construct. I am joining you in the challenge (after we have thrown the tantrums) on the other side of the damn world. As you can see, I’m not having a good gender-non-conforming-day. Damn. (And a few other less polite expletives). Take care.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      On Monday, I was stopped on my way into the locker room at my gym by a woman (new staff). I introduced myself and said I use the women’s locker room (the gym doesn’t have much turnover and I know everyone who works there). It was awkward, but she apologized and I’ll make a point of saying hi to her next time I see her.
      On Tuesday, I was Sir’d at Starbucks getting coffee, and I didn’t do anything because I hadn’t had any coffee yet and my brain was still asleep. So I am 1 for 2.

      Liked by 1 person

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  5. Tea With Ess

    I like your thoughts on the bathroom issue. Why should I showered around just because someone else might think I look weird. It’s like telling midgets ( or whoever) they can’t use the restrooms because it could unsettle kids (or whoever).

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      In the US, when we still had legal Jim Crow rules, there were White Only bathrooms. Because proper white folks shouldn’t have to share toilet seats with anyone else. This is no different, and I’m tired of apologizing for making anyone uncomfortable.

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  6. RonaFraser

    I enjoyed your post. Hell, I am F and identify as F but it still often annoys me to tick the box. I wonder “Why do you need to know that? What difference does that make? Will it change how you treat me? Will it affect your marketing reports?” I look forward to hearing more from you on this, and I will consider marking M (when I have to select, e.g. online)… just to mess with them. None of their M/F business, one might say…

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Exactly. I was talking to Donna about this, because she is going to be with me on some of the occasions that I object to being gendered. Her response was that she hates being called “young lady” – she doesn’t like being condescended to or having her age remarked upon.

      Except for medical information, insurance, and on-line dating, sex or gender is unimportant.

      Liked by 1 person

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  7. asynca

    I’ve always wanted to add a “Why does it matter to you?” box for gender. Why? Why does a bank need to know whether I am M or F if I open a bank account? Why does a store that sells TEA want to know if i’m M or F for their Tea Club? I chose ‘M’, and I started to get different advertisements from them, for ‘CEO STRESS BUSTER TEA’ instead of ‘Quiet Sunday Afternoon’ tea which is what the same ingredients are marketed as to women. It’s just so bizarre. I don’t want to start a conversation about my gender on every form, I just want to exist and for my gender and my sex to be between me and my partner and me and my doctor.

    I had a really strange experience yesterday where I was sitting in a team meeting at work and recounting how a gay client of mine railed for 20 minutes about how hard it was to be gay, and didn’t pick up that I’m queer. I said to my team, “How could he NOT tell, I mean, look at me!” and they all stared blankly at me. Apparently, I have this mental image of myself as an extremely butch person, very masculine, and therefore easily read as a lesbian. Apparently no one else sees me this way and that is such a headspin.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Imagine how you would feel if you were a chronically underemployed guy getting adds for CEO STRESSBUSTER TEA.
      I get read as queer because I visually fit the stereotypes – some people have unrefined gaydar and unless you are wearing a rainbow flag they won’t see your queerness. One of my cis straight female co-workers has 99% accurate gaydar for men – she can read the “male gaze” accurately when a guy is talking to her. But she reads all cis femmes as straight.

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  8. femmeles

    I love it that you revise forms! So many people are so insular about gender/ sex issues and these forms reflect that society wants to label or group us. I look forward to reading more of your work.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for stopping in and commenting! Revising forms is easy and satisfying – I dislike the straight/cis assumptions that the people writing the forms/surveys automatically default to and I get an evil sense of enjoyment from potentially mucking up their stats.

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