What’s between your legs? And why does it matter?!

A conversation happened today in which the subject of the events going on in the US was being discussed. I was present but not part of the discussion but when a remark was made that we didn’t need to worry , up here in Canada, and especially here in this city because, after all… there weren’t really that many gays. As a matter of fact, this person said, she didn’t even know anyone who was gay. Well, hold on there…now I was part of the discussion, thank you very much.

After outing myself and being open that I have many friends and chosen family who live in the states and that they have very real and very founded fears for themselves and their lives, not to mention the potential ramifications on their employment and basic human rights, I explained that it wasn’t something that was just an issue in the states. That as a gay woman, in an openly lesbian relationship with another woman, safety IS something that is a consideration, even in Canada.

I was told bluntly that, as a “straight looking feminine woman” I don’t look like a “real gay person” and therefore, I don’t have any reason to be afraid for what is happening in the US since the election. Sadly, this is not the first time – or the last probably – that this sentiment is voiced.

As a Femme dyke, I know that I am very often misread as being straight. I also know that I am always quick to openly correct someone when that assumption is made known. One reason for that is for that exact point – because I don’t look like what some uninformed or unexposed people would expect a gay person to look like. So, in my little way, in my predominantly safe area of the world that we live in, I try to do what I can to expose people.  It’s often frustrating and feels like one step forward two steps back as I see a stranger being dismissive or worse yet, seeing someone who has been working to understand and accept suddenly come out with a remark that is born of long standing beliefs that are, clearly, not as changed as I had hoped.

Later in the day, a small remark from a co-worker about someone who may or may not “be a man” sparked a remark back from me that asked the question “what makes a person a man or a woman. If they say they’re a man, then they’re a man”.

I was frustrated and upset from the earlier conversation and would normally have let this go but not today. So here’s my little roller coaster of “nope, not dropping this one today”, it’s time for a bit of a rant…

*disclaimer, this is in no way comprehensive, it covers just what I ranted about today in person with my co-worker, notably, masculine/feminine and the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation*

What defines a person’s gender? Or their sexual orientation? Or their self identity? Or, or, or….? Spoiler alert, aka the short answer: Not you.

The terms masculine and feminine are not gender specific. They are simply terms that are used to categorize certain traits, mannerisms and characteristics of behaviour and appearance or presentation. Yet they are so often used in such a limited, and limiting way that it’s harmful.

We are taught from as far back as we can recall that a person is labelled as a boy or a girl because of what they are born with between their legs. Along with whatever parts are visible is the expectation of how they will dress, behave and what what roles in society they will fit into. All based on genitals. That’s a lot to live up to based on physical presentation. So what if what a person is, who they are, is not what society says they should be, based on what is between their legs and on their chest?

What do you do with the little girl who wants to ride dirt bikes and play ice hockey instead of ringette? Or the little boy who loves to match his socks to his shirts and draws intricate doodles of flowers. Both of these examples by the way are of children that I knew when my kids were in school, and in both cases, it was the parents who were far more judgemental than the other kids.

Ok you say, some people are gay and that’s ok. Ah, but what if these little kids aren’t gay? What if they are what they are in their expression of themselves and it has nothing to do with who they will be sexually and/or romantically attracted to when they grow up? A person’s gender identity and their sexual orientation are not the same thing.

How do you classify a masculine woman; one who identifies as a woman, has the commonly accepted physical aspects of female (pssst, I mean a vagina) but who is more masculine than feminine in her dress and mannerisms.

How do you classify a feminine man; one that has a penis – so he must be a man (because that is, of course, how you determine these things after all) but his mannerisms and way of dressing or acting would be more commonly called feminine?

Then add in the aspect of sexuality and sexuality orientation.

What if that masculine woman isn’t a lesbian like you thought she would be when you slotted her into that category in your mind? Because all women who dress and act more “like a man” must be lesbians. Just like that woman that you see in feminine dress and make up must be straight. Maybe, maybe not – on both accounts. Oh but what if that pretty, feminine woman has a penis? She might, or she might not. How would you know, and why would it make a difference to what you see her as. What matters is how she sees herself and how she lives her life.

What if that man who is so feminine, and who you assume must be a gay man, isn’t? What if he’s a straight man who is, just simply, more feminine that what you think a straight man should be like? Oh but wait, what if he has a vagina? But then again how would you know, and what would it matter.

So many what if’s! So many varieties and options and possibilities! What if you just accepted a person as just that: a person. My sexual orientation has nothing to do with how I interact with someone in day to day life. Neither does my self identity of gender. Unless we are looking to hookup or date, it just doesn’t matter. It’s really that simple.

You may now unbuckle and get off the roller coaster. The tilt-a-whirl is just around the corner, I’ll meet you there for the next ride 😉

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Broken Straight Girl

My sexuality and how it’s expressed has been on my mind a fair bit recently. Discussions with people close to me have brought up a lot of reflection and musing over how I find myself where I am at this point in my life. Along with this has been the hard part of trying to explain to those close to me how I can be something other than what they thought they knew me as. Fair enough. As my partner pointed out to me, I’ve had years to come out to myself, it takes some adjusting for others who didn’t live inside my head all those years.

I came out late in life. It took years for me to figure it out on a personal scale so that’s no surprise. I came into puberty in the mid 1980’s in middle class Canada. An environment that wasn’t exactly open-minded and diverse by any stretch of the imagination. The only gay exposure that I had was through media and culture and that was very linear and bordered by clearly defined “rules”. Gay men were flamboyant and effeminate. Lesbians were androgynous or butch ( a term that I now know but back then just thought them “manly”) and very vocal about hating men for the most part. There were very few examples of gay persons that didn’t fit those stereotypes that I saw. Bisexual wasn’t even a blip in my realm of possibilities. It existed but it was never an option that I was aware of. You were either straight or gay or lesbian.

I knew that there was something “wrong” with me early. My first consensual sexual experience was with another little girl and that interest never wavered for me as I grew. By the time I was in my mid-teens I was confused by my sexual arousal for the same-sex. I began to think of myself as a broken straight girl. I was indifferent to boys as far as sexual attraction was concerned. I was drawn to and sought out images in pornography of women. I chalked it up to the fact that a woman’s body is beautiful and I was just simply able to appreciate that. Nothing gay about that, right? Nope, not at all. After all, I wasn’t like the lesbians that I saw and was exposed to. I didn’t hate men, I just was ambivalent about them. I liked being “pretty” and looking feminine from time to time. I tended to be more tomboy and one of the guys but was never androgynous or butch. I wore makeup and loved dressing up to go out. Not very lesbian as far as I could tell. I wanted children and a family and you did that by marrying a man and having that life. There wasn’t any other option to achieve that on my radar.  

So why was it that it was playboy and the like that I turned to for sexual stimulation? Why did I discreetly look at other girls and wonder how it would feel to touch them or have sex with them? I knew I wasn’t gay because I didn’t look or act like the lesbians I saw. So, broken straight girl it was. Keep my deviant thoughts to myself and find a man and get married and just accept that I was somehow wired wrong. Something inside of me was off kilter when it came to what turned me on. Simple.

So, I got married, had babies and life was busy and full and not quite right in a lot of ways. The wife of a friend of my husband’s was always where my eyes would wander when we were together as couples. Nude beaches and camping and I found myself drawn to catching glimpses of her rather than her husband or mine. It came clear to me that the odd feelings I had tried to ignore were not gone. Still though, I was even more confused by this point in my life. By now, I had even more reasons why I couldn’t be gay. I was married to a man. Lesbians didn’t marry men. They certainly didn’t have sex with a man and have children with that man. So, I must just be a straight woman who maybe has some sort of weird yearning for a fling with a woman.

A divorce brought to me the opportunity to explore options in my sexuality that I hadn’t had before. For the first time I started dating and being sexually active with women. I discovered that bisexual term that was elusive to me and figured that that had to be what I was. I had been married to a man so I couldn’t be an actual lesbian – even though at that point I couldn’t have cared less if I was ever with a man again. When a man did seriously pursue me though I went on a date, then another, and another and soon it was a relationship. Living in a suburban, conservative area I thought long and hard about how I wanted my life to be. I had three small kids and had just watched a fellow parent at school be swiftly ostracized after leaving his spouse for a male partner. Who was I kidding, I had had my fun and it was time to settle down and raise my kids in a strong and solid home. With a husband. Because that’s what you do when you’re a woman.

I had, in my brief foray into being socially involved with the gay community, been made brutally aware that I didn’t fit there either. I wasn’t gay enough. I had been married to a man. I identified as bisexual and the “real lesbians” didn’t want to date or have sex with me (with the exception of one). Other bisexual or “curious” women were who I had had experience with and they mostly had male primary partners as the “real” partners. So, back to a man I went.

Fast forward a few years and another divorce and some maturity that came with those years and we come to now. Better late than never. Happily now able to say that I know who I am and that that is a woman who is gay. The freedom and relief that comes with that is indescribable really. No, there’s nothing wrong with me. I’m not the broken straight girl I thought I was. I was just unable to see that “lesbian” doesn’t have to look a certain way. Femme, butch, neither, both, something in the middle… we all look how we look. It’s corny, but it’s what’s inside that makes you what you are, not what the packaging is.