Some views on gender identity and sexuality


"There's a gender in your brain and a gender in your body. For 99 percent of people, those things are in alignment. For transgender people, they're mismatched. That's all it is. It's not complicated, it's not a neurosis. It's a mix-up. It's a birth defect, like a cleft palate."
— Chaz Bono




Disclaimer: I am not fully conversant with all the "correct" language and phrasing. This isn't my field, I'm just a regular guy navigating stuff that's still new to me, and I have a lot to learn. Apologies for any missteps. This began life as an essay on gender-neutral pronouns, and got out of hand. It took me a while to write, and I'm sad that it got to be more GTKY than essay. It's complicated, and it has taken me a long time to process this and render it a manageable length.



At the time of writing, I am a 66-year-old 95% statistically heterosexual white cis-male, apparently middle-class. I was brought up in a fairly conservative family, with what the politically correct crowd might call a "heteronormative binary-gender" slant. That became very apparent in 1967, when I was 11. British law was changed to mostly remove the automatic criminality of sex between two men (prior to that, if two men wanted to touch pee-pees they could be imprisoned or chemically castrated for it, as happened in the famous case of Alan Turing).

Myself, I was neutral to the whole man-on-man sex thing, even at the age of eleven. My view was that if two people wanted to do grown-up stuff, then surely it was their business and no-one else's. The only issue to me was that it should be private. To this day that's how I feel; I'm not a fan of public displays of sex stuff. Of course, I was a kid, and never really thought it would affect me greatly. For my father, it was the end of the world. Homosexuality was going to completely undo Society, Men would be Kissing in the Streets and Everything would be Dreadful from here on out.

Oddly enough, when I was ten he had sent me to a boarding school. A boys-only school. With only boys. Boys going through puberty, curiosity and hormones raging. During term-time we only ever saw women in church on Sunday, and if we had to visit the matronly school nurse. Was there experimental touching of winkies? Yes, yes there was, to the point where declining to touch another boy meant you were "boy-shy". Lights-out in the dormitories meant two things – farting competitions and mutual masturbation. Years later I recalled this when during his lecture, my father gave me to understand that thankfully homosexuality was rare; I did not correct him.

During "The Talk", at age c. 14, I was told that homosexuality was abhorrent, a crime against God and nature. Every gay man would try to "interfere" with me because he was a filthy pervert. My father had quite traditional views, let us say. I didn't see what business it was of his, so I largely ignored him. Of course, he never touched on gay women, and I never even thought about two female people "doing it" until I found my Dad's porn stash a little later. Nice, Dad. Two men touching bits is dirty, but two women is desirable‽


When I left home I began living in a shared house with three other men. When a guy named Allan moved in, we became great friends; he was bisexual, and we twice slept together. We'd go out to a variety of places, including a couple of gay bars. I learned about the "gay community" and what it was to be gay. So there I was dating girls but going to gay bars. No judgements here, I realised that for the most part, gay people were just people. They were mostly fun to hang out with, and they looked after the token straight guy if there were any predatory moves made on me. At this time I learned about lesbians, bisexuality and cross-dressers, even entering a "Gay Miss World" contest one year. I won Best Straight Entrant and I wish I had a copy of the photo in my red-and-gold cocktail dress, blonde wig and heels.

Years later I met Debbie. Well, I met Richard first. Built like a Rugby number eight, he was funny and good company, a great drinking buddy. He worked at the same place as me and I remember coming in one Monday to an email from the business telling everyone that from henceforth, Richard was to be known as Debbie. She came in that morning in a frock, and the place was in turmoil. Some of the guys there accepted her (and when I say "guys", I mean it; there were only a few women in the technical bit of the business), but there were a few who protested. Most of it was along the lines of "it's unnatural", some declined to use "she" and a few said they preferred "it". Some of the controversy was centred around which toilets she'd be using, and here the few female voices were raised.

Just as with my reaction to The Teenage Talk, I didn't see what business it was of anyone's to be so outraged. The staff was already used to gay people, black and brown people, Mormons and Moslems¹, men, women, blondes and redheads, tall and short, fat and thin. The managers, driven by missives from Human Resources, clamped down on the worst excesses of abusive behaviour. In time the reaction from most people became generally accepting, with a few crude comments and insults from the narrow-minded. For my part I was unperturbed by it. After all, from my perspective Debbie hadn't changed any, she'd just put on a dress and presented differently.

A few days after her coming out at work, we went for a beer, and of course we talked about The Reveal, as she called it. She'd had a hard time coming out to her family, and had met resistance and hostility. She told me of her years-long internal struggle with herself, her feelings, hopes, fears and worries. She told me of her concerns about taking hormones, about the surgery, about her family. This was her jihad, the daily battle she'd been fighting with herself for years. Slowly, creakingly, I began to understand. Soon after this, I met a neighbour who was a transwoman. She was kind, she was normal. I wouldn't have known or questioned her gender had she not mentioned it first.

Later, working as a trainer in the same business there was some kerfuffle in one of the intake groups when it was revealed that one of the delegates was a transwoman. The same arguments over which toilet she'd use, the same schoolboy insults, the same narrow minds. I was despatched (why me? I asked) to calm things down. I met with Pat at the lunch break, a tall South African woman who again looked like she'd played rugby (and she had, for the South African Army). She burst into angry tears as she told me of her years-long battle for acceptance. After lunch I went into the group to have a discussion with the mostly-male mob. I asked if any of them had been caught short and had to use the "opposite gender" toilets. Yes, some answered. Would any of them be upset if I only ever referred to them as pigs? Yes. I asked one of the more arrogant men his name, asked how he'd feel if I called him Susan. Reminded them all of the Staff Handbook section on discrimination and how they wouldn't even get to finish training if they weren't all nice. And I left. There was no more verbal violence done, and Pat bought me beer every time she saw me in the pub.


Nowadays I count many close friends who are not like me, who have different gender identities and sexual preferences. Hang on, I'm going to rethink this. Did you see what I did there? I thought from a position of privilege. These are people who are just like me, but with different gender identities and sexual preferences. Over the years as I have learned more and become greyer and somewhat wiser, I have learned that everyone who is not-me is no different. We all have hopes and fears, but there are some in the world who would persecute and abuse people who are not-them, whether sexually, religiously, ethnically, culturally. Gay and trans people are still subject to harrassment, abuse and violence. We've all read news reports of the narrow-minded and fearful attacking other groups individually and collectively. The issue is politicised and there are people out there who are polarised to the point of viewing anyone not-them as "the enemy", and thus feel empowered and driven by the group-think to go and hunt them down. This is where the beatings and killings come from, that sense of isolation leading to attacks.

Of course it's not just "them" who can be radicalised extremists. "We" have our share of them too. A few years ago I was leaving a café in Davis, when I was hailed by an acquaintance to ask me to join them at a table. There were perhaps eight or ten people sat around, of whom I knew only a couple. Nevertheless I joined them in their conversation about food, during which I referred to something that someone else had said, referring to them as "she". Now she was dressed as a woman, had a pretty summer dress and was showing cleavage, so I felt it was a safe assumption.

The conversation went something like this:

Woman: Did you just assume my gender?
Me: Well, I called you "she", so yes.
Woman: Well, you didn't check with me for my preferred pronouns.
Me: Sorry, you're right, I didn't.
Woman: You should never assume someone's gender!
Me: Okay, you're…
Woman: interrupting me Typical man!
Me: Did you just assume my gender?
Woman: goes on abusive rant, calls me a heteronormative dinosaur among other things.
Me: sarcastically Perhaps you should wear a badge.
Woman: That's disgusting. I shouldn't have to, everyone should check for pronouns!
Me: You're treating me like I'm the enemy, rather than someone who made a mistake. And you didn't ask me for my pronouns!
Woman: continues abusive and insulting rant.
Me: Perhaps if you see me as the enemy you missed a teaching opportunity. Rather than attacking me, you should open a dialogue. You'd catch more flies with honey.
Woman: I don't have to put up with this! Exits stage left, still muttering.

I turn to the people I do know, apologise to them for my part in the explosion. Several people chuckle, and say, "Oh it's okay, that's just Gloria being Gloria". I ask if I was somehow in the wrong. No, they tell me, it's always like that with her. The conversation turns from food to gender identity and political correctness. It is decided that my response when backed into a corner was a little harsh but not entirely unjustified, and that the Glorias of this world are thankfully rare. Exeunt Omnes.

I gave this an awful lot of thought over the next months and years, and still revisit my memory of it to see how I could have resolved it better. I have included the conversation because I still seek feedback on how I could have handled it better.


At this point I should tell you that I am not what you'd call "politically correct", but if someone asks me to use particular pronouns, I endeavour to do so out of respect. These days I can handle they/them pretty seamlessly, but anything else is much harder and takes longer. So if someone tells me about their gender identity or whatnot, I do my best to comply with the decent norms. But I always point out that I'm human, and will make mistakes, and I expect that to also be respected. I always try to avoid language that could inflame responses, but I'm fallible. I know that misgendering someone can be hurtful, and I want to avoid doing harm.

I should also explain that I have a co-worker who is non-binary gender, and my sweetheart's youngest is non-binary; both prefer "they/them" pronouns. But because I'm fallible, and first knew them when they both identified publicly as female, I occasionally screw up. When that happens, I apologise, and you know what, it's rarely been a problem. There is mutual respect and there's latitude given. Attack me or put me in a corner and I might come out swinging; as I said, I am far from perfect.

There is a wide spectrum of gender and sexuality, and I must own up to not understanding more than a tiny fraction of it. For example, someone used the term "genderqueer" recently, and despite my looking it up, I'm still not sure that I'm clear on it. But I can't possibly understand, having always been comfortable with myself! I have to be satisfied with what little I can glean from listening to people, and thankfully, most people are patient with this ridiculous dinosaur.

It's been a long journey for me to get to this point. in general I'm quite proud of myself. Along the way I've seen several friends make gender transitions in various forms. More than once I've held a newly-out woman as she cried over some really tough time. I have celebrated their landmarks and honoured them. I've remarked on how well they are doing, how good they look, how happy they are. Am I an "ally"? I don't know and don't care; all I want is for people to feel safe and happy around me. But my odyssey continues. I doubtless have many more mistakes to make, and will need to be forgiven seventy times seven. I'm happy for all the gay and trans people in my life; in particular, Tessie is working for The Trevor Project, which seeks to provide counsel and support for LGBT youth, and I'm very proud of her.

Society is still adjusting to the changing world of sexuality, gender and queerness. I'm not up to date on all the preferred language, I still need gentle guidance and education. Some people may never adapt; the more conservative political and religious groups have a long way to go still. And so do I. But I am doing the best I can.




Also, my father was a good man, and he mellowed some over the years. He wasn't really a bigot, rather just old-fashioned about some things that he didn't understand. I owe him a lot for being a good model for me in many other ways.

¹ JD pointed out that the more moderm term is "Muslim", so I looked it up: 'The people who use "Moslem" are mostly older people who didn't learn the new way, or who reject it just because it's new and they're set in their ways.' — https://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2010/11/14/muslim-vs-moslem
I guess that the former is me, then.

Today was great; a lot of things happened that I wasn't particularly pleased with, however, considering where I came from, where I have been, and what I have tolerated in the past, today was like riding to work on the back of a pure white swan (even though I have been informed that they are not terribly nice creatures, the imagery works for me). My new job is going really well; last week we spent quite a bit of time redoing things in my manager's office. His old desk was one of the sturdy metal varieties with a faux wood laminate top, one of the legs was separating from the rest of the structure, it was quite heavy, and I'm glad my main role was taping the drawers closed so others could more easily maneuver it through the door. I was telling a friend that there were some tense moments, when both of us were frustrated with the other person, but, I think, also able to see the other person's point of view.

Monday morning was cold, wet, and rainy. I drove to work in tears, angry and upset with myself for being so pushy. Why can't I ever just let things be at a new place? No wonder I have had so many jobs. I slogged to the door in a dismal mood, punched in the super secret code, and walked into the shop area. When I walked past my manager's office I could not believe my eyes. Friday afternoon there had been a bookcase in the middle of the room (not an exaggeration), his desk had been much closer to the door, and sitting at an inconvenient, and awkward angle. Papers and file folders were haphazardly stacked about, the fridge had been on the right, and his bookcare where he featured personal items was a dusty and chaotic mess. That morning his desk was at a neat right angle to the wall, all three bookcases were in an orderly row, the fridge had been moved, and there was a small, black bookcase with a few select mementos sitting on a dust free surface.

That was a great experience, and I was going to take a picture to send to my mom, but I wanted to get my bags into my office first. I walked in, saw a box I had previouly put under my printer, and wondered why it had been moved, a couple steps into the room, and I learned. My boss bought me a mini-fridge for my office, and had set my printer on top of the unopened rectangle. Fresh tears welled up in my eyes, and I stood there crying for I'm not sure how long. The emotions I felt changed moment to moment; disbelief, fear, feelings of unworthiness, guilt, joy, anger at past jobs for treating me so poorly, extreme gratitude, uncertainty; I took a picture, and sent it to my siblings. I wanted someone to share the moment with me, but it was so special that I wanted to be careful about who I invited to attend the party since I felt as if even one joking or sarcastic comment would be more than I could bear.

Last week my manager told me that initially, the salary offer was supposed to about $5K less than I was offered. He said I may receive a very tiny raise, and stressed that it would be minimal, but I waved away his concerns. I wasn't expecting anything (this is the beginning of my third week there), and when they told me what the pay scale was during my interview, I nodded thinking, I could really use that kind of money. When I received my formal offer letter; they took the high end, and I was so touched by that, I made a decision to make sure that these people got their money's worth out of me, and then some. So far, I feel as if they have even if I haven't done much of the work I was hired to be completing. Not all of this was my fault, I still don't have a phone that actually works, my manager made a joke about it looking nice on my desk, and I laughed too, but it's still been hard on me as I want to feel productive, and contribute to profitability

After work I stopped at Walmart, mostly to get cash so I could pay my bill at Target. I have no idea why I can use my debit card there to make purchases, but they will not accept it as a method of payment when my bill is due. I ended up with some interest charges since I could only pay a portion of last month's bill with the cash I had, and I like Target a lot, but this whole thing is making me rethink the wisdom of using their card since this is not terribly convenient even though the two stores are not far from work, and across the highway from each other. Going after work was stressful, my mood deteriorated as I encountered one obstacle after another, and ultimately this is neither the fault of Target, Walmart, or anyone else, it is my issue, and this is why I am rethinking shopping at Target because my decision to purchase things there should not affect anyone else such as the poor cashiers who are doing their best with an irrational system.

I've made a lot of changes lately, and I'm really proud of most of them, even if the circumstances were perhaps not ideal, a lot of life is doing what those cashiers are, making the most of what they have while wishing circumstances would improve. My day did not start well; I narrowly avoided what would have been a potentially life ending car accident on the freeway while driving into work. I would have been partially at fault, and that's never a good feeling. Despite escaping with my life, and vehicle intact, I was rattled, shaky, and did something I rarely do. I stopped for tea on the way into work thinking something warm and sweet would be good for me. It was, and I'm glad I spent that money even though I have been trying very hard to manage my money better, and I have been in many areas which is good. When I was telling my manager about this, he said next time I should pull over, call him, or someone who cares, and he would come get me.

That is the kind of thing I so desperately needed to hear. I remember my car going off the road when a tie rod snapped, and a kindly man followed me to the nearest building after we exited the freeway. My boss was super at the time, but when I called home, the response was that I had better stay at work no matter what kind of shape I was in since I now had a major car repair bill, and could ill afford to take off, subsequently losing that income. A lot of what I have done is let go, and let God. More letting go than letting God, and I'm no longer ashamed of that either. I'm human, frail, flawed, but forgiven too. Several months ago, possibly even six, I switched churches, and if I had to think of a life changing decision which seemed almost trivial at the time, this would be near the top. I have always required more emotional support than I received, and I finally found some places that actually seem happy to be giving it to me.

Tomorrow I am meeting my personal trainer before work, after I get off, I'm going to see my oldest at the mall. I'm working through a self love booklet that's been harder than I would have initially suspected. I hate writing out answers to their questions, I love to read, but am frequently stymied when asked to answer questions which I find somewhat amusing as I love to write. Since I met someone I no longer work with; I'm not even really sure how many books we have done together, three, four, five? It doesn't matter, it's something we both enjoy, and I am so incredibly grateful for the people who are in my life today. The people who are not a part of my life rate a mention here; I have not been the person I would like to have been in the past, doubtless I will not be her in the future either, they have helped shape who I am today, and I bear no ill will, nor do I harbor any animosity. I pray for them when I think of it, and have shed many a tear over them too.

I've gotten back into going to the library, helpful now that reading is back on my radar, and I work much closer to the library that I love. When I checked out a book on codependency I anticipated learning what I could do about my past romantic relationships, and the book was good that way as well, but what it really did was show me how much low self esteem has cost me over the years. I can't remember if I wrote about this, or not, but the low point at my last job was; December 8, 2020. It's suprising that I survived, shocking that nobody seemed to notice, perhaps they did, and simply did not care, sometimes I have the power of invisibility. This morning I stood in line and watched several people walk right past me. A woman, a man, another man almost made it, but then the barista saw me standing there, and took my order. It's a cool power to have, the downside is sometimes I want to be seen.

There is so much more on my mind; but I need to be up early, and would like some time to rest and relax before bed. Thanks for reading. I have really missed this type of writing, I'm not sure if this will become a habit once again, but it gave my thoughts a place to go, and there is great value in that for me.

Xoxo,

J

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