Ungendered freedoms

I am pretty much a cis-gender woman. I think. On most days at least. I was never so much questioning as I was uncomfortable. I grew up in the south of Italy where, at least at the time, there was pretty much only one way of doing ‘woman’. As a well-mannered, long-haired and not too opinionated wife-to-be. When I moved to the UK the one thing I never missed was the constant judgement. In the street, from friends, from not very close relatives.

I grew up with boys. I liked swimming more than anything else. And was molested by older men badly enough never to wear a skirt again after the age of 12. In London I studied medical anthropology (whilst working full time in a cafe to pay for it – because in the UK these details matter). One of my modules was about ‘gender, sexuality and the body’. My head exploded. My heart exploded. I got to read Judith Butler and the world’s colours and stereotypes were undone forever. Reading is usually pretty great, sometimes a total trip.

Basically, to anybody who knows me even just a little, it comes as no surprise that I have a deep interest in LGBTQ rights. Which I don’t even think is the right way to refer to the point, because they are actually human rights and discrimination on the basis of gender/sexuality. I have two children. I want them to grow knowing deeply in their bones that they are free to find out who they are and who they want to love. I want them never to bully or to be bullied, on any grounds. And yet if I speak passionately about educating myself on trans-respectful uses of pronouns, if I cut my hair short and write to my MP to ask them to support relationship and sex education (RSE) in schools, I get asked if I am “becoming lesbian”. A total heart-sink question, no matter which angle you take on it.

To be honest, having lost virtually all confidence in heterosexual cis-gender men at this point in life, I don’t spend much time thinking about how I identify in that respect (try and be a single parent on little sleep and with a full-time job, you’ll find that if you can remember your own name that’s enough identity for the day). But the fact that the average understanding of gender freedom can be so very rudimentary says a lot about how much work there is still to do. I guess I didn’t think gender stereotypes and prejudice over sexual orientation would even be a thing over here. Granted, they’re not as bad as back home in Italy. But maybe I just got distracted by the other mess in my life. Maybe it was just me not paying enough attention, not spotting the signs of all the everyday struggles people who don’t fit existing moulds go through because my discomfort was not as raw. That won’t happen again. It can’t happen again.


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