Janet Mock was born a boy named Charles in Hawaii. It seems, from reading this account of his early childhood, that he, like many other gay children, exhibited signs of gender non-conformity. And it seems, like many other gay children, he was punished for it.
Once, when I was 5-years-old, a little girl who lived next door to my grandmother dared me to put on a muumuu and run across a nearby parking lot. So I did. I threw it on, hiked it up in one hand, and ran like hell. It felt amazing to be in a dress. But suddenly my grandmother appeared, a look of horror on her face. I knew immediately that I had crossed some kind of line. After yelling at me, she banished me to our patio, where I played quietly with my sumo action figures for a while. I loved them because they had long hair, and they were the only “dolls” OK for me, a boy, to play with.
I can relate. As I have detailed here, it’s hard not conforming to sex stereotypes. Gender is a vicious system that says girls are supposed to act one way and boys are supposed to act another way. For those of us who don’t fall in line, life can be brutal.
It didn’t take very long before the social cues got louder and clearer. My parents started scolding me over the way I walked and held my hands. I learned to hide aspects of my personality. Playing with girls was fine, for example, but playing with their Barbies was something I could do only behind closed doors. After my parents split, my mom said my younger brother and I needed a strong male role model and sent us to live with our dad in Oakland, California. Stern and critical, my father couldn’t accept how feminine and dainty I was in comparison to my rough-and-tumble brother. “Get outside and play!” he would bark.
Things got better for Gays Like Us, for a while, as the “Gay Rights Movement” took off. But something happened on the way to Gay Liberation – Gender Identity happened. And us Girly Gay Men and Butch Lesbians all slowly realized that the things that Made Us Seem Gay as children now made us easy targets of both homophobic parents and a conservative culture that demands that we torture our perfect, healthy bodies to conform to what “a Man must look like” or “a Woman must look like.”
It was my father who first dared to ask the question: You’re not gay, are you? I was 8 and wasn’t even sure what that meant, but I knew from his tone that it was unacceptable. “No!” I shouted defensively.
Janet, I’m sorry that your homophobic parents brainwashed you into thinking that your fagginess made you a Woman. It didn’t make you a Woman, any more than my dykeyness makes me a Man.
The problem isn’t that people aren’t respecting your pronouns, Janet, or refusing to cater to your ridiculous demands that you have “always been a woman.”
The problem is Gender.
And the problem, at this point, is a GLBT Community that has embraced Gender to advance a conservative agenda that tells us that “being a Woman” means traveling thousands of miles to have a Thai doctor turn your healthy penis into a hole. That tells us that “being a Woman” means “I also liked playing with dolls and wearing dresses.”
I spent 10 days in the hospital recovery room, doped up on pain relievers. During the operation, my surgeon had masterfully refashioned the tissue and nerves from my male organs to construct a vagina. Finally, every part of me made perfect sense. I didn’t have to “tuck” anymore.
My heart breaks for you, Janet. It really does.