Gender is something that I am consciously aware of on a daily basis. Not from the perspective of my own gender, but how my gender affects my interactions with others. Being a man provides me with numerous advantages, and stereotypes, in American society. I am seen as the “bread winner.” I am supposed to rough and tough and strong. I am direct. I am not allowed to show emotion unless it is rage or anger. I fight. I don’t cook or clean. I know how to use power tools. I love the outdoors. I grow a beard.
The latter is a definite for me. I do know how to use power tools. I love to be outdoors. I am not the “bread winner” in my relationship. My demeanor is reserved. I show emotions, except for rage and anger. I cook and clean. I’ve never been in a fight.
I was part of a dance company when I was growing up, where I performed at competitions in ballet, jazz, and tap. I was pretty good. I was accepted to participate in the North Carolina School of the Arts dance program for ballet. Instead, I decided to play sports in high school. My brother went on to the Baltimore School of the Arts, and ultimately, School of American Ballet in NYC. I wasn’t forced to play sports by my parents, I just choose a different path.
I was never told boys don’t cry or don’t play with dolls. Most of my friends and family growing up were girls, so that’s all there was to play with when I was young. I cried a lot.
At the end of the day, I am still a man. Those behaviors did not change who I am. They did not make me any less of a man. Others may have called me names and picked on me, and at the time, it was difficult to navigate. Retrospectively, I did the things I wanted to do, enjoyed, and was good at doing. I wouldn’t change any of it.
Being a cis-gender man who works with large populations of cis-gender women, there are dynamics that I need to be cognizant. Because of societal norms, there is power in those relationships that I am aware. I know that my opinion may be held in a higher regard simply because I am a man. If I have a similar idea, then how do I support what is being shared by someone else? How do I make sure the person who deserves credit receives due credit for the contribution? Sometimes it is simply being aware of how often and how quick I am to speak. It could be recognizing the amount of physical space I am taking up. In addition, how am I providing space for others to feel comfortable in sharing views and thoughts?
At the same time, simply being a cisgender individual means that I am privileged in numerous ways compared to Trans* people. I don’t fear what restroom I can use or what may happen to me while I am in there. I don’t have to worry about people questioning my appearance or expression of my gender. I don’t have to worry about people asking me questions about what is, or isn’t, between my legs. I don’t have to worry about people trying to determine if I have had surgery or not. I am aware of these interrogations for Trans* people, yet naive to the impact these questions have on people who are constantly asked them. It something I will never really be able to understand.
National conversations around gender are changing. Some ways are positive. Others not so much. Trans* people are being vilified for using bathrooms. Women still get paid less than men for comparable work. Hillary Clinton is attacked for what she is wearing and how she looks. No other candidate received similar treatment, as that was happening.
Harriet Tubman is going to be on the $20 bill (maybe). Caitlin Jenner brought conversations around Trans* individuals to the popular world (even though Laverne Cox really led that movement). These are very small wins that can help in the long run. But there are still setbacks. NB2 in North Carolina. The numerous murders of Trans* individuals with no justice. The glass ceiling is still very real for women. Look up public university salaries for comparable positions. It’s 2016 and we still have a long way to go.