I’ve spoken before of pushy parents projecting their failed ambitions upon the vanity projects they call children, of vicariously living thwarted dreams through offspring, regardless of how unfair a burden it is for that offspring to carry. I’m not speaking of it again, though certain aspects of a new odious development remind me of it. This is parents picking up on a particular personality trait in their mini-me’s and coming up with a psychological diagnosis that ticks the PC boxes and enables them to advertise their right-on credentials by using their children as a sandwich board. I’m talking about parents who come to the decision that any characteristics of the opposite sex displayed by the kids evidently means the kids are gender-dysphorian, non-binary, tiny tot trannies.
I used to go to school with children, so I can recall what they were like. There were always boys who were routinely called ‘cissies’, the ones who appeared to have no male friends in the playground and always hung out with the girls, doing as the girls did; moreover, there were always girls who rejected girlishness and preferred the rough ‘n’ tumble of male company. The Nancy Boy and the Tom Boy are enshrined as archetypes in British pop culture, from Dennis the Menace’s effeminate nemesis, Walter the Softy to ‘George’, Enid Blyton’s butch little ball-breaker in ‘The Famous Five’. Both were defiant aberrations, going against the stereotypical grain; both may have grown up to be gay. But being in closer contact with their respective feminine and masculine sides than the majority of their contemporaries didn’t necessarily mean either wanted to eventually assume the full gender reassignment process. They were unselfconsciously taking a stance against what society defined as masculine or feminine.
I’m not ashamed or embarrassed that I’ve always been ‘in touch with my feminine side’, nor should I be. I’ve always believed a man who aggressively fights it is half-a-man, in denial of what is a biological truth. When that femininity is manifested as visual flourishes of a kind that an overtly masculine male culture reacts to with hostility, it’s not the easiest brand of honesty to embrace; but to volunteer for a two-dimensional testosterone straitjacket is not in my nature, and I’d be less of a man if it was. Any past problems I may have had with being a man were, I can now see, a direct consequence of being presented with such a limited portrait of the sex. The hair is short, the clothes are colourless, the drink is beer, the passion is sport, the libido is triggered by the Page 3 Girl; and any deviation from the rulebook is precisely that – deviation. But as I instinctively reject imposed rulebooks in other aspects of life, why should gender be any different?
Ironically, the haste with which some misguided parents are now prepared to redefine their sons as daughters (and vice-versa) at the slightest hint of a preference for aping the opposite sex plays straight into the hands of the narrow male/female stereotypes they smugly imagine they’re challenging. Little Sam prefers to play with the girls and their dolls, therefore that must mean he’s a girl trapped in a boy’s body; we must start calling him Samantha and send him to school in a skirt next term while letting his hair grow long; that, after all, is the extent of what a girl is, isn’t it? If we swap one set of gender clichés for another, then everyone will then know he’s a girl. No shades of grey there, just black-and-white boys and girls where there is no room for the Nancy Boy or the Tom Boy, those genuine rebels.
Girls and boys pass through numerous phases as they grow-up; that’s what growing-up is about. I changed the comics I read on a virtually monthly basis; one week I was in love with Joanna Lumley in ‘The New Avengers’; the next, I was in love with Jaclyn Smith from ‘Charlie’s Angels’. My female cousin’s bedroom wall had a different pin-up staring down at me every time I visited. ‘I thought you liked David Cassidy?’ ‘No, I like David Essex.’ The first song I apparently proclaimed to be my No.1 ‘Desert Island Disc’ was ‘Yellow River’ by Christie; 46 years later, I can honestly say I’ve never cared for it since it was a chart-topper in the summer of 1970. Anyone with anything about them experiences life as a permanent state of metamorphosis, changing opinions on subjects every ten years or so; a great deal of what I thought at 18 I now consider bollocks – and it’s only right I should. The concept of development being frozen at any age is a particularly horrific one for me, let alone life choices being set in stone by parents when still a child and some distance from even puberty, let alone adulthood.
Gender identity is an especially delicate area of a child’s life for parents to play with, far more serious than them mapping out their child’s career or drilling a religious belief, a forced dedication to a musical instrument or a specific sport into them. More than anything, it is something the child needs to formulate when it has experienced a little bit of what life has to offer beyond the nursery or the playground, when it actually ceases to be a child and can be classified as an adult. There’s nothing wrong with a boy finding more affinity with girls or a girl finding more affinity with boys; by surmising this implies a desire to actually become that which the child has an affinity with is to expose a parent’s own limited awareness of the rich variety of what being a boy or a girl actually has the potential to encompass.
© The Editor
2 thoughts on “GOODBYE SAM, HELLO SAMANTHA”
I can honestly say I agree with every word of that (except for me it was Kate Jackson – that bobbed hair and the southern drawl – more innocent times). I have done “macho” things – rowing, boxing, etc, but as I have got older I have got a better “handle” on myself. The laddish boys’ ulture wasn’t really me, even though I assumed it would be and tried to identify with it. Does it make me “gay”? Far from it. I have no sexual interest in men, and I adore the company of women, and desire is a constant burden. it just makes things – difficult. That’s what it does.
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You and Gildas are right – each individual inhabits their own point on a grey-scale between absolute feminine and absolute masculine, there’s no right or wrong, you’re just where you are. But it was not always that way. In my school days, at a 1960s testosterone-soaked all-boys establishment, if you didn’t pester to be prop forward in the rugby team, you were a ‘cissie’. I never did, so I was probably counted as one.
It’s vital to understand that all kids are ‘work-in-progress’, learning and absorbing all the manifold influences of life which will, eventually, help place them at their own natural point on the scale. And the rest of us just accept them as that. But when parents seek to interfere with this evolving process, even if their motives are honest and caring, they risk disrupting the natural out-turn for their child, whatever that may have been, with considerable potential for long-term damage. If their motives are selfish sensationalism, which I suspect many are, then they don’t deserve to be parents – it’s safer to stick to imaginary allergies and asthma to set your precious child apart.
Like Gildas, I have never had the slightest interest in sex with men – my gay friends know and respect that, just as I respect their choices: but if I’m honest, that position has been a learned behaviour over the past few decades – I first had to unlearn the macho school culture and then learn, by ongoing social exposure to ‘others’, that none of us was wrong, we were all right in our own way. So my own period of ‘work-in-progress’ didn’t end with official adulthood, and I suspect it’s still continuing today, but maybe it’s supposed to be that way.
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