Growing Up Dyke

I read a really sad article today in The Guardian. This article was about a young lesbian who felt having her healthy breasts lopped off “saved her life.” This young woman identifies as a man, and of course her parents are far more accepting of her as male than they ever would have been of her as a lesbian.

One of the main reasons, the subject of the article cites, for transitioning was that she “never grew out of” her “tomboy” phase.

Well, shit — neither did I. Growing up, I was, by turns, a girly-girl, a tomboy, and eventually an androgynous dyke. Not everyone appreciated my androgyny, or my lesbianism.

My mother would have preferred I didn’t wear my hair quite so short. People mistook me for a male, and then got embarrassed when they realized I was female. Sometimes men got mad at me and said horrible things. Sometimes, family members would say, “You look just like your brother” and then they’d get embarrassed for saying that because, well, I looked just like my brother – except for the boobs and narrow shoulders and smaller stature and what not. My father worried that life would be “harder” for me, given that I wasn’t heterosexual. My grandmother wished I was interested in boys.

It was not easy growing up dyke. I didn’t always love my identity, and I certainly didn’t always love my body.

Sometimes, to be perfectly frank, my body frightened me – but that’s a condition of girlhood, of womanhood. Society makes female bodies out to be strange, exotic objects to be manipulated, manufactured, reproduced and coveted, and so, those of us in possession of female bodies sometimes have a hard time sorting it all out. I know I did. When I was young, I had a hard time figuring out how I could have romantic attachments to women, hate dresses, adore fishing and STILL be a girl.  According to culturally constructed gender imperatives, I was “defective.”

Luckily, I was surrounded by women – female family members, female friends, and female professors – who assured me I was perfect as I was. This network of women was essential – rather than encouraging me to reject my female body, to reject my womanhood, these women encouraged me to embrace being a female who simply did not conform to the gender norms I’d been subjected to since birth; these women encouraged me to love being a woman, to be proud of being a woman.

I’m pushing forty now. My body has changed, as it does with age. Even with the scars, with the missing nipple (breast cancer in my early thirties), the bit of a gut (anti-estrogen pills to prevent more cancer), my female body is beautiful. It’s imperfect, but it’s beautiful. Mine is the body of a thirty-eight year old dyke who has survived girlhood, who has endured the pain of menstruation, male abuse, and chemotherapy. I’m proud of this carcass.

Every woman should be proud of her body’s survival.

I worry so terribly about the young lesbians growing up in this climate, where any deviance from gender norms is interpreted as a pathology. Where “not growing out of” being a “tomboy” means subjecting oneself to double-mastectomies and testosterone injections in futile pursuit of “becoming male.” I’m worried that young women, young lesbians are not being taught to be proud of who they are – AS THEY ARE. I’m worried about the pernicious side-effects of the drugs the medical community is administering to these women. I’m worried about the gender norms being tragically imposed upon young lesbians, gender norms that are, ultimately, toxic for all women.

Sisters, our bodies are fine. Even if we wear our hair short and wear stereotypically male clothing, even if we prefer fishing to shoe shopping – we’re fine, we’re female, we’re women, our bodies are fucking amazing.

4 thoughts on “Growing Up Dyke

  1. I’m often perplexed by the treatment of gender dysphoria being medicalization for the rest of the patient’s life. When you’re talking about a fatal illness like HIV/AIDS, it makes sense to make the sacrifice of having to take a bowlful of pills every day, but for something like gender identity? What if a transperson wants to join the PeaceCorps? Or climb Mount Everest? Is taking their doses of estrogen or testosterone when living in a third world environment for two years or climbing a mountain for a month really feasible?

    This is one of the many reasons why I’m glad I’m healthy. I’m not tied down to where I live and what I do for a living simply by virtue of needing constant medical treatment.

  2. In elementary school, I was an anglophone in a francophone school, an atheist in a Christian school, a tomboy rough-n-tumble kid in corduroys in a world of women in polyester dresses, a nature lover in an industrial world, a childfree in a world of girls who dreamed of motherhood, a pre-bachelor constantly annoying guys who wanted to date me, I had to took pride in my non-conformity, it was that or die… and that came close. So when people talk of gender identity, I am dumbfounded that one would even want to be defined by such sexist conformity.
    When I am in a classroom, I encourage kids who are non-conformists, they will change the world. It’s the clicky “social” kids that I keep the hardest eye on, for it is they who will do all the bullying of the non-conformists.
    I can’t count the times I have clarified to kids that there is no such thing as “boy toys” or “girl toys”.
    If we are “not allowed” to blame the parents but such stupid upbringings, then the school system is going to have to take up a shitload of slack. Cuz patriarchy ain’t anywhere near disintegrating… specially considering how feminists have any interest in taking down patriarchy. 😦

    @Kesher, the film from the book, Lord of the Flies was my worst nightmare as a kid, a bespectacled kid on desert island with a classfull of bullies… who break his glasses. Physical autonomy is precious to me. In a society so replete with non-autonomous people, our governments have to expend so much effort, that we fail to install proper intellectual and emotional nourishing for the masses. I had my eyes lasered in 2000, best $ I ever spent, ever. Even something as easy as contact lenses or glasses are a hindrance if you’re in a distant land or geography. Autonomy is everything. Without it, I don’t want life. Our society is way too obsessed with quantity of lives instead of quality of life.

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