Sexuality and Gender – A personal look

Growing up as a young girl desperately raging against the societal norms dictated to my reproductive organs, I wish someone had taken the moment to explain to me that sexuality and gender are not interchangeable, that they do not have to be dictated by each other. The confusion that plagued my mind for many a years could have been abated should I have learned this. I was a woman born, but for a long time I found it difficult to identify as thus as I did not fit the gender norms. Gender, after all, is defined as “the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that are assigned to men and women in any given society.” The teasing I endured as I rejected femininity, the lack of interest in men or sex I felt after puberty struck, the feminine curves that never found their way to me, left me with feelings of inadequacy and general confusion as to my identity. Upon reflection, I believe I had become a victim of heteronormativity (Jackson 2006), “the role that gender has in determining sexuality…the product of institutional and social orders” (LaMarre 2007). Girls liked make up, they would spend their weekends perusing shops and trying on various outfits with their friends and they would gush over boys, squeal when they saw their friends and speak of their desires to be mothers and wives. Once I had reached puberty, I learned that this was the way society expected me to act, who I was institutionalised to believe I should be. For a while, I played along, but it never took long to realise that I was being untrue to myself, no matter the times I believed that I could fit in if I only tried.

 

“Society” assigns people to gender categories through signs that have been culturally defined and marked as masculine or feminine….Any attempt to operate outside of these binaries marks individuals as being fundamentally wrong and unnatural” (LaMarre 2007). Thus the taunting I would often endure. I had grown surrounded by women with brief interludes of my father when he returned from sea duty. These women were strong characters, feminists to the core, women that broke down barriers and fought for their places in male dominated society. Lind (2013) suggests that “the foundation of personality factors as well as sexual identity is defined long before childhood. This explains why a very young child often displays gender specific roles during play.”  My play however, was diverse; sometimes I would be a boy, sometimes a girl, though the characters I favoured were the women that broke down these roles, women like those that raised me. My father often encouraged this as well, raising me as if I was a son, to hunt, to fish, to fire a rifle, to be self-sufficient in the harsh Queensland outback.  Lind goes on to state that “there is an obvious connect from perinatal development into childhood and so on to adulthood…when looking to understand why children often seek to be engaged by other children with similar gender identities; little girls prefer to play with other little girl while little boys often prefer to play with other little boys (Lind 2013).” Yet I rejected this, there I was, a little girl often found among the boys or playing on my own. Whilst most little girls were dressing up Barbies, I was building them houses. Whilst most little girls were learning to braid their hair and having mini-makeover slumber parties, I had cut my hair short and would spend hours playing shoot ‘em up and car based video games. I held few female friends, choosing instead to spend my time with boys; it seemed that they simply understood me and my enjoyments more.

 

When puberty struck and the girls around me developed breasts and started to flirt and giggle, drawing love hearts on their textbooks and flattering eyelashes to attract the attention of the boys, I was flat chested and debating with the boys on the subjects of feminism, video games, how best to trick out a Beyblade and that the Fremantle Dockers would indeed win a premiership one day. I was outside of the traditional gender norms; I defied the binaries of female and was often labelled a tomboy because of it. “If we fail to ‘do’ our gender appropriately, we are liable to be called into account” (Fenstermaker and West, 2002; West and Zimmerman, 1991) and held into account I was. Girls would call me a flirt and a slut, because of my mostly male social group, and many boys would dub me a lesbian when I rebutted their advancements. Whilst so many around me where discovering their sexual identities, I was left behind, “a minority of boys and girls do not experience this sense of comfort and congruence. These youth have a different experience of anxiety and incongruence due to their gender-identity being out of sync with social expectation because of their homosexual or trans-gender identity” (Oswalt 2010). I was that minority; I considered the possibilities that maybe I was not supposed to be a woman…maybe I was supposed to be born a man.

 

A number of sociologists suggest that “identity formation consists of becoming aware of one’s unfolding sexual orientation, beginning to question whether one may be GLB, and exploring that emerging GLB identity by becoming involved in gay-related social activities and/or sexual activities” (Cass, 1979; Chapman & Brannock, 1987; Morris, 1997; Troiden, 1989). Perhaps it is because I did not engage in sexual activities at all that I struggled for so long, because I tied my gender so tightly with my sexuality that I failed to grasp my identity. This made me feel ever more isolated from my peers. Why wasn’t I interested in sex? It was not as if I held any religious beliefs, or that I believed I would disappoint or concern my parents. Both my mother and father had been quite open with me in regards to sex and nudity and I was raised to believe that both were beautiful and natural. Many summers were spent at a nudist camp, my father was a skilled photographer and my sister and I both knew what dad’s duck cap on the door meant…so why did someone touching me make me shudder? Why did the simple act of kissing someone end with my head in a toilet throwing up my lunch? What was wrong with me? By all accounts of the nurture debate, I should have lived quite a sexually free life, but it seems that was not in my nature. I tried to reason my sexuality and gender within my own mind and without external elements or interference. Upon reflection, I learned that my first attraction had been to a woman and many thereafter, however I had never acted on this attraction, nor did I feel the desire too. Did that make me a lesbian? It has been suggested that “the practices that are repeated the most often come to categorize the individual as homosexual or heterosexual” (LaMarre, 2007). But that title didn’t feel right and I certainly hadn’t acted on these feelings. Wilchins (2002:47) stated my dilemma quite   perfectly when he said, “No one is perfectly gay, completely straight, totally womanly, or wholly transgendered.  So what do we mean when we identify as such? Are identities real properties of people, or are they more like approximations, normative ideals against which we measure ourselves but never perfectly fit?” I measured my gender and my sexuality against the perceived roles and was left feeling isolated, so I looked elsewhere. I didn’t fit the title of lesbian as I did find myself attracted to men as well, just in a lower ratio it would seem, but still, the desire to be close to someone, to share a sexual encounter with them, was non-existent. I suppose this would be dubbed ‘asexual’ (Grollman 2016), except that I enjoyed masturbation, I just didn’t seem to hold the desire to include others.

 

When people ask about my sexuality, I respond that I am bisexual; it seems the easiest title, the one that raises the least number of questions. I know now that my gender is female, though it took much soul searching and experimentation with fashion, hobbies and friends to come to this conclusion. I am woman, but I celebrate the elements of myself that are more masculine as well. In my mind, “there is not just male and female; there are several different degrees to the male-female ratio in each person” (Lind 2013).  I can wear heels and fix a leaking pipe. I can style my hair and weight lift. I am finally comfortable within my skin; however my sexuality still holds no title. For the past seven years I have spent my life with my male partner and we do engage in sexual activities, acts that I do enjoy, hence my distancing myself from the asexual category, but still, I hold little interest in engaging with others. Perhaps it is his influence, his support of my search for identity and understanding that has led me to this place of comfort, or perhaps his jokes are correct, perhaps I am only attracted to him.

Works Cited and Bibliography

·         “Analysis Of My Sexual Identity A Year Ago”. 2016. Bintelnas.Org. http://www.bintelnas.org/03desire/sexcult.html.
·         Brickell, C. (2006). The sociological construction of gender and sexuality. The Socological Review. United Kingdom: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

·         Cass, Vivienne C. 1979. “Homosexuality Identity Formation:”. Journal Of Homosexuality 4 (3): 219-235. doi:10.1300/j082v04n03_01.

·         Chapman, Beata E. and JoAnn C. Brannock. 1987. “Proposed Model Of Lesbian Identity Development:”. Journal Of Homosexuality 14 (3-4): 69-80. doi:10.1300/j082v14n03_05.

·         Fenstermaker, S. and West, C. (2002). “Doing difference” revisited: problems, prospects, and the dialogue in feminist theory’. Doing Gender, Doing Difference: Inequality, Power and Institutional Change, New York: Routledge.
·         Firestone, Dr Lisa. 2012. “Identity, Sexuality, And Society’S Assault On The Self: A Commentary On John Irving’S Novel, In One Person”. The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-firestone/identity-sexuality-and-so_b_1554368.html
·         Grollman, Dr. 2016. “What Is “Sexual Identity”? Is It The Same As Sexual Orientation? | Kinsey Confidential”. Kinseyconfidential.Org. http://kinseyconfidential.org/sexual-identity-sexual-orientation/.
·         Ilkkaracan, P. and Jolly, S. (2007). “Gender and Sexuality.” BRIDGE Overview Report, Institute of Development Studies
·         Jackson, S. (2006). Gender, Sexuality and Heterosexuality: The Complexity (and Limits of) Heteronormativity. Feminist Theory. London: SAGE. Pg 105-117
·         LaMarre, N. (2007). Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Gendering of Sexual Identity: A Contemporary Analysis. The New York Sociologist, Vol. 2. New York. Pg 16-26
·         Lind, A. (2013). Gender Identity Paper. Biology of Psychology 340

·         Morris, Jessica F. 1997. “Lesbian Coming Out As A Multidimensional Process”. Journal Of Homosexuality 33 (2): 1-22. doi:10.1300/j082v33n02_01.

·         Oswalt, Angela. 2010. “Factors Influencing Gender Identity”. Mentalhelp.Net. https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/factors-influencing-gender-identity/.
·         Oswalt, Angela. 2010. “Gender Identity And Sexual Development”. Mentalhelp.Net. https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/about-gender-identity-and-sexual-development/.
·         Rosario, Margaret, Eric W. Schrimshaw, Joyce Hunter, and Lisa Braun. 2006. “Sexual Identity Development Among Lesbian, Gay, And Bisexual Youths: Consistency And Change Over Time”. Journal Of Sex Research 43 (1): 46-58. doi:10.1080/00224490609552298.
·         Sexuality and Social Justice: A Toolkit. Sexuality, Poverty and Law. United Kingdom

·         Troiden, Dr. Richard R. 1989. “The Formation Of Homosexual Identities”. Journal Of Homosexuality 17 (1-2): 43-74. doi:10.1300/j082v17n01_02.

·         West, D. and Zimmerman, C.(1991). Doing gender. The Social Construction of Gender, California: Sage.
·         Wilchins, R. (2002). Changing the Subject. Gender Queer. Los Angeles: Alyson Books. Pg 47-55
·         Zevallos, Dr. 2014. “Sociology Of Sexuality”. The Other Sociologist. https://othersociologist.com/sociology-of-sexuality/.
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