The Amazon Trail

Gender Buttons

By Lee Lynch

Lee Lynch by Sue Hardesty


Where do little kids get their urgent need to know my gender? Is it intrinsic, some part of survival of the species? Parents should at least teach them that their question is rude. But no, the parents are as unsettled by what they perceive to be gender non-conformance as their children. That leads to bullying, even at home. “Darling, you’re a pretty little girl! Wouldn’t you rather play with your dollies?” Well, no. I had not the slightest interest in dolls. Dressing them up? Pretending they were living infants? Bor-ing.

Little Lee, Gloucester MA

Little Lee, Gloucester MA

I’ve been messing with gender all my life, preferring to present as androgynous. Perhaps it’s been rebellion, a slap in the face of anyone who asks the perennial question, is it a boy or a girl? Perhaps I just liked the look.
I’m biologically female and have never wanted to be anything but a woman. At the same time, I have hated to wear female clothing since early childhood. It’s overpriced, often not well made, and uncomfortable. And I’m required to wear it because—it buttons to the left? Who makes these rules?
In the March 27, 2015 “Atlantic Magazine,” Megan Garber wrote “Every day, millions of people are walking around with these little reminders of gender inequality emblazoned on their chests.” She explored the possible history of button placement to male use of weapons and shields, to class, to holding babies, and maybe even to Napoleon. Laughable, the way we button up traditions so they don’t go away.
I don’t get angry easily, but I’ve always had a hair-trigger fury when confronted with gender assumptions. I had to hold in my anger—I was different and therefore wrong, wrong, wrong. Inside I was screaming, “How dare you—?” I didn’t know what to ask; I didn’t have the words. Why, why, why, did they have to know anyway?
Today, I still ask. What is this need we have to categorize one another? Why separate, why pit category against category? Probably it goes back to defending ourselves when we set up housekeeping in caves.
Gender labels are convenient, whether they once were prehistoric mating signals or are a way to protect today’s females from today’s males. Even as a kid, I wanted nothing to do with that mating stuff. The planet is overpopulated enough. I have the maternal instincts of a sidewalk. Does this mean there’s something wrong with me? Again, how dare anyone define what is right or wrong in my inherent makeup.
Once I was nominally a grownup, and might have enjoyed the freedom of confident androgyny, many feminists, as unlearned as I had been, condemned the boyishness of butch, the spectacularness of femme. It took me a long, long time to re-recognize my natural attraction to girly girls and not condemn myself for it.
I am terrifically grateful to the brave people who are speaking out on this subject in recent years, many of them young and fortunate to be more knowledgeable than I was at their age. Certainly, for most of them, reassignment to one extent or another is not the easy way out. I saw a meme yesterday that read: “Legality is a matter of power, not justice.” The fines and prison sentences that have been written into bathroom use laws are a way of controlling those who the powerful fear: scary us.
Wake up, legislators in North Carolina and Tennessee, we are not the people most likely to harm you or your kids. It’s okay to be who you are and it’s okay to be who we are. Let go of that vestigial panic.
But what kind of bad joke is this aging business? We grow heavy or dangerously thin, our bodies lose or grow (unwanted) hair. We’re prescribed medications that can numb our favorite drives and increase disfavored urges. Female and male become less distinct until, at the 50th anniversary celebration, longtime mixed gender couples look like each other. By end of life perhaps some begin to realize all the fuss over who was who and who did what never mattered.
Many women have told me that they simply had no idea there were choices available to them: how to dress, who to love, whether or not to give birth, what work they could and could not do. Too many promising humans have been utterly crippled by primordial traditions and it’s time to quit mandating where our buttons go.
Copyright Lee Lynch 2016

15 Responses to “The Amazon Trail”

  1. 1 Brenda April 28, 2016 at 5:32 PM

    Great read, thank you. I am a teacher and I once heard a colleague correct a 9th grade boy who said he was tired after a weekend of gardening. She said, “Boys don’t “garden,” they do yard work!” Ay yi yi. I observe people trying to enforce gender stereotypes almost every day. They often have NO IDEA that they are causing harm and putting a damper on kids natural instincts and unique natures. I do think it is slowly and slightly changing, but voices like yours are incredibly important.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 3 Ann Aptaker April 28, 2016 at 6:43 PM

    Brilliant…as always, Lee.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. 5 Devlyn April 29, 2016 at 8:55 AM

    I have been ‘busting’ gender norms my whole life, just as you have Lee and at times get way too pissed off with having to explain that ‘no’ I am NOT in the wrong toilet, and the myriad of other inconvenient and uncomfortable conversations we face on a daily basis. Your blog brilliantly brings these issues to the forefront for all of us to ponder. The fact that any state of the US would ‘police’ gender and which toilet we use is very very scary indeed. You are so right, kids can be very rude but unfortunately so can parents, grandparents and others. I usually grab my own breasts and say ‘what do you think’ but this doesn’t always work.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. 7 Fran April 29, 2016 at 1:22 PM

    Wow! That brought back many “not so great” memories. I grew up and still live in a very conservative area that is at least 20 years “behind the times”. I grew up in the 70’s. My mom would force me to wear dresses for my birthday parties until I refused to have a party to avoid this. I just was not comfortable in them. I had short hair and wore a Philadelphia Phillies hat everyday. Many people would ask if I was a boy or girl. That would embarrass me to no end. I am about to turn 47 and still do not wear dresses. I like jeans or sweats and sneakers. My daughter, age 17, also rebels against the gender stereotypes. She wears the same types of clothes that her older brother wears (thank goodness he is supportive because my older brother was not!). She goes to Catholic school and when they changed the policy that girls had to wear their skirts on mass days, she refused and wore pants or did not go that day. She is a great kid and I hope she continues to be herself and not conform to what others think she should be!
    Thanks Lee!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. 8 Dorinda Depp April 29, 2016 at 1:45 PM

    Well said Lee

    Liked by 1 person

  6. 10 I Beacham April 29, 2016 at 2:25 PM

    This has so resonated with me, Lee. All my life people have tried to label me. As I was growing up (I grew tall like a string bean) and with my preferred tom-boy short hair I was constantly asked if I was a boy or a girl. Now when people learn I’m gay they ask me if I’m the butch or the femme one. My answer is always, “I’m me.”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. 12 Angie April 29, 2016 at 4:30 PM

    Incredible article! I was a tomboy at heart growing up but no matter how big a fit I would throw I was put in girly clothing and given dolls to play with. The only thing my imagination came up with was removing their heads. I felt as if I was broken inside. I wanted to play with my brother’s GI Joes and Tonka trucks so bad but the consequences of it hurting to sit down after getting the wooden spoon to by butt was not worth it. Even though it was a difficult time something came to my rescue. Books. With them, I could be and do whatever I wanted. My love of reading never left me and I always have a book with me. I now look how I feel inside even if I get sir a lot.


  8. 13 Lee Lynch April 29, 2016 at 6:31 PM

    I have a car & truck collection on tiny shelves around our office. ( ;


  9. 14 S.A. April 30, 2016 at 6:38 AM

    Spot on, Lee! Great blog, as usual.

    Liked by 1 person

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