Underneath my yellow skin

A question of gender

I was born a girl, but spent most of my childhood wishing I were a boy. Not because I wanted to be a boy, mind you, but because being a girl seemed so limited. Both in my native culture (Taiwanese) and in my surrounding culture (American). I was told that girls can’t climb trees, should play with dolls, and a bunch of other horseshit that to a little girl, sounded an awful lot like, “Girls aren’t allowed to have any fun.” I never liked dolls–only using them to have sex with each other. I much preferred stuffed animals. I never played wedding with my dolls because that never crossed my mind as a fun thing to do. Every night before I went to sleep, I prayed to a God I didn’t really believe in to make me a boy. I mean, He was God, right? He could do anything! Every morning, I was disappointed when I woke up as a girl, yet again.

Remember, I didn’t hate being a girl per se. I never felt like I was a boy–I just hated that I was told a litany of things I couldn’t do because I was a girl. In my juvenile mind, the best way to deal with the situation was to change my gender because I certainly wasn’t going to change my personality That was an anathema to me.

I look at pictures of little me and wonder who that little girl was. Every picture has her grinning and just brimming with energy and enthusiasm. This was when I was a baby until around age seven. Things changed then and that was when I first wanted to die/was aware and afraid of death. Gender wasn’t the whole reason, but it was a large part of it.

My parents treated my brother and me very differently. My brother and I have talked frankly about it in our adulthood. It’s mostly my father who is an inveterate sexist. My mom tries to defend him by saying he’s old school Taiwanese, which doesn’t really change my thinking. For example. When I was fifteen/sixteen and had not yet dated someone, my father decided to give me dating advice out of the blue. He told me the way to get a boyfriend was ta raise my voice a couple of octaves (I have a really deep voice), let a boy beat me in some game like pool, and ask him for advice on something like cars. I looked at my father for a long minute and said, “If that’s what it takes to get a boyfriend, I’d rather be single for the rest of my life.” Which still holds true!

Another time, he was visiting me and handed me a wrapped box. I looked at him in puzzlement because it wasn’t my birthday and I’m not even sure he knows when my birthday is. I looked at him quizzically and he said blandly, “Women like presents.” I had no idea what to do with that and he added that when people gave him presents in Taiwan, he gave them to my mom. Yes, Dad, every woman-shaped person likes every gift, no matter what it is or who gave it to her and for what reason.

The latest example is–and look. These come out of nowhere so there is usually no lead up. Or if there is, it only makes sense in his brain. In this case, it’s Costco. My brother has a membership and has been buying us loads. He took my parents to Costco once after a financial advisor meeting (I wasn’t there) and this conversation happened a few days later.

My father: You know, we went to Costco the other day.

Me: Yes…. (Wondering what was coming because it was bound to be a doozy)

My father: We’re smart people.

Me: (Struggling to keep my face straight)

My father: And it was hard for us to navigate (meaning him and my mom). For the average housewife–

Me, thinking: (Oh here we fucking go)

My father: It must be too much for her to grasp.

Me (trying not to explode): It’s really not that different from when you shop at, say, Cubs. If you make a list before you go in, you can get it done fairly easily.

What I wanted to say was: Look the fuck around. Over half the shoppers are women, though most aren’t probably ‘housewives’ because we can’t afford that shit in the great capitalistic society of America. Who the fuck do you think is doing the shopping on the daily? And who the fuck are you calling smart? You wouldn’t be able to shop at Costco on your own so maybe think twice before spouting your nonsense!

But, no. None of that would make a dent in his warped view of the world. Not only is he stuck up his own ass; he’s in early onset dementia. And has lost most of his hearing. And hasn’t talked English on the daily in 20+ years. And, and, and. In other words, I should just keep my trap shut (the common viewpoint with narcissistic people and/or people with dementia), but he makes it so fucking difficult. He also talked about how the ‘ladies’ liked to shop (in a brick-and-mortar store) to someone who would rather cut off my own arm than voluntarily go shopping.

And8 this has been the issue my whole life. I’ve been told over and over again that what I like to do isn’t feminine and by extension, neither am I. I was talking to another bisexual woman about sex (this was 25 years ago) and I said that when I saw someone attractive on the street, I wondered how they’d be in bed. She looked at me as if I’d grown another head and said that no woman did that.

I can’t tell you how weird that was–like, there I was, an actual woman (at the time), telling her that I did that–and her response was to deny my experience to my face. ;Because it didn’t fit her idea of what a woman did and didn’t do, well, then I must not be telling the truth. When I pointed out that I, an actual woman, was saying I did this, her face shut down as if her brain refused to compute. She countered by saying she had talked about it with perhaps ten of her female friends and they all agreed that no woman would do that.

I mean, arguing with an appeal to authority has never worked for me, especially when it’s in direct contrast to what I had experienced myself. In fact, it is one of my pet peeves because I grew up with two unreliable narrators. Don’t tell me what I did or did not do! You don’t know that better than I do.

I have a deep voice and am continually called sir on the phone. I don’t care about many of the typical feminine things. Mostly because I don’t care, but also in reaction to being told I *had(* to care about them. The things I do like are considered traditionally masculine and I’m considered an outlier for liking them.

I realized I was bi in my early twenties, but did not want to deal with it as I was still grappling with racism and sexism. I’m being glib, but it’s not far from the truth. In my first years of college, the fact that I was an Asian woman was really slammed into my face. Selfishly, I did not want to deal with biphobia as well.

A decade later, I realized that I didn’t have to get married–and didn’t want to. A decade after that, I started questioning whether I even wanted to be in a romantic relationship (jury is still out on that). And, in the last few months before I ended up in the hospital, I started thinking about my gender identity. It wasn’t that I hated being a woman or thought I was a man–but after a lifetime of others denying my womanhood, I winced at the woman denotation.

Here’s the complicated part (because I always make things complicated). I don’t relate to they/them, either any more than I do she/her. I was explaining this to my brother and he said, “You just want to be called Minna.” He was right. I don’t want any pronouns, which I don’t think is going to fly. I’m gender apathetic just as I am apathetic when it comes to religion and many other things in my life. (I don’t like the term bisexual, but it’s better than any of the other options..) It’s the same with gender. I don’t like she/her or they/them, but I like even less the neopronouns. The only one I’m definitely not is he/him.

Then I landed in the hospital and all questions of my gender ceased to matter. Or rather, it got bumped down a long list of concerns. The thing that struck me was that in my time of need, I did not care if the person handling my body was male, female, or nonbinary–the only thing I cared about was if they treated me with respect and dignity (and knew what they were doing, of course). Probably 2/3rds or 3/4ths of the people taking care of me identified as female, but all of them were professional and warm.

I still don’t think of myself primarily as a woman, but I acknowledge that many of my experiences are rooted in being perceived as a woman. Honestly, it’s just not at the forefront of my mind at the moment. I have referred to myself as the miracle girl with my tongue firmly in my cheek, but nothing about my experience had anything to do with gender.

Right now, it’s still not a priority for me. If others want to call me a woman, fine. I won’t call myself that except ironically, but I will not take issue with it, either. This may change somewhere down the line, but I’m fine with it for now. Frankly, I’m relieved that it’s one less thing I have to think about.

 

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