I am thankful to my mother for the way she brought me up, letting me make my own choices from an early age on. I know her motivation to act like this had to do with her own childhood, she had suffered much at the hands of my dominant grandmother and she wanted to do it differently with us, my sister and me.
Growing up end seventies, begin eighties, in a small village in the country, meant that I could be the tomboy I always was. I could play with what I wanted, play with who I wanted, wear what I wanted. I was a lucky kid that way. No pressing socialization into being a girl or a boy from my family’s side. My friends were all boys, except for my best friend, who was a girl. Although thinking back I realize we weren’t really ‘girls’. We were hunters, soldiers, cowboys, princes and adventurers, that’s what we were. We loved to watch adventure movies and series on tv: Errol Flynn as pirate, Tarzan, Buck Rogers, the A-team. Heroes and adventurers were always men in our eyes. Women were just there to be rescued, they were the victim most of the time. We played the part of the men, never the part of the women.
But there comes a time when even a genderneutral upbringing is counteracted by the workings of the genderbinary in our society. Gradually I became aware I was not one of the boys. It were just little things that started to add up: I couldn’t play in the boys soccer team. I had to join the girl scouts, instead of the boys scouts. Boys started to treat me differently. There was one single moment when the truth struck me like lightning: I was a girl! It was one of the unhappiest moments of my life. I was angry, sad ánd alone with these feelings, because who would understand my frustration? My world had collapsed, I stepped into a cage and I would be trapped in it for the rest of my life. Trapped in womanhood. This feeling got stronger the moment I started to grow breasts. I hated that boys looked at me in another way, that it made me even more different from them.
As in the movies I watched, in my own life women were mainly victims too. My mother had fled from my aggressive biological father in the arms of my stepfather, who didn’t turn out to be the knight in shining armor after all. I never knew what damaged my mother more, the physical aggression of my biological father or the continuing mental abuse of my stepfather. The damage he did to my sister and me is not measurable, but it affected our lives very much. I even now feel the anger and sadness inside me when I think back of having to watch my mother endure his mental abuse almost every day, seeing my sister upset and retreating back more and more in her room and myself, hiding in my books and playing outside to avoid him as much as possible, trying not to hear his denigrating comments and feel stupid and small. That was not what I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be helpless, I wanted to be the boy in the book that went to sea to have adventures.
This aversion of being a girl sort of slumbered in the years that I lived as a heterosexual. I suppressed the uneasiness with my body as much as possible. I hid in big clothes, tried to be comfortable with myself, but never was. Only when I came out as a lesbian, but even more, when I started to identify as butch, did my dysphoria surface again and this time I took time to look at myself and think about myself. It helped me so much that I had started to learn a new language from my friends: radical feminist language. The internal battle against my womanhood had everything to do with the experiences in my childhood, with the way society is structured in this binary thinking, with the way I viewed society as a child, with the strong female role models I lacked, with the absence of feminism in my life. And yes, I’m still not ok with my breasts, I guess I never will and maybe I will choose to live without them one day. But I learned to love being a woman, because I can be the woman that I want to be and deny being a WOMAN at the same time. It means I can always choose to be the boy who goes to sea and has adventures, even when I’m a girl…