“You’re really a man, aren’t you?”

‘All my life I have been accused of being masculine. “You’re really a man, aren’t you?” one particularly unpleasant ex-boyfriend joked.’

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Blanche Girouard: "We can mutter and moan, or we can make a point of finding out more"

All my life I have been accused of being masculine. “You’re really a man, aren’t you?” one particularly unpleasant ex-boyfriend joked. I can’t, now, remember why. Perhaps it was the fact that I was more assertive than he was. Or generally wore trousers rather than skirts. Or preferred whisky to wine and didn’t like handbags.

Whatever it was, it bothered me, upset me and made me angry. What, I wondered, did it take to count as a woman? Did the template have to be the girl Buffalo Bill was dreaming of when he sang

The girl that I marry will have to be
As soft and as pink as a nursery.
The girl I call my own
Will wear satins and laces and smell of cologne.
Her nails will be polished and in her hair
She’ll wear a gardenia and I’ll be there.
’Stead of flittin’, I’ll be sittin’
Next to her and she’ll purr like a kitten.
A doll I can carry, the girl that I marry must be.

Wasn’t gutsy, gun-toting Annie (the girl he actually fell in love with) a far superior model? 

Now in my forties, I care less about these comments. But how, I wonder, would I feel if I were in my twenties? Would I be deciding that I was in the wrong body and, actually, should be a boy?

I have no idea. What I do know is that more and more young people are experiencing gender dysphoria — a feeling of being out of sync with the body they were born with. This isn’t something we can ignore. For not only is the increase marked, the consequences are very serious. Some are being given puberty blocking drugs. Others are taking male or female hormones. And some, having passed for the opposite gender for a sufficient period of time, are choosing to have irreversible surgery. 

We may call them the “snowflake” generation but in this respect they are more like hail — hitting us in the face with new beliefs and ideas about gender and making us distinctly uncomfortable. We can mutter and moan and say we are baffled — treating young trans people as our parents treat their computers. Or we can make a point of finding out more, of talking to them about their thoughts and feelings and doing our best to understand. We can try to work out if they are doing the rest of us a favour — freeing us from the shackles of our birth gender and allowing us to become who we really are — or if we are doing them a great disservice — causing them to feel so out of step with their biological bodies that they have to do something about it.

In the process of working out the answer, we must banish gender stereotypes. For how on earth can we expect anyone to decide whether they identify as male or female while so many inaccurate notions of male and female still abound?