Growing up in the Seventies, I used to sing, "I am woman, hear me roar," with great gusto. Stereotyped sex roles were a thing of the past. Bring on diversity! Free to be you and me. Do the work you love, wear the clothes you want to wear, and if anyone insists that pink is for girls and blue is for boys, tell them to bury those outdated views with the rest of the dinosaurs. "Feminine" and "masculine" were now considered purely subjective social judgments about neutral personality traits; being a woman or a man simply meant you were born in a female or male body, regardless of what you liked to do or how you liked to dress.
And I thought that was the last word on sex, gender, and freedom, until transgender people began to raise their voices and speak out more and more often, taking their place on everyone's radar screen, invisible no more.
And I found myself challenged to reconsider, again, the meanings of sex and gender and society.
That some people born with a male body preferred to live in "feminine" ways, and some people born with a female body preferred to live in "masculine" ways, I could easily understand. I've never understood why so many other people made such a big deal about strict gender roles that are totally arbitrary and totally made up. As long as you do no harm, do what you will.
What I couldn't grasp was how it was possible for people inhabiting the body of one sex to have an internal experience of being the other sex. To me, being a woman simply meant my inner self--soul, spirit, psyche, what-have-you--happened to inhabit a female body; being a man simply meant a person's inner self happened to inhabit a male body. Free people were androgynous souls who happened to land in whatever bodies they landed in and didn't particularly care which body as long as the soul was free to be what it wanted to be.
I don't have an internal sense of being gendered. And for much of my life, influenced by the zeitgeist of the 1970s, I thought that when people claimed to have an internal, intrinsic experience of gender, it was nothing more than societal conditioning and stereotyping.
Reading and hearing the experiences of transgender people challenged that assumption. At first I dismissed it as a case of Old Stereotypes Die Hard, that men simply didn't feel free to adopt "feminine" traits as men, and women didn't feel free to adopt "masculine" traits as women. But eventually, with more reading and more listening and more pondering, I realized that the matter of gender identity runs more deeply, at a biological level, than "what society says," whether conforming to or contradicting those social norms.
And it finally occurred to me:
Maybe my experience isn't everyone's experience.
And I think, if one by one each of us can begin to grasp that simple idea--that maybe our personal, individual experience of life on Earth is not necessarily a universal norm shared by all--then we just might come a little closer to peace on earth and goodwill towards all.
We don't have to understand everything about every human being to accept them as fellow human beings. As long as you do no harm, do what you will.