Let me begin by saying that for a long time I found all this “identifying gender”—he, she, her, him, it, they—to be… well, confusing? So much so that I just couldn’t find the patience to find out what it was really all about. But, being the good liberal Democrat that I am (Who could possibly identify as anything else? Conservative? Seriously?), I thought, To each his own. I didn’t put my pronouns under my name on LinkedIn, and I didn’t really pay attention when other people did. I basically ignored it, but felt that, if it mattered to someone, then good for them.
Then Rosie O’Donnell did a TikTok post about her fabulous daughter informing her that she was non-binary, and proceeding to explain what that meant. How it isn’t necessarily a sexual preference thing, but more of an identity thing. “She doesn’t feel like a boy or a girl,” she said. “She just feels like her.”
I stopped dead in my tracks. Head up. All focus on what she was saying. Do I feel like a girl? That’s a question that I never asked myself before. Since I am attracted to men, I never thought about the rest of it.
I went down Memory Lane and the family lore about my behaviors and wants as a child, stories which were always retold as if I was odd. When I was little, I never wanted a doll. Never had a doll. I went outside each night and found a rock to clutch while I slept, not a cuddly stuffed animal. I wanted a gun and holster set when I was four. One Christmas I got a rocking horse and spent the whole day taking it apart with my dad’s tools and putting it back together again. All day. I read The Happy Hollisters series over and over—a series about two sets of twins, two girls and two boys, who went on adventures and always solved a mystery while traveling. There were no “feminine” things happening. The girl twins were just like the boy twins and spent all their time solving mysteries, not doing traditionally boy or girl playtime activities.
Then when I was in the seventh grade, I had a poker game in our basement with six or seven of the guys in the neighborhood. I loved it. Loved it! We did it once a week. My dad had a poker table, so I guess that’s why I thought to put it all together. It was fabulous. One day my father told me that the neighbors were talking about it and I couldn’t do it anymore. It wasn’t seemly. I remember being confused. But that was the end of that.
As I got older, and financially free, I preferred classic clothing choices, and dark leather, paisley decor. Lily Pulitzer still makes me shake my head in disbelief. My favorite black-tie outfit was a tuxedo jacket from Yves St. Laurent, with black pants and black heels. Wonderful antique necklaces, with large, interesting gold and pearl interwoven jewels. Classic. Strong. Beautiful. Always minimal makeup, which I never spent much time admiring. My hair, which I consider my best feature, has been the same my entire adult life. Shoulder length, turned under with bangs that fall more to the side. I often put it in a ponytail (which, during the pandemic, I considered the same as taking a shower).
My activities? Riding horses—I’ve been loving horses since I was a child. Tennis—I preferred singles or mixed doubles; I never liked ladies doubles, which I found boring. I play competitive backgammon—along with one of the best female players in the world, I founded Women in Backgammon, because we realized that women only make up sixteen percent of players in the competitive arena and aren’t always treated as if we belong at the tables. Both riding and backgammon are sports where women and men compete on equal ground. Genderless. Non-binary sports?
This trend of bucking stereotypical tastes and activities for my gender continued when I became a mother. One of my MFs (Mommy Felonies) is that I dressed my daughter Sarah like a boy and cut her hair short, so that she looked like Jeremy Thomas in the class picture. Oh my. She did have dresses and wore them when she went to birthday parties, but they were far from everyday wear. And she had such thick hair—cutting it short was just a way to avoid crying and painful brushing every morning. I had no idea the identity crisis this would cause her. To this day, it’s on the tale table whenever hair is a topic of conversation.
Then there was my French mother-in-law. God, I loved her. When Sarah was little she went to her formal Fifth Avenue apartment once a week to spend the morning and have lunch. Sarah was crawling at the time, so I would send her over in OshKosh overalls so she could crawl around the cavernous rooms without getting tangled in a dress. Each and every week I would deliver her in the overalls, and she would come home wearing a Bonpoint dress from the French shop on Madison Avenue. Every week. This went on for months. We never mentioned it. I have no idea what happened to all those overalls; they never were returned. Now I know that Sarah preferred the dresses. We all put our tastes and labels on those we love, trying to give them what we think is best for them instead of letting them pick for themselves. Imagine, if you will, a department store without a boys or girls section, but rather with clothes arranged by style and color, where a five-year-old could peruse the racks without the limitations society has placed on them for appropriate dress codes. What if Sarah had chosen jeans and a dress? Sneakers and heels? OK, I’ll go there. Just dresses and heels?
I realize now that the conversation about identity isn’t necessarily the same as the conversation about sexual partner preference—that it’s about understanding the ways that “girl” and “boy” qualities and expectations are cemented into who we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to want to do when we are born with one set of genitals or another. And how this is not necessarily in the best interest of finding our own place in the world. Our own set of interests, passions, style, and taste.
So for me, sexual preference is something totally different. I have not been sexually attracted to women in my life. I am attracted to men, but not in the way that some women swoon; I have never been about the masculinity of the man, but rather their conversation, humor, intelligence, and likability. Both my husbands came from other countries—England and France—and both would be considered “metro-men,” not masculine, Arnold Schwarzenegger-type guy’s guys.
It’s my new feeling that traditional identities could be opened up to allow more room for personal taste and expression. In my opinion, adding labels like non-binary might not be the answer. I think it makes more sense to change the expectations for what someone’s preferences will be based on the biological gender to which they are born. My taste in clothing, activities, reading matter, and, and, and… This is all unique to “me.” Not her or him or they or it.
I do want to say, though, that I think being trans might be a whole other story. Wanting to change that which you were physically born with, feeling compelled to do it in order to be the “you” that corresponds to the person you know yourself to be, is for me something altogether different than the labels I’m talking about. I have great respect and am a cheerleader for those who have the courage to be who they are, and to change their bodies to fit their self-perception. I am heartsick by many in this country who are so threatened by it that they are changing laws and physically attacking those that choose that route.
So I am exploring my takeaway on this musing - which comes to this for now. I identify as “me”—Christine, Sarah’s mom. Writer. Friend. Sister. And, so many other things that are genderless in my psyche. And I’m “she/her” in terms of the pronouns we sometimes must use, but only because I was born with female genitalia. Adding another label outside of those - for me - is a mistake. The problem that needs to be addressed, in my opinion, lies with the original assumption of what being born a girl entails. Change it from that foundation, rather than adding other layers that leave those same assumptions in place. Being a girl doesn’t mean you are into dolls and cooking and fancy dresses. It means you were born with female genitalia, like the color of your eyes. Or your hair. Or long legs. It’s an adjective describing a physical attribute, not a defining word which will enable you to know who I am without getting to know “me.”
I thank Rosie, who gave a clarity to my childhood that has always been … well confusing. All from a simple TikTok post that has long since gone into the abyss of social media’s archives. Wow.
Wow, what a great post. Too much to comment on via cell phone. But yes...horse shows which were Jean and my life tor 40 years Haha as one of their virtues their nonbinary nature. And not a lot of ageism either...60+ year olds compete against 18-year "kids." More when I can type on a computer...
What a well thought out narrative on the issues that surround gender labeling. Let me know when you open that genderless children's clothing store!!! Can "we" call it JUST KIDS and have it decorated and themed in baby goats? ❤️❤️