I’ve joked before that one gauge of how my girl friends perceive my gender is how often/extensively they volunteer information about their period with me. That is, over the past year, I’ve gone from only very close friends rarely or occasionally mentioning their period, to all of my close girl friends (and a few of my female coworkers) mentioning their period or PMS at some point in the past few months.
This totally makes sense to me, although it never would have occurred to me as something to expect. Periods and PMS are something that are assumed by the vast majority of people to divide the genders cleanly. Sure, people might be intellectually aware that some women have had hysterectomies or be post-menopausal or not experience menstruation for whatever other reason. But it’s generally safe to assume that, if you’re talking to someone who is presenting as a woman, they bleed once a month. And if you’re talking to someone who is perceived as a man, they don’t.
(I’d like to make a detour momentarily to note that I don’t think these assumptions are inherently a bad thing, unless they cross the line to imposing gender in a specific situation. That is, I think it’s a Good Thing that we’re moving as a society toward a place where men and women are, at least legally, not treated differently. It’s a slow journey, and full of fits and starts, but – overall – I think we’re heading in the right direction. At the same time, I think treating men and women with equality is different than pretending there are no differences between men and women. I wouldn’t be transitioning if I thought men and women were the same. So, throughout this post, I’m not trying to say any of this gendered conversation is a bad thing, other than that it might be nice to have more frank discussions of gender and our bodies across gender lines. But I’m not faulting or calling out friends for their behavior, just noting it.)
Likewise, I was at a party last night, chatting with a coworker. We were discussing our plans for the holidays, and she said she was going down to Alabama to visit her cousins, as they’re throwing a baby shower for her. (Her baby is now about 6 months old.) She asked me how I felt about being at her (pre-birth) baby shower earlier this year, because she’s known me for a few years and since before I transitioned.
I said that it was weird, that showers are weird, and talked about how showers are a holdover in society from when we pretended everything about the genders are different to where we are now. (See my parenthetical two paragraphs above.) Again, I wasn’t saying showers were a bad thing, inherently, but that they were a bit bizarre to me – as someone who still feels like something of an outsider to women’s spaces – to act as if the men weren’t involved in creating life.
This coworker said showers – and baby culture in general – were particularly frustrating to her and her husband, because he was the primary caregiver and she was the primary breadwinner. When almost every child-rearing book assumes the opposite is true, her husband has complained, it makes him feel totally left out: He doesn’t need “daddy tips” like “bring her flowers every so often to remind her you care about her” or “remember to pick your child up when you get through the door at the end of the day.” Some dads might, but he doesn’t. Likewise, the situation isn’t just reversed – she’s still breastfeeding and helping care for their son, so they can’t just swap all the daddy tips to her, and mommy tips to him.
Another coworker sat down with us, and the conversation then turned to their birthing stories, which brings this post back to the idea of women being comfortable sharing certain information with others they perceive as women. Now, I don’t know that the conversation wouldn’t have been the same were I a man. I’ve known both of these coworkers for years, and it’s entirely possible they would have felt comfortable revealing some of the information they did (about their birth experiences, labor, tearing, post-birth cleanup, the amount of blood in the delivery room, etc) had that been the case.
But I suspect that’s not true.
I don’t have anywhere I’m going with this, exactly. I talked a little about the whole idea of gendered conversation with my therapist last night, who sort of said, “Yeah, that’s true. You’ll get used to it and it won’t seem so weird anymore.” I have no doubt of that, but wanted to share the experience while it still is a little weird.