I realize I am a bit late to the re-emergence of the socialization conversation. It’s just that purposeful TERFs and accidental TERFs stir this dust up every few years that I am just tired of it at this point.
But as I mold the complex constellations of my life experiences into a novel, I thought some of my story, and consequentially of those who raised me, might shed light on this conversation.
Well before hormones, I was socialized as a boy by others. No, I did not have an accepting family. Still to this day, they hate “the trans part of me”. But yet, even though I was declared female at birth, I was always treated as a sweet, insecure, pretty boy next door. This socialization was largely afforded to me through my white skin and my body build.
Don’t get me wrong, there were sharp violent interjections of indoctrination of womanhood into my boyhood. My step mom would force me into dresses. I do not mean force lightly. I would claw my nails into the hardwood floors as she drug me into my bedroom to get dressed for family occasions. She literally beat me into bows, make-up, purses, and dresses. A tomboy was something I could be at home in private, but in front of company and for family pictures I had to “be like other girls”.
I would beg. But since I was the youngest and perceived to not be as masculine as my older sister, I was going to be my parent’s ideal daughter whether or not I wanted to be.
My step mom wanted to teach me that I had to accept my female role in white Southern society. She wanted a daughter so badly. She would flick me anytime I spread my legs or slouched.
She would tell me how pretty and beautiful I was. And as I began to transition into boyhood, she would remind me of how much beauty I was wasting.
Beyond my step mom, I was socialized as a boy. In particular, I was socialized as the nerdy, all-american, boy next door type.
One memory remains pierced into my mind. I was on a middle school field trip to an art museum in New Orleans. I was in an elevator with three girls and their mothers. One of the moms said, “Oh, so we have three girls and one boy in our group. Luck you (she turned to me) how dangerous putting such a cute young man in the group”.
Some of the girls and mothers looked away, extremely uncomfortable. Some of my friends looked at me and signaled a sigh of “poor her, she isn’t performing her role correctly. this must her so badly”. Later, the woman would be informed that I am a girl and she turned bright red in embarrassment.
From that moment on, I would keep my short hair and moments like that would pop up. Even before testosterone, in late high school, many young women would find themselves attracted to me all the while identifying as straight.
In middle school, I dated a boy named Rafe. Later on, he broke up with me because he was being teased for being gay.
In P.E., I would have to change with the girls in the locker room. But they made sure to let it be known I was not one of them. They would throw my clothes into the toilet. They would tease me for going change in the corner. They would ask me invasive questions about my body. They would make sure to cover up around me — so I didn’t see who was wearing a training bra or a real one. One time I went to my locker and the word “lesbian” was spray painted all over it. Since I grew up in a conservative household, I didn’t know what it meant — especially since at that time, I liked boys and was not willing to admit my attraction to girls.
But in the actual P.E. class, the coach told me to compete and play with the boys. Since I was too rough, too aggressive, and had broad shoulders it was decided it was unsafe for me to play with the girls.
Girls would fan over boys in P.E. class. I don’t know what they ever talked about, they never invited me to their conversations. I would watch them from time to time, pine over whatever boy they liked, do their nails, and giggle periodically.
I never felt so alive as to when I got to compete with the boys. I was stronger and better than them. I was the strongest and every boy was afraid of me the moment we started playing baseball, basketball, football, or dodgeball. I was picked first on teams and allowed to be team captain often. In this role, I acted like the stereotypical jock.
I don’t know how I got away with this, but it just felt natural for everyone involved.
Later that year, I tried out to play flute. I was inspired by some beat boxers who could play flute in between beat boxing. When I got into marching band, I would be informed by the girls that played flute that playing flute was a girly instrument. I would be asked if I wanted to play something else — saxophone or drums — something that the boys do.
These girls knew I was born assigned female at birth, but they also were able to articulate something about myself I couldn’t yet.
“No thank you, I want to play flute.” I would just say. Later that day, I noticed that other kids in school would see the flute case and whisper “so it’s a girl!!! I would never have guessed”.
Later that year, I invited my friends over for a sleep over and the girls asked “why is everything pink? that doesn’t seem like you”.
Even though they knew some would call me a girl, they thought me liking pink was not fitting my gender role correctly.
These experiences are countless. I don’t have the right answer as to how I was socialized as — girl or boy. I think for me, the answer is that I was mostly socialized as a specific type of masculinity. The type of masculinity that affords me a lot of the privileges I am granted today.