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Author Topic: Gender and relationships
SnapperJack
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Hi there,
I am a female (biologically speaking) and am okay with being seen as a female/girl most the time (so long as I don't feel I'm being labelled as a female to my disadvantage!). I have always struggled with the term "woman", mainly because of what I feel it represents in society at large (basically being seen as the lesser gender in society, secondary to men).
From a young age I've learnt to identify more with my dad (someone who I see as having strength/power). I would describe myself to be more genderqueer in this sense as I sort of feel inbetween genders here (i.e. identifying with my dad takes me out of the "woman" role).
It's strange really, my attitude towards masculinity is really ambivalent. On the one hand, I am against masculinity taking over and being the dominant force in society, yet at the same time, I envy it too!
Anyway, basically I've recently become involved with a boy/man (aged 24), somoeone who although is soft/gentle (particularly in comparison to other "men"), also really aspires to be a "man" in the societal sense, which basically leaves me feeling REALLY uncomfortable and awkward because I feel like I'm lesser (I've basically developed this huge inferioty complex to men!).
I feel really torn because I really like him... just not what he stands for and what he aspires to be (and how this makes me feel in contrast). I have spoken to him about this and he's incredibly understanding, but I still feel distinctively "female" around him... (which is ok for the most part) but it's never too long before I start to feel secondary to him being the "man" again. I literally feel my behaviour changing around him to be more submissive!
Note as well, I love his sensitivity and have tried to tell him that I'd love it if he were to express this side of him more (therefore allowing me to play that "male" part). He agrees but says he doesn't want to be labelled as gay or a pansy, either! (something I couldn't disagree more with!).
Of course I'm also aware we shouldn't change people though... I'm so torn on how I feel about this.
Any advice would be greatly appreciated as this is really starting to get me down and I don't want to hurt him either [Frown]

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blush
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It seems like you need to stop putting so much emphasis on gender. How someone acts or wants to come across as shouldn't be so heavily influenced by it.
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Heather
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I think it's fair to say that just like other ways we can feel we fit or don't fit with people, we're going to feel like our gender identity is a better fit with some people than others.

In other words, we may feel, in one relationship, that how who we are per gender feels like a good fit, feels like we can feel good about it and be who we are, while in another, it might feel like what our gender identity is is challenged or not at home.

So, I think maybe the first question is this: with where you're at with gender, do you feel comfortable dating/being intimate with men? Is that something you want and something that feels like a fit for you right now?

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Heather
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(Hey blush, just a quickie: how important gender is or isn't to people is very individual and personal, so we'd like for everyone here to try not to put "shoulds" on people around this. Thanks!)

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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SnapperJack
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Hi Heather,
Thanks for the quick response. I'm not sure, as I say I really like who he is... deep down if that makes sense? but I also feel like the way in which he identifies and the values he has are maybe not such a good match for me. I think I maybe need someone who is willing to be more flexible when it comes to gender, act a bit more feminine and not feel that they can't do that for fear of not being a "real" man. This is obviously something I need to talk about with him, but yeah I definitely feel an uneasiness with him (which is a shame because he's not doing this intentionally) [Frown]
On a related note, I also really fear I'm never going to find a man who is ok with acting more feminine... (basically not being a man!) even the most sensitive men (like the person I've become recently involved with) still seem too male for me... [Frown]

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Heather
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So, am I understanding that you do want to date/feel attracted to men/people who identify as men exclusively?

In other words, at the risk of sounding obvious, when you say you worry you won't find someone who basically isn't a man and who is feminine, is there a reason you're not looking to date people who aren't, who are/identify as women?

[ 07-13-2011, 09:58 AM: Message edited by: Heather ]

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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SnapperJack
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I definitely want to date a male... I know I'm not attracted to females (sexually, at least).

However, I really do feel threatened by masculinity, as in I feel it threatens my sense of self, if that makes sense?

I love the idea of a feminine male (someone who is biologically male but has a very feminine side to them). I guess I do have certain reservations about how far this femininty would go... and that's sad, but defintiely the effects of society/conformity etc. I love the idea of masks, the idea that someone can *look* masculine and play the part (when needed) but who is actually really feminine on the inside, like when we're alone together and willing to explore different areas outside the mainstream... I need to feel this freedom to express myself and for him to express himself.

Just not sure how to find these men though... but yeah I guess I love this quirkiness and someone confident enough to pull it off.

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Heather
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So, am I getting right that what you're attracted to and also most comfortable with is androgyny or people who are genderqueer?

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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SnapperJack
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Hmmm, yeah I guess that is it... in character at least. I don't think it's attractive for a man to dress up as a woman though... for me at least, I think that takes it too far.
It's a shame because my last/first boyfriend was basically like how I'm describing. He had a very feminine character although we never explored gender in any real depth (mainly because we were too young I think). But I definitely felt like the "man" in that relationship. Unfortunately too, I felt like the only one in the relationship because he was so passive... it's a tricky one.

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Heather
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To make sure I'm clear, someone who was assigned male sex, but who identifies as a woman or as genderqueer and wears clothing they feel is reflective of them which someone identifies as "women's clothing," isn't "dressing up as a woman." They're dressing as themselves. Do you understand what I'm saying?

In other words, yes, for some men, wearing "women's" clothing (I put that in quotes because the idea that clothing has gender is problematic to begin with) is crossdressing. For others it is not. It's no different than you wearing whatever clothes you feel express your gender.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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SnapperJack
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Yeah I completely understand what you're saying. Like I don't see my clothes as "female" at all... they're just mine. but I know society does so that kind of influences my thoughts about what I wear sometimes (ie. if I wear highly feminine clothes/heels/beads etc I then feel very... female!). lol, I know it sounds silly but I do. I dunno, I guess I just assumed that a man dressing up as a woman would do so because it made him feel a particular way as well... ie. more of a woman? and I'm not entirely sure how much I want a "woman" lol.
Eurgh, I don't know... I feel like I'm asking for the impossible... a man who is a man but isn't too much of a man and who isn't too feminine either! argh lol

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Heather
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Again, I think it's tricky to even say "man dressing up as a woman" with that kind of certainty. You say you don't see your clothes as being women's clothes, so why see what a man is wearing as having gender if that person doesn't feel that clothing does?

I'm not sure you're asking for the impossible, I just think that there are some ways you're framing gender that a) aren't in alignment with how you see it for yourself (in other words, I think you may be employing some double standards) and b) than you may be stuck in a way of seeing gender as binary -- as only about man or women, masculine or feminine -- that could be getting in the way of recognizing what it is you want, both for yourself in your own identity, and in a partner.

Know what I mean?

I mean, what I hear when you say "a man who is a man but isn't too much of a man and who isn't too feminine either," what I hear is "someone whose gender identity is not very binary, or who is genderqueer or androgynous." But I also hear you feeling very attached to someone being "a man" in the way YOU see that, which seems like it may be in conflict with that, if you follow me.

But it may also be that you just have a lot to unpack around masculinity still? And maybe around your orientation, also? In other words, you make clear you only feel attracted to men and people who identify as men, and feel uncomfortable when you feel female or feminine around them. Can I ask how/if you identify your sexual orientation? Do you identify as heterosexual or not?

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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SnapperJack
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Sorry for the delay! Yeah I see what you mean... I think I do think in very binary ways but I think much of this has come from society/seeing it with my parents etc. As far as I'm aware I am straight (as a female) but then even that depends on how I identify as myself! Wow, now I feel more lost than ever lol.
In terms of my current love interest, I think what I find hardest to deal with, is not how I perceive him (sensitive, soft, loving) but how he sees himself - as I say he seems to identify quite strongly with what it means to be a "real" man if you get me? this is where the conflict lies because I don't get this at all... like I don't understand the need to prove oneself by being a "man"

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SnapperJack
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to be honest I just feel lost with society as a whole... because I've never really understood gender, it just seems like an act.
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Heather
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Well, some of gender absolutely can be performance, and we do know that gender is about social constructs. However, many people, if not most, have some internal sense of how their own gender feels, just like even though race is also a construct, many people have an internal sense of that, too.

But there aren't any "real" men or "real" women unless what we mean by real is just that being a man or a woman, whatever that means, feels real to someone. My friend Hanne Blank wrote an amazing piece just last week about "real" women that might be a goodie for you on this: http://www.hanneblank.com/blog/2011/06/23/real-women/

Not all men feel the need to prove they are men, or male or to prove their masculinity. And again, not all men share the same ideas about what it means for them to be men or masculine in the first place.

When I was growing up, my Dad carried a bag that people always interpreted as a purse. Like him, I never quite got what makes a bag a bag and a purse a purse: isn't a purse a bag? But despite that, and people giving him crap about this purse/bag he LOVED (it was a thing of serious art, I remember) around masculinity, my father never took the bait, in large part because unlike some people who thought differently, he didn't see how what kind of bag he carried had anything to do with his masculinity. And knowing my dad, and a good deal about his masculinty and sense of it, I'd be inclined to say that for him, that bag was actually part of his sense of masculinity. On the other hand, another guy might very much feel differently, either about my Dad or about himself.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Brennan
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@SnapperJack

I totally agree with your statement on how gender seems like an act. I mean, think about it: What makes you female/male? Some would say that I'm male because I have a penis -- biologically, that's true.

But what if I wanted to play the female gender role? In our society of labels and sorting, wouldn't that make me a woman?

I honestly think gender is a preconceived image that is placed upon us from the moment we are born. When I was a baby, all of my clothes were blue (the modern day color representing childhood masculinity -- interestingly, pink used to represent masculinity while blue represented femininity, but that's really beside the point) while my sister's clothes were pink. Mine had little lions on them, hers had little sheep and butterflies and flowers.

From the beginning, I was told that I was supposed to be a man. Does that mean I will be one in the conventional sense? Possibly. If I was with a woman like you, so willing to reject the traditional gender roles, I'd fall into a -very- feminine form of myself that I actually feel more comfortable and happy in.

With a more traditional 'feminine' woman, who is very much sure that she is happy with her role in society, I would likely take a much more traditional role.

Gender role, to me, has varied between partners. Because what is gender role when you have nobody to compare yours to?

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Saffron Raymie
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I really like what you wrote there, Brennan, really well put.
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WesLuck
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I agree.
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Jacob at Scarleteen
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"Gender role, to me, has varied between partners. Because what is gender role when you have nobody to compare yours to?"

I really agree with this it feels to me as though relationships are their own little system of identity and language. I think one of the hardest things about understanding gender and relationships is that every relationship brings with it change but we try to understand what our gender identity/orientation IS, rather than thinking of gender as simply a big mix of cultural signs that we end up entering into and have a different influence on every unique combination of unique people in relationships.

[ 10-05-2011, 11:19 AM: Message edited by: Jacob at Scarleteen ]

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