As a young girl growing up I had no interest in playing with dolls, applying child-friendly make-up on my face or all the other things that girls were “supposed” to do when they are young. In actuality, I played rough, which often resulted in my older male cousins using me as some punching bag or guinea pig for their little human experiments. This led to me running to my grandparents because I had been victimised, again, for being the runt of the family. So, I developed a thick skin and my need to be seen as an equal resulted in me becoming incredibly assertive. This, coupled with the stubborn nature that I inherited from both of my parents, would make me anything less than a push over as time went by.
I knew that this either made people drawn to me or dislike me, but to be honest, I did not care. I also knew that I was “not like all the other children” that I saw around me because they did not have the need to assert themselves as much as I did. And for a long time, I understood this to be because I was a “tom-boy”. I grew up to question my own sexuality because people kept telling me that I wasn’t a “normal” girl, due to my proximity to guys, being a “G”, and even the so-called lack of fear that I had when engaging with boys. There was also the fact that I wore what made me comfortable, which consisted of baggy pants/jeans,loose-fitting t-shirts and sneakers.
When I was in high school I was crazy about boys but was hardly ever in any relationships. This was due to my trust-issues that I had with all the father figures in my life (I actually dislike equating the issues I have with male-intimacy to my relationships with father figures, but it is my truth). I was also very discreet, hardly ever discussing the crushes I had on people and discussing the incidences that I had with them even less. And maybe this lack of knowledge left people to think that I was not interested in guys at all. Who knows? All of this left people confused, because how could a cis-gendered heterosexual black womxn (at the time, my sexuality has since become a little less straight forward) have such a strong personality?
Surely, the dominating and strong personality that she has can only be attributed to males, so therefore she MUST be a lesbian
This is a kind of thinking I have always found deeply problematic. But it has taken me a long time to identify why and even a longer time to put this all into words.
Not only is this way of thinking simply ridiculous and founded on utter bullshit; it is backward for various reasons:
It takes womxn back eons, assuring that the “genderisation” of personalities is something that is still perpetuated. This continues to give men and womxn certain personality traits, often to the detriment of womxn. These generalisations are usually broken down to womxn being “soft” and “emotive” while men are seen as “powerful” and “rational”. But what people never seem to explore is that these so-called personality traits usually have nothing to do with gender but rather genetic traits you inherit from your family, as well as socialisation.
It starts with something as seemingly arbitrary as the colour of clothing that we buy for children, down to the toys they play with and the roles that the characters of their genders play in cartoons and “kiddies’ movies”. We throw baby showers and have gender-reveal parties where we guess the gender of the child and buy gifts according to those genders. We say we want boys that will become soccer stars and girls that will do ballet. So, we dress our girls in pink and give them dolls and let them watch Barbie, who goes on countless shopping sprees and trips to the mall and aspires to look good for Ken. Even though Barbie is the original career womxn, the quintessential Do-It-All kind of girl, she only represents one type of girl; she fits within a box, literally.
You then dress up your sons, and buy them action figures that destroy cities just to catch the villain, while telling them the story about the powerful Lumberjack that saved Red Riding Hood from the big, bad wolf.
And then we take them to schools, where boys and girls are encouraged to play together, to a certain extent. But when they play together and a boy trips a girl, we tell the girl to stay away because she ought to understand that “boys will be boys” or that “boys play rough”. And so when a girl possesses these traits, it is treated as an abnormality. “Girls don’t fight” “don’t play rough, it’s unlady-like” or my personal favourite: “boys won’t like you if you don’t act like a girl and girls don’t do what you’re doing. Girls are calmer”. Several pre-primary school teachers used to say that to me.
The other issue with this logic, or lack thereof, is the assumption that womxn who act a certain way, can only have one kind of sexuality. This can be said about men too, who often feel the pressure to perform their masculinity even when that is not what they want to do. This one particularly annoys me because it takes the LGBTQI+ community back so many years. It is absolutely wrong to assume that personality traits and sexualities are one in the same thing.
YOU DO NOT ONLY GET “GIRLY” GAY MEN AND “GUYISH” LESBIANS.
Sexuality is not a binary, instead it is a spectrum, and this is something that we have become increasingly aware of the more people have opened up and shared their experiences. Sexuality is about your attraction, so I could be “masculine appearing” and still be attracted to men, my assertive nature does not say anything about my attraction. Stop It!
When womxn are assertive, society has a keen interest in trying to discredit her, break her down. They usually want her to tone it down, to not have such a mouth on her. “Womxn are naturally submissive, why do you not get that?” “Why do womxn like being so difficult?” I have been in situations where men have told me that I would be so much more attractive if I wasn’t so stubborn; sometimes I was told that my assertiveness was attractive, to a certain extent. I have since learnt that this just meant that the fact that I can say what I want without the worry of hurting male egos is incredibly attractive; until I start hurting male egos.
Look, there are structures in place, such as the patriarchy, that do not give people the freedom to identify with what they deem comfortable. For the most part of my childhood, and adolescence, I was bothered about things that I felt I couldn’t change or unlearn. As a strong black womxn, you are faced with resistance from various people. This is to say that when you do not fit into a certain binary, you make others uncomfortable and that is how they want you to feel, uncomfortable for being yourself. It was not until much later on in my life that I came to realise that there is nothing wrong with me, but the narrative that has been perpetuated out there, and the backward thinking that keeps this narrative alive.
I’m all for the girls that do fit into this box, do not get me wrong. But what I am advocating for is the ability to be any kind of person you want to be. For as long as you identify as a womxn, you can do whatever it is that you want and the same can be said for identifying as men.
Binaries and Generalisations are boring; and for the most part, completely inaccurate too.
Signed: Siyamthanda Gaxamba