Guest columnist Mariel E. Addis: When I was a boy


Published: 02-20-2023 2:38 PM

I had the pleasure of seeing former Valley resident Dar Williams perform at the Bellows Falls Opera House last weekend. I have to admit that I was largely unfamiliar with much of Dar’s work, but I felt that, based upon everything I had heard about her, I was sure I’d enjoy her show — I did. (In fact, I’ve since purchased three of her CDs!)

Dar closed the evening with her song “When I Was a Boy,” in which she talks about growing up as a tomboy. Near the end of the song, she sings about meeting a man describing being close to his mom and picking flowers with the lyrics “when I was a girl” to describe the man’s childhood experience. This trans “girl” was in tears.

Is this some kind of transgender anthem? Absolutely not! It is a beautiful song about the innocence of childhood, when compliance with society’s rigid gender boundaries aren’t as strong as they are after we pass through puberty. I see puberty as both a rite of passage to our adulthood, but also an end to our somewhat less strictly binary, more gender-fluid, selves.

Now, I was raised in a very binary, male/female world, a world whose inflexible structure is currently being questioned by many. I have to admit that even as a transgender person who fought long and hard to be “just female,” I didn’t always get it, but I do now.

Despite the male body I was born with, I always felt I leaned more toward one side of the binary — the female one. Just the same, I have to admit that I loved many of the activities we associate with boys, like tinkering with things, building forts, tearing around on my bike, playing with my Matchbox cars.

Growing up, maybe I wasn’t that much different from Dar in this regard. But I also liked sewing, playing with my stuffed animals, and puzzles — activities we might associate with girls. My parents didn’t have a problem with it back then, nor should parents have a problem with it now.

Although today I happen to use “she/her/hers” as my pronouns, I’ve come to realize that I am far from 100% female based on society’s strict stereotypes — and that definitely has nothing to do with me being a transgender woman. I cannot think of any female friend I know that doesn’t have a few pinches of “boy” in her.

The similar goes for every male friend I know: many have some traces of “girl” in them. The exact “recipe” depends on the person, some have more or less “boy” or “girl” in them, and there is absolutely, positively, nothing wrong with it.

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As for me and many transgender people like me, just recognizing and embracing the male or female aspects of ourselves, contrary to the bodies we came with, is often not enough. I wanted experiences I could never really have with a male body, a traditional male life, and common male-based interactions with the world; transitioning to female has allowed me to have a female existence, and I have no regrets.

Just the same, I never jettisoned the stereotypical male activities I enjoyed. Instead, I found more activities to add to the list of things I enjoy, many of which would be considered stereotypical female activities.

Despite using the term “stereotypical” male or female activities, I really think we need to chuck the male and female part in favor of just “activities.” Genderizing items and activities is a human activity, and it varies widely based upon culture. In the Western world, men and women can be found working in virtually every career that there is, enjoying every hobby and pastime out there, and engaging in every sport ever played.

Being more flexible in our gender expression wouldn’t be such a bad idea, either. We can celebrate all the male and female aspects, traits and interests that each and every one of us has, whatever the mix. No one out there is 100% male or 100% female, despite what our bodies may look like. We are complicated souls and we need to celebrate that fact.

Mariel Addis is a native of Florence. She left the area for 16 years but returned in 2013.]]>