When girls are too strong

I left my home town when I was in my early 20s. I’m surprised it took me that long to leave.

Since then, I’ve lived in a different city in the same country, and in two other cities in other countries. But the crux of it all is I couldn’t stay in my home town. I was the cuckoo that had to leave the nest.

Our parents expectations of who we are and who we will be don’t stop when we become adults.

My parents wanted a daughter who would be pretty, feminine, traditional – and go on in life to do pretty, feminine, traditional things.

I was the exact opposite.

Born that way…

When a child arrives and they’re not who – and what – we expect and desperately want them to be, things get difficult. Especially for the child, if the parents insist on trying to mould them into becoming something they can never be.

There’s a reason why so many gay kids leave their home town, moving far away. I’m not gay, but in the same way as gay kids often do in traditional families, I didn’t meet expectations.

I was too strong to change who I was. The only way I could be true to who I am was to leave.

When a home is not a home

The best thing I ever did was leaving home. Looking back, I only wish I could have left before I even became an adult, had that been possible. My parents are good people, but my home was fiercely patriarchal.

Even now, when I go home to visit, I’m very much at the bottom of the pecking order. It’s expected that I’ll help with the household chores (together with my mother and brother’s wife), while my father and brother sit and drink whisky.

This isn’t a home in which I feel wanted, welcome or equal. I don’t feel loved there, or accepted for who and what I am. I feel like my parents try really hard, but that’s it – they’re just trying to love me.

My failure to accept my patriarchal roots was an expression of my own inner strength and who I truly am, which was only given a chance to develop once I left home and was no longer stifled.

Once I left home, I went on to become a community leader, a mentor to other women, an internationally-performed composer, a competitive athlete. A woman of strength. A person with purpose.

Why women are not equal yet

Again and again, I see articles in the media querying why women haven’t risen to equality across the board in society. After all, the articles argue, we achieved theoretical equality in the 1970s – surely it has been long enough since then?

Surely one generation should easily be able to erase the inequality of thousands of years of entrenched abuse and inequality? That’s not much! It can’t be that hard!

I know the answer: we’re still dealing with the legacy of inequality. We’re still unequal. We’re teaching what we knew ourselves to our daughters and sons.

I see it in the women who are spoken over in conversation, I see it in the absence of movies and media about women, I see it even in the programming club where I volunteer, and among the 9-12 year olds I teach only 1 of 15 is a girl, because it doesn’t occur to local parents that their daughters might like to learn how to program. Or be good at it.

We’re passing on a legacy of misogyny. It cuts to the core.

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Why strong girls leave home

Girls leave home when it ceases to support them. They don’t come back because there’s nothing to come back for. I moved cities because, away from home, I could finally be myself without my parents criticising everything I did. It felt like a breath of fresh air.

When I return home for visits, every two years or so, yet again I feel that stifling, patriarchal, controlling weight holding me down and crushing my spirit.

Family dynamics can be difficult, especially when you don’t fit in with your family’s expectations. In anyone else’s world I’d be a success: I’m a professional woman, I’ve achieved in my career and in my hobbies, I’ve made a positive difference for so many people.

But what I wanted to do and be just didn’t fit in with what my family wanted. I was never going to be subservient and feminine. I was never going to be the pretty girl. I was never going to be the perfect daughter – an exact copy of my mother, minus all her mistakes. I was always going to be my own person. I think that came as a shock.

Raising girls is just raising little humans

Our society has a real problem in raising girls, especially non-traditional girls. We’re fine with girls who want to follow traditional paths, and who are beautiful in traditional ways, but we struggle with women who want to be soldiers, or bodybuilders, or engineers, or programmers.

Or even with women who just want to speak their minds.

We do our best to push and shove our girls into a tiny box labelled “acceptable” and anything else we don’t know what to do with. It’s time we started accepting our daughters – especially our strong, unique, powerful daughters – as amazing human beings in their own right.

It’s time we honoured their strength.

It’s time we welcomed them home.

Does God care about gender? Transgender people and the Divine

Everyone is talking about Bruce Jenner at the moment. So here’s an interesting thought: does God – or do the Gods – care about gender?

Do our souls – if we have them – have genders?

You know, this never really occurred to me until recently. I remember reading somewhere that hardly anyone has a transgendered friend, and it’s something that few people connect with.

I must be different, because I can’t count the number of transgendered friends I have on one hand – I think I have eight or nine, last time I stopped to think about it.

The thing that strikes me most about people who transition is how little it affects who they are, to we people on the outside. To me, perhaps the most amazing feature of the whole process is how much they remain the same. They’re still the same people.

I remember being worried, when my friends have transitioned, that I’d lose my friends. But my friends have remained the same people inside. Their souls, if that’s the right word for it, have remained the same.

I suppose it’s naive to expect that gender should make such a huge difference, but before I knew people who had become male when they’d been female before, or female when they’d become male, I guess I’d expected their innate personality – the person they are inside – to change dramatically. It didn’t; it hasn’t.

So if it doesn’t matter to me, does it matter to the Gods?

A Goddess for everyone across the spectrum of gender

My patron Goddess is Aphrodite. Of all Goddesses she’s one to have a little fun with gender. She’s the Goddess of switching forms, of hermaphrodites and androgyny, and of playing games with gender roles.

A lot of people, when they think of Aphrodite, imagine this very, very feminine Goddess. But they forget that Aphrodite is also the Goddess who was spawned, so the legend goes, from the sea foam created by the castrated genitalia of Uranus, and her children include Hermaphroditus. She governs gender fluidity and transition, and is accepting of transition and non-traditional gender roles. The Gods aren’t necessarily easy to categorize.

Looks can be deceiving

Nor are people easy to categorize. Bruce Jenner, of all people, was portrayed as the stereotypical All-American male – the perfect athlete, the good-looking man who every man wanted as his friend and for his daughter as a partner. He was incredibly desirable and high-profile. Could anyone have seen this coming?

According to Jenner, it’s been here inside him all his life – inside him, waiting to come out. He started taking female hormones in the 1980s, 30 years ago. This isn’t a new thing for him.

That’s something you hear, again and again, from people who transition. The pressures to remain the gender they were born into are incredibly strong, and it is only once the pain of remaining who they are becomes too intense that they break the chains and push for the freedom to become themselves. Transitioning isn’t a kick, or a fad: it’s something they must do, and have needed to do for many years. It’s only society that has held them back.

We are all in transition

It’s both an indictment and praise to our societies that people feel such pressure to remain hidden for so long, yet are finally able to become who they feel they are meant to be. I think we’re societies in transition too, perhaps. But the signs are good that we’re becoming more tolerant, more accepting, and more positive for transgendered people.

We are transitioning too: we are learning, as a society, to be kind, open-minded, and to love unconditionally.

Do the Gods care? Personal perspectives

So – do our souls have gender? Do the Gods care? Will the transgendered be judged? Does any of it matter, apart from the happiness of the individual?

Or are the Gods, as the ancient Greeks might imagine, just playing games with us all, throwing the dice, making life more difficult for some than for others?

As a woman who, I suppose, is very gender-neutral, I’ve never felt the need to be a man. I can’t imagine what it is like. Yet I certainly fit more of a male stereotype than a female. I don’t own any skirts or dresses – at all. I wear a lot of men’s clothes. I’m a bodybuilder and weightlifter, spent time in the army, own a farm, castrate sheep and do most of the yard work around the property, work in tech, have tertiary experience in software engineering…the list goes on.

I can’t think of anything worse than knitting or sewing or quilting or wearing frilly clothes. But do I want to be a man? No. I’m just me. Somewhere in the middle of the gender spectrum, I guess. I don’t feel confined by any roles. Why should I be? But my experiences are different to those of others. I have no right to judge. My right is that of support, and of friend.

If I have a soul, it’s not pink or blue. It’s probably orange, or yellow, or maybe lime green. I’m not really into the concept of souls anyway, but if the Gods care about gender, then I believe it’s a very small part of what makes a person worthwhile.

So my view is, if a person needs to transition to be complete and whole and happy, then let them. Support them. They’ll still be the same person inside. Because they always were that same person inside.

We just couldn’t see it.