Every day my breathing would grow shallow slightly when it nears 7 pm. This means dinner time, and dinner time means sitting face to face with my mother. Spending any time with her is hell, and that’s why I try to spoon as much food as I can from my plate in as little time as possible.
“Grow your hair out,” she would say, “and use your money to buy skirts. Wear them on weekends with your friends. And lose some weight! No man would like you if you’re like this.”
Twenty-two years now of the same thing. I thought I’d be used to it.
“I don’t see you wearing lipstick. And don’t be so fierce to guys. You need to be softer. I’m saying this for your future. For your own happiness.”
But I am not used to it, and every day I just want to die. Every day I wish I didn’t have a future to endure.
These are some normal expectations that I shoulder for being born with a vagina. I used to wish I were a boy, because all I knew was if you’re not a girl, then you’re a boy; now that I’m slightly less clueless, I just wish I could survive in the iron maiden that is gender roles.
I come from a conservative Chinese family, where the path is set in stone depending on what genital you have, just like any other traditional culture out there. For males, you’re expected to step up and take care of the family business. Your life goal is to be rich, because it doesn’t matter if you’re ugly or if you have no redeeming qualities at all, girls will flock if you have the cash.
For females, you must be obedient and pretty, and education is not a priority. My mother doesn’t even want me to get a master’s degree, scared I’d “be smarter than guys, so I won’t find a husband,” an absurd perception in 2016, but strongly held nonetheless. It seems a big deal if a girl can’t be married off, because that’s a Chinese girl’s life purpose. In China, women who don’t marry past their late twenties are called leftover women. I guess that’s my mother’s biggest fear.
I like menswear and I think I look cute with my hair short. I’m fierce and fearless for the most part. I want to be smarter than guys. And girls and neither and those who are in between. I want to be a leftover woman. All I knew about being a girl was the expectations pushed onto me and I despised everything about it: the dresses, the docility, the self-worth derived from being good enough for a man. Now I don’t hate the idea of being a girl anymore, just the suffocating pressure of femininity from my mother. The one thing I’m glad about living like this is that it made me a feminist.
None of the above is acceptable. I’ve always been the odd one out. Especially in my family, I am everything wrong, the ultimate example of what not to be. I thought the constant verbal beating was acceptable. I thought it shouldn’t hurt, so there were times when I didn’t pay attention to the pain I clearly felt. It took me years to understand that this situation can cause depression, and that I shouldn’t have to feel like this.
The dysphoria is real, and so is my right to be happy. For example, to you, clothes are probably just clothes, that’s all, but being told to wear something I’m not comfortable in horrifies me. This may sound like a joke even to me, but some feminine clothing gives me crazy levels of stress and anxiety. I’ve understood the root of this problem and the importance of the matter, and to take myself seriously when something makes me uncomfortable or sad.
There’s an ever-present disconnect when I socialize, a gap between my view of the world and theirs. I’ll twitch my eye at words and actions that seem light and harmless. When sexist jokes and remarks come up I burn with fiery passion to punch them with my fist of knowledge. It is difficult not to interrupt someone and go, “Actually, that has nothing to do with that specific gender . . . .”
Often I feel like I should educate people when they are (hopefully) unintentionally hurtful, as I feel like I carry a baggage of responsibility of someone holding the privilege of knowing. I’d like to think that when people are more educated, then maybe being oneself wouldn’t be so nerve-wracking.
Not to mention the disconnect between me and my body – wishing a scalpel would cut through parts I don’t want on myself. I’ve given up on tracing down the culprit of this desire. Is it the remains of my hate towards femininity? Years of discomfort and not being in touch with my own gender? My body my choice, I’ve learnt, so whatever the case may be, I’m going to do anything needed to make me feel better. Then there’s disconnect between how other people view me and how I want to be viewed. This one is less important than the rest, admittedly, but that’s because that’s the kind of person I am. I know this is a big source of distress to many people.
The pressure of gender roles can cause real harm. It may affect one’s physical and mental health. The lack of understanding of this issue makes it difficult for people whose gender identities don’t conform to live, to just be. It’s a real problem for cisgender and transgender people alike. In a perfect world everyone is accepting and we all have choices despite our gender or sex. By writing this I hope I can get us to look to that direction.
Lenn is a not-so-freshgrad who wears black and a little bit of red. Loves bread and rambles about gender and other problems with hip hop playing in the background.