There’s an interesting phrase. Man, woman, and child: those are my options, are they? Identifying oneself by one’s sex is a prerequisite for adulthood: if I don’t want to identify myself by my sex, as either a man or a woman, I’m left with identifying myself as a child. How interesting.
Actually, it explains a lot. I have neither of the traditional signifiers of fulfilled womanhood – a husband or children. Nor do I have the traditional signifiers of manhood – a breadwinning income or a family (the wife and kids). And, well, I have often been treated like a child, like an insignificant, like someone to be seen and not heard, to be dismissed at will.
Once, when I called a garage with questions about rustproofing my car, I got superficial and incomplete answers that were of no help at all in deciding whether and where to have the work done; a male friend of mine called the same place, spoke to the same guy, and was treated to the adult version, a clear and substantial explanation of the advantages and disadvantages of wax-based and oil-based undercoating.
Another time, I called six contractors about an addition I was planning: two didn’t bother returning my call, one promised to come and give an estimate but never got around to it, and one showed up but then didn’t actually give me an estimate for the job. I obviously wasn’t being taken very seriously.
A female friend of mine once explained that introducing herself as Mrs. So-and-So made a big difference with stuff like that. And I recalled then the following incident. After recently moving to a semi-rural area, as I walked to the mailbox cluster for my mail, a neighbour stopped to walk with me and chat. Her first question was ‘Is So-and-So your husband?’ No. ‘Are So-and-So your kids, then?’ No. ‘Oh, you’re So-and-So’s girlfriend, aren’t you?’ No. End of conversation. I couldn’t be connected to husband or kids (even husband-potential would’ve sufficed), so I didn’t exist. I became invisible.
I am a bit of an androgyne. For whatever reason, having followed my inclinations, my preferences, I have about as many masculine traits as feminine ones. And while most people recognize me as female, I have been taken for a man on several occasions. This doesn’t bother me, because if I were to describe who or what I am, my sex would be rather low on the list: I am a lot of other things before I am a woman/man. And, this is important, all of these other things are very adult.