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Barbara’s Story: “I’m a human being before I’m a gender” PDF Print E-mail

I’m Barbara, Brandon or Barbs, as many people call me. I identify as androgynous. I was always a tomboy. I was never into dresses and girly things. I did have dolls and I wasn’t forced into a gender per sé, but I just felt more comfortable wearing pants instead of dresses. I don’t know how much it had to do with identifying as an androgynous person. I was sexually abused at a young age for about 2 years. It’s difficult to say how that influenced my thinking of gender. In my teenage years I wanted to be a guy. The desire to be strong was influenced by my father who became violent when he got drunk and I always wanted to be strong enough to fight back at any man should he ever raise his hand to me. So subconsciously I would pick up heavy things and do things to make me stronger.

I was born on 9th August, National Women’s day, so I always have a public holiday on my birthday. I’m the youngest of four children: an older brother and two older sisters. My parents were always around; they never got divorced, even though their marriage was very rocky. I would say my brother was my hero. My sisters were just there. I was close to my brother; I still am, I admire him, I respect his input. Now that I’m an adult my sisters feature in my life more, and are very supportive of me

I was a bit of a lazy student. At junior school I didn’t really participate in sports or extra mural activities but became more involved in sport like horse-riding, hockey and athletics at high school.  

I had to wear a dress at school but when I wasn’t at school I didn’t wear dresses. At that time clothing defined the way you are. At that time I also developed crushes on my female teachers. So I suppose within myself I identified as lesbian but I also liked guys but didn’t have the words to say I’m bisexual. I mean I’ve always liked guys, if you look at the sexual aspect of things. I’ve liked women and I’ve liked men, there’s never been any division between the two. For me it was more about the person than the gender.

I think sexual experimentation came when I was about 16 years old. But it didn’t involve sexual intercourse. I did have a sexual experience with a girl at that time as well. I put that down to experimentation and finding one’s sexual self, finding one’s self as a sexual being.

My parents never spoke about sex but it wasn’t like there was a sexual taboo or anything. I grew up in a Christian home and the Christian morals influenced my life. So although I was experimenting sexually, to me I wouldn’t have intercourse because I couldn’t do that until I married. I understood that from a very early age because at the age of about nine a friend’s brother tried to rape me and the thought that was going through my head was I mustn’t let his penis get into me because then I might fall pregnant. So at that early age I sort of knew the biology of things but I was naïve.

I think I blocked out the sexual abuse for a lot of my teenage years. It’s only in hind sight and in reading that I understood myself. I was incredibly rebellious and didn’t respond well to authority figures. I pushed the boundaries on everything. I wasn’t sexually promiscuous though. It was only when I was about 25 years old that I read a book called “When the Bow breaks”. It was a book for parents of children who have been sexually abused. And in reading the book I understood that a lot of my behaviour in my teenage years, my rebellion and apathy, were moulded by the abuse.   

It must have been in about 1983 that I had a girlfriend. When I was doing nursing training I used to go to a gay club and there I met a girl who had been to the same high school. We went out for about a year.

Although I was in a sexual relationship with her we were from two different planets. She was incredibly politically aware. She was a very political lesbian and I was just this person going along my merry way and smoking dope and I was brought up in an absolute cocoon. I think she became very frustrated with my ignorance because at that time there was a lot of political unrest and atrocities going on and I was just not aware.

I wanted her to be demonstrative to me in public. I was a Christian making a stand for gay things with her, so I wanted more commitment from her because I felt what I was doing went against my religious upbringing. But I never had a conflict within myself because whether I was sleeping with a guy out of marriage or whether I was sleeping with a girl, one was as bad as the other. I never felt guilt or whatever; it was just something I did.

I had an interesting conversation with my mother about the whole sexual identity thing because I started exploring my gender and did not quite know how to explain it to my mother, I don’t really identify it as any gender. So I explained to her that I’m bisexual I like guys and girls, and her attitude was ‘Oh well it runs in the family, look at your cousin John”

Sex is about the act. It has never been an overwhelming need or desire in my life. My fulfilment as a person hasn’t weighed on how many sexual conquests I’ve had. So there have been periods when I was sexually active maybe 5 times in my life. At times when there is no sexual activity in my life I think about myself as asexual because there was no sexual need or desire. But when I started reading up about androgyny, it made a lot of sense to me.

I identify with both genders on the gender spectrum. I wouldn’t say I’m totally feminine and I wouldn’t say I’m totally masculine. I’m somewhere in the middle. I suppose that’s a masculine way of thinking, I’ve got a masculine mind. The thing is how do you identify what is male or masculine and what is female? I don’t feel female and I don’t feel male, I’m a human being, a person.

I’ve got an analytical and a mechanical mind. If you give me something I could probably take it apart and put it back together again. .But you see, that’s sort of like stereotyping.  Why should my ability to think mechanically put me in a more masculine role?  Can’t I be a woman who can do mechanical things? I just find that the binaries of gender are very stereotypical and limiting. You need to take lots of things into consideration, and I just think to value one gender in society more than another is not right, because ultimately we are all human beings. I think the colour would go out of humanity if there were no genders. I just think that we should be accepted regardless of what we are.

When I was in my late teens I wanted a penis. I wanted to be a man but when I thought about it, I wanted to be a man because that was something I aspired to. I still liked men and in my naivety at the time I thought “How can I be man if I still loved men?” I didn’t think at the time that it’s ok for me to be a gay man. Then that sort of thinking disappeared, but I started getting hair on my chin and I went to an endocrinologist to find out what the problem was, and it basically turned out that I had raised Dehydroepi-androsterones (DHEAS) which is a type of androgen. I still have a beard, but I shave. And it also resulted in me having more muscles than a woman would normally have. I thought I was a pseudo-hermaphrodite and all that sort of stuff. They gave me cortisone to suppress the hormones. But you can’t really reverse the hair growth. I can have laser treatment or electrolysis but the electrolysis is really painful and expensive. And Medical Aid wouldn’t cover it which think I thing is a bit ridiculous.

Physically, I have not liked my boobs. I would have loved to have gotten rid of them. I think that’s one physical female aspect that I’m not happy with. I don’t need a penis to prove who I am. I’m a human being and that is the most important thing, my genitalia don’t define me as a person. The fact that I happen to have female bits doesn’t matter since I don’t use them much.

The first time I started menstruating I did not tell my mother but she came to me. I never really had problems with my period in terms of pain. I had problems with PMS, mood swings and all that sort of stuff, different mood issues. I didn’t think about it. It was just part of life and it was there. It was never an overriding or emotional thing. I don’t usually shave my legs. I find shaving a real pain. I also sometimes pluck my eyebrows but I try not to be motivated by what society wants.

People perceive me mostly as female. I don’t think about it. Because I’m at work and wearing a uniform it in a sense takes away my gender. To me a uniform levels the playing field. If somebody had to judge me and say because you’re a woman such and such, I would stand up and say why is it because I’m a woman? Why isn’t it more because I’m a person? I’m too fem to be a lesbian, and I’m too butch to be a heterosexual. I know that sounds quite strange but I’ve never fitted into the lesbian mould. I don’t fit into the stereotypical lesbian persona. I don’t hate men. I think men are human beings. I’m bisexual and by saying that I’m putting myself outside of the stereotype of what a lesbian is.

It would be nice to have a partner. It doesn’t matter what gender the partner is. The gender isn’t relevant, but I have no clue about how to initiate relationships. I think at some stage I thought I might have liked to have children but I don’t think I want children now. I’ve got my dogs, they are my children.

I think I have not been challenged as an androgynous person because people don’t really understand what androgyny is. They understand male and they understand female but they don’t understand not being either. In other words they have no concept of what to challenge or talk about.

If you get into the linguistics of androgyny it’s so foreign to everybody people wouldn’t know how to be politically correct with an androgynous person. It’s a whole new language of addressing people, because for “He” or “She” it is “Se” and for “Him” or “Her” it’s “Hir”. I think only in academic circles would the pronouns be challenged. I know on the Gender Dynamics forum people who know that I’m androgynous use the pronouns when they speak to me in private mail but to me it’s not an issue. I’m a human being before I’m a gender.   

I would say the politics I stand for wouldn’t be about my gender identity, but rather about people and their humanity. That is my politics. So I would stand up for a woman wanting to identify as a lesbian. I would stand up for a man wanting to identify as gay. I would stand up for a transgender person for whichever gender they identify as. I would stand up for the dignity and the humanity first.

I’ve only met one other androgynous person, a guy. I think there are more people out there who are androgynous. There are people going around who can’t quite put a finger on what they are. But it would be difficult for me to “make a statement”. I live a really isolated life. I don’t put myself out there, so I don’t put myself in a position where I’m going to be challenged. From a Christian perspective, I go to a cell group. I’ve spoken to one of the leaders and told her I’m bisexual and I’m androgynous, and her feeling is, “Well fine, that’s how you identify, that’s ok”. I’m not challenged on how I identify. I’m accepted there.

I don’t really care what people notice. I suppose ultimately I want to be accepted and that’s all that any human being wants. My gender doesn’t define who I am as a human being. I will not allow myself to be put in a mould because society says I’m female born and I look female therefore I should wear a pretty dress and wash the dishes and keep house and raise children. Just as much as I won’t let society say I can’t fix a car because I’m a girl. I can fix the car if I want to fix the car, I can chop the wood if I want to chop the wood. And if I want to lift 150 kilograms, I will lift 150 kilograms of weight because I can. So for me my androgyny is not letting society dictate what I can and can’t do because of my gender.

Only in recent years did I start trying to embrace my femininity, by buying feminine clothes.  I haven’t bought a dress yet, I will not wear a dress. I wear lipstick and I wear mascara because this is me trying to embrace my femininity. How would I embrace my masculinity? I’m going to gym, I’m working out, I’m building up my muscles. I’m also dieting at the moment so that when I’ve lost my excess weight I will have these major muscles.

My androgyny does not identify me totally with masculine or totally with feminine. My androgyny identifies with a bit of either. If you look at my career, I’m a nurse. What is nursing? Nursing is compassion, gentleness and understanding. Those are stereotypical feminine attributes. The interesting thing is that many male nurses are gay. So there is that very strong feminine side coming across. Nursing is quite a feminine thing, it’s nurturing and loving and caring…

What moulded me is what happened in my formative years, what I perceived in my family. I saw that people were not treated equally in my family. If you were a man you were treated differently than if you were a female. And I fought against that. So, yes, that has moulded my thinking.

In my teenage years I wanted to have a sex change because I wanted to be a man. But then my thinking was naïve. It was “Well, I still like men so how can I be a man, how can I have a sex change if I still like men?” Later it became a more rounded thinking of not being extremist by thinking that women are heroines of society while men are the evil of society. There are bad men and there are bad women, just as there are good men and good women.

It is very much an intellectual thing. When I did my nursing training in the ‘80s I worked in the ward where they were doing sexual reassignment surgeries and I was privileged to work with some of the women who had sexual reassignment surgery. At that time I couldn’t understand the strong motivation to have what I perceived as a mutilating operation. But then also my training moulded me in that I’d taken an oath as a nurse, to care for people regardless of creed, colour or sexual orientation and Gender identity. And I think that also moulds how I work in life, to see a person’s humanity first. Yes, I might be a Christian in belief and understanding in the philosophy of life, but if there was a Hindu or Muslim or whatever in need of help they will get it regardless of their Religious belief. Anyway, I think God is an androgynous being. God is male and female. And a lot of people can’t see it because they are tuned into the patriarchal thinking of god as “He” but if you accept God as your creator and that we were created in God’s image then He must be both male and female.

You can get an intersex person who is born with ambiguous genitalia and then you’ll get a person born with a vagina, clitoris, and uterus which makes them female or get a person born with a penis and testicles which makes them male. But I think what creates the continuum is people’s thinking, how you think and perceive.

I think society’s understanding of what an androgynous person is should be is a very slim person who’s got no breasts and has a boyish hair cut. It’s a physical observation. That is if you ask a person in the street what an androgynous person is that is the stereotype you probably will get because that is what has been promoted by the fashion industry. But that androgyny as a fashion statement is different to that androgyny as an identity.


Users' Comments (1) RSS feed comment
Posted by Chris Hare., on 17-02-2010 12:27, , Guest
1. Mr.
Hi Barbara, 
I totally agree with everything you say here, except that I have found that the expression "androgynous" is more easily applied to a girl who appears somewhat "boyish" than a boy who appears " girlish". The boy, more often than not is considered to be "queer". 
I am, what I believe is considered to be "transgender or transsexual" and any feminine characteristic that manifests itself in my own life is considered to be an indication that I am a queer or a "moffie". It is much more difficult for me to live an androgynous life than you, because of this idea that society seems to have.

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