The Gender Border Patrol

I’m cis –

Yeah sorry. About a lot of things. But anyway.

– and I never had to deal with a lot of the experiences I’m hearing about today. Some of them still echo in me, resonating with my childhood, with things I heard, with ideas I learned. One little story that sticks in my head, from a song.

This is a pretty weird song in a pretty weird album. I legit don’t know what it’s ‘about’ or if it’s about anything. They Might Be Giants do that sort of thing all the time and the songs on that same album also include the strangely horror-story driven Spiralling Shape and the mind controlling music of The Bells Are Ringing. It could be this song is about trans issues and I have no idea.

But I heard this song as a kid, in the secret clandestine way we heard music in our home lives during that stage of my life, and I liked it as part of the album it was on, which I had taped from a friend of a friend’s CD in an overnight borrow that I had to return the day afterwards, no option.

You kids with your ipods, I swear.

Anyway, I heard this song a few times, in my bedroom. And thought nothing much of it. It was just weird – I mean I could sing ‘like a girl’ at the time, which in my mind meant that I was capable of singing soprano. I actually flatter my memory to think I had a really good soprano voice before my voice broke to its more boringness now – I know that to properly put my voice behind a song in choir and at church, I had to really go for it. I got accused of pride for this a few times, which I dunno. Probably true, in the world of sins. The point being that that was all it was to me: A song wondering about having a ‘girl’ voice.

My sister, out of nowhere, at a family dinner, brought it up as if it was pornography.

The idea that this song was somehow obscene and disgusting was brought up and talked about. My parents didn’t know what the song was – so they relied on my sister telling them about it. I remember being confused and stunned by it – and finally being given the advice I should never sing that song.

Now I’m a cis boy.

But how fucking patrolled is that gender boundary? How utterly weird is it that a half-memory of a song I didn’t understand that just used the phrase ‘like a girl’ was something my family thought was important enough that my sister ratted me out about it? When I didn’t know I’d done anything wrong?

Also probably the first place I heard the word ‘objectified.’

I can’t imagine how awful the life I’d led would have been for someone who, in addition to the problems I had with violence and identity and want and self-acceptance, was struggling with being told their gender was wrong, and they were stuck with it. I can’t imagine being that cruel to someone who was doing nothing wrong. I can’t imagine it because we make that action, the policing of gender, a tiny invisible action we all do every day, so none of us notice when we do it.


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