JJ Vincent asked a 43-year-old about gender, identity, self-expression, and what defines a man.
I met Brandon S. in a dance company we were in together when we were teenagers. He was duly famous for jumps that cleared the heads of most of the girls in the group. That was 26 years ago. We were out of touch for a large block of that time, but thanks to the miracle of social media, we’ve reconnected. I was thrilled when he agreed to let me ask him 10 questions about gender.
Q: The dictionary is being rewritten. How would you define gender?
A: I feel that gender is the way a person identifies oneself. I know that there are some people that are physically born one way but emotionally and intellectually identify the opposite or neutrally. I feel that should be taken into account as well.
Q: How would you identify your own gender?
A: Both physically and emotionally as male. But everybody has some of both in them. I’m not afraid to show female emotions.
Q: What do you think makes someone a man?
A: This is a tough one. There are many answers, none right or wrong. I think the answer is a combination of emotional, physical and intellectual factors. There are age factors; the law considers one an adult at 18. With the other factors there are no right answers. It is more that you will know. When you can answer your own questions that you would ask your parents. When you are capable of taking care of yourself.
Q: There’s a lot of current discussion about children being raised without gender. If you had care of a very young child, how would you approached gendered issues (toys, clothing, activities)?
A. Probably to the physical gender they are, but when they are old enough and can articulate it, if there is a change I would take that into account.
Q: Most forms and surveys have boxes on them for M or F. Would you change this if you could and if so, how what would you put instead?
A: Male, female and neutral.
Q: Do you think topics of gender identity and expression should be discussed in schools? Why/why not?
A: Yes, because not discussing it can make a young person dealing with these issues feel even more isolated then they already feel. I think it should be discussed as part of sex ed. It can also help others be more tolerant.
Q: A question about relationships. If a person identifies themselves outside of the traditional M/F, should this be a early topic of conversation? Should it be a topic at all?
A: Yes, yes.
Q: Going back to the question of toys – if you had a girl who liked “boy” toys or vice versa and a gift-giver who did not respect that, what would you do?
A: I would discuss with the child: you are going to receive a gift you may not like, but please be kind to the giver, and we will take care of it together. I would, with the child, take the gift back and get something they want with no question.
Q: Let’s revisit the idea of “female emotions”. What do you think about boys and men being discouraged from showing “female emotions”, and should this be encouraged instead?
A: I think it’s stupid. I have never been discouraged from showing female emotions. I don’t have a problem crying in public. For instance, the day Michael Jackson died, I worked 30 minutes from home. I was listening to a CD of his and I cried the whole way home. And I knew people saw but I did not care. It should be encouraged.
Q: Last question. You have the chance to display/show your gender identity. Anything goes, no questions asked. What do you wear?
A: There is one slight difference between now and two years ago. I would probably do a suit and tie. But two years ago I would have proudly displayed earrings in the 10 holes in my ears. I don’t wear earrings now for religious reasons.
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