Have you ever questioned being categorized as a man or a woman?
Rather, have you ever felt a little uncomfortable about being categorized based on your sex rather than on who you are?
I grew up with many male friends, and I was often the only female in the group. As I got older, I remember having moments when I became conscious about other people’s thoughts about me hanging out with boys.
When I hung out with a male friend, people would tell me:
“Do you like him? Are you guys dating?”
“I bet you two like each other.”
I felt very upset because I had no such feelings towards him or other male friends.
I got funny looks for being the only girl in a group, and I was told by people who were close to me that others might not have a good impression about me because I hung out with boys. It was not long before my young self began to feel guilty and blaming myself.
I decided to write this article because I recently found a diary that I kept while growing up. I would like to share some quotes from my diary, word for word.
“Why don’t they react the same way when I hang out with my female friends?”
“Whether someone is a girl or boy doesn’t matter to me, but why does everyone else want to draw a clear line?”
“I don’t get why hanging out with a girl alone is fine but hanging out with a boy gets everyone talking behind my back. I might be the one that’s crazy.”
“Why do people assume that I only like men? Why?”
I was too young to be able to process the discomfort caused by the differences in opinions with others, and my days of confusion and distress lasted for years.
A few years later, I moved to the U.S. with my family due to my father’s work.
I felt really comfortable there because I didn’t find the distinction between men and women to be so strong like it was in Japan.
A few years after I started living in the U.S., I realized that I was bisexual. I was finally able to process the question I asked myself years ago: “Whether someone is a girl or boy doesn’t matter to me, but why does everyone else want to draw a clear line?” I came to a conclusion that my tendency to view someone as a human regardless of their sex is because I am bisexual, and some people just may be more conscious about the opposite sex.
The feeling of being shackled for years disappeared, and I was wrapped by feelings of relief and conviction.
Here’s what I realized:
I think one of the causes of my “discomfort” is the fundamental assumption that people only fall in love with the opposite sex, which is so pervasive among the people around me and society.
The thought of same sex relationship does not cross people’s minds. That is why “hanging out with the opposite sex is frowned upon” and “hanging out with the opposite sex could only mean you like the person”.
“Impure relationship with the opposite sex”
I learned this term in a book I read when I was in elementary school, and I find the term to be rooted in some of the socially accepted concepts about gender.
I wonder why only hanging out with the opposite sex is considered impure.
Just because you are with the opposite sex does not mean that the person is your romantic partner. Even if you are with the same sex, that person could be your romantic partner.
When I decided to go to a college in Japan, I committed myself to engage in activities about gender issues. I was fully aware how difficult it could be, that I might be judged, and that my parents would be against the idea.
I wanted to decrease the number of children who are like my younger self, shackled by the one-size-fits-all concepts that are socially accepted. I wanted to help the children who keep blaming themselves for not fitting in.
No, you’re not wrong. What's wrong is the attitude to never even question what’s considered “natural”. I had nobody to tell me this when I was little, so I want to be the one to do so now.
I am not going to blame the people around me while I was growing up or the author of the book for pushing these concepts of gender. I think they are also victims themselves as well. However, it is an undeniable fact that there are many children suffering like I did. And I suspect there are many who are still suffering as adults. Just like the number of stars there are in the sky, there are so many people in society that are suffering from these issues.
There is nothing more painful than to unknowingly hurt others. In order to avoid being a perpetrator (bystander) or a victim, it is important to sometimes stop and question things that you have known as normal.
For those of you who do not know where to start, I will share a magic word to get you started. This magic word will also help you be more compassionate towards non-binary individuals. The next time you are talking about love and relationships, trying using
“partner” instead of “girl/boyfriend.”
Translated by Mutsumi Ogaki
Graphics by Ayumi White
Edited by Emiru Okada