So, like the responsible little human I am, I showed up for my annual physical, health card in hand. Like (too) many people, I've been without a family physician for some time. I did a little homework and tracked down my local Planned Parenthood (which, much to my surprise and happiness, is also a general primary healthcare provider). I was given a bunch of forms to fill out, so I grabbed a pen and a handful of condoms (you can never have too many!) and got started.

And there it was. The box that confronts me in every survey, on every doctor's visit, in everything government-related or anything that requires me to identify myself--the dreaded Gender Box. Except that, because this is Planned Parenthood, my local community-minded feminist healthcare provider, there was an extra box where there is usually only two. Beside the standard M and F categories was a shining beacon of hope--a box marked TS/TG (that's transsexual and transgendered for those of you not in-the-know). And while my heart sang with gladness for trans-identified folks everywhere, I was also confronted with a question I'd been kicking around for awhile. Where do I, as a cisgendered woman who is constantly interrogating the concept of "womanhood", fit?

It feels wrong for me to simply check the lady box. And I feel no desire whatsoever to check the man box. Yet selecting TS/TG seems far too close to claiming an identity that I have no place in owning. I understand that to do so would be an appropriation; for me to check that box would be to assert an identity that carries experiences I will never have. Still, when I think about it, identifying as a woman feels like a compromise. This may just be my doctor's office needing to know what kind of anatomy they're working with, but to me it's much larger; the implications of an unproblematized identification with gender runs much deeper.

Whether I like it or not, this gender assignment I was given at birth has led me to a whole host of experiences that likely could not to be replicated were I to inhabit a different body. Though I'd like to think that our bodies are not necessarily determinants of how we experience the world (and that, by the same token, this experience can be shaped/modified by the way we present and adorn these bodies) I recognize that to some extent our interaction with the world is (quite literally) out of our hands. It is for this reason that I see value in a strategic identification with gender categories. As a feminist (albeit a postmodern one) I understand that there can be huge drawbacks in the realm of gender equality when we choose to eschew so-called "womanly" characteristics. While on the surface this may seem like a progressive move away from things that have traditionally defined us, this same move often works to the detriment of those who choose to embody these qualities (see my last column for more on why I feel it is dangerous to devalue femininity).

To problematize this further, I wonder about the inaccessibility of this kind of mucking about with gender identification. But why do I feel like talking about gender in this way is a privilege? One the one hand, I suppose it's because I wonder what business I have questioning my gender identity when there are many who ache to feel at home in their bodies. But do I feel that sense of comfort in my own mortal vessel? Not really. Not with the meaning that's assigned to it by things like media, religion, etc.

Without conflating gender and sex, I recognize that the two are intertwined. I don't want to let go of or discredit the amazing things I've gained from having a feminist community--something I've come to largely because of my experience of the world as a cisgendered woman. And while I recognize that, like bell hooks says, feminism is for everybody, I also love and feel nourished by woman-only spaces and the safety I've felt and gained from this community.

Thus I feel it's important to acknowledge that while to some extent we choose these communities, it is also true that they choose us. While checking that "F" box on my health forms may mean signing on to a whole lot of mess like essentialism and cis-privilege and a whole whack of other things I feel uncomfortable with, it also means acknowledging the ways in which those very things have contributed to my place in and experience of the world, and hopefully allows me to continue to question exactly what that means.

Creative Commons License