Sunday, August 23, 2009

My Father and my Gender

By K. Kriesel

Now that I'm starting to go by "K" in daily life, of course, I've noticed the connection to my father, Karl. The first time I signed something as "K. Kriesel," I hesitated because it looked like he had signed it. When I sent him a email this past fall, the first time we had conversed in eight years, I came out as a lesbian to him for my own closure. In one of his many rambling, disjointed and angry replies, he suggested that I'm confusing my sexual orientation with my gender. Hardly, they are unrelated.

But I have wondered what impact he has had on my gender exploration. My healing from everything he's done and my coming out as genderqueer/androgynous seem to be unrelated at their sources, but help each other along now. I have come to realize, though, that he contributed almost nothing to my hyperfeminine childhood. I visited him on most weekends and during a few weeks every summer when I was 4-14. The vast majority of the time, he acted like I wasn't there. But we did hike, swim, boat and fish, he taught me about woodworking and archery, he tried to teach me Latin and how a carburetor works when I was too little to understand. We built a model car and a model biplane. It was only in the places under my mom's influence that I was hyperfeminine, I was scolded whenever I deviated from that. It has become clear that he left his first wife and my mom, at least in part, because he wanted a son. Since he was elderly and my mom was unable to have another child after I was born, I guess he figured that I was the last chance he'd get so he treated me androgynously. Then I hit puberty, changing from his child to his daughter, and he kicked me out of his life.

He has been the most prominent masculine role model on my life, of course. And the times he spent actually teaching me to be self-sufficient, hard working and academic are great examples of positive masculinity. As difficult and painful as he has been in my life, how androgynously he raised me provided balance, relief, and even an anchor from the ridiculously Barbie-like standards of school, church, my mom and my baby-sitters. It has only been after I separated my actual self from that heterosexist role that I've been able to see all this and to actually be grateful.

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