“Men are just naturally better at certain things—like mowing the lawn, fixing appliances. It’s instinctual.”
I’m about to interject, but she cuts me off as soon as she senses an attack.
“Now don’t you start calling me sexist again. I’m certainly not a feminist, but I’m not sexist. I know that women are naturally better at plenty of things, too—like talking about their feelings. Like asking for help.”
My grandmother lays out her conception of gender like one of her tablecloths—enduring, traditional, stains from decade-old dinner parties hidden by strategically-placed china. It’s time for an upgrade.
“Grandma, maybe you should consider—”
“You have to admit that there are differences between men and women. You can’t deny that. Men are physically stronger than women.” She pauses, searching for something irrefutable. “And men can’t have babies!”
Once again, my weekly phonecall has turned into a Battle of the Generations.
“But Grandma, those are general statements. Sure, men are physically stronger than women on average, but I know plenty of tough girls and scrawny boys.”
I’m struggling with language. Biomen, ciswomen, trannies—queerspeak trickles from my gender theory brain and throws itself against the back of my teeth. I clamp my jaw, swallow, continue.
“And if you’re defining ‘women’ as people who can have babies, aren’t you excluding people who are infertile and people who decide not to have children?”
“Who doesn’t want children?”
“You’re missing the point.” I pause to collect myself. This is becoming painful. “I like to think of people as individuals instead of making big generalizations about them based on their gender. Sometimes those assumptions are wrong.”
My grandmother is silent for once. But not for long.
“Well. What you have to understand is that there are men and there are women and that’s that. I guess there are some people who change their bodies to be something else. But that’s different.”
My ears do a double-take. Did my ultra-traditional, binary-thumping grandmother just acknowledge that transgender people exist? I wonder if she’s been watching too many daytime talkshows, the ones that parade transwomen in front of an audience like circus freaks. Her conception of “transgender” is probably loaded with misconceptions about “those people” (she doesn’t know that I’m one of “those people”), but at least it’s somewhere inside her head, waiting for my words to reshape it.
“You know, it’s good that men and women are different—they’re forced to depend on each other. Since grandpa passed away I’ve had to do so many things that I didn’t have to do before. I take the car to the mechanic. I mow the lawn. Grandpa took care of those things because he was my husband.”
I try to sound encouraging. “But you’re doing a good job, Grandma. You’re successfully fulfilling tasks that are outside of your gender role. If you can mow the lawn, then other women must be able to do that too.”
“Oh, you and your ideas. When you fall in love, you’ll understand.”
My grandmother hangs up on me.
But I am in love, Grandma. I desperately want to say it, but I don’t want to tack another item onto her long list of Disappointments. My kind of love subverts everything my grandmother has ever known about gender roles.