Tom Sherry posted this on a listserv we’re both on, and I wanted to share it with you. So many adults, who lived a lifetime not conforming to gender roles, are concerned with how we are interpreting gender nonconformity as an identity and medicalizing it. Tom is a child and family therapist. He lives in Asheville North Carolina with his wife, son, and three cats. He writes “Chill the F Out” on Substack.
As my wife watched me delicately select flowers for the arrangement I was making for the kitchen table, I jokingly quipped, “You know, I think I might have been gay in a previous lifetime.” Her immediate response, “You barely missed it this lifetime!” It’s a good joke and we refer to it sometimes as we navigate the gender roles of our marriage. But, of course, I was not referring to my sexuality, I was commenting on what we now call “gender identity.”
Men don’t make flower arrangements—at least “masculine men” don’t. According to this new way of thinking, I am clearly “non-binary” or “gender fluid.” That is what current teachers would have told my confused adolescent self 40 years ago. And none of it is new to me. The soundtrack of adolescence was, “Sherry’s a Fairy, Sherry’s a Fairy.” I thought I had put all of that behind me. But now gender ideology is telling children they are less of a boy and might even be a girl because they love flowers and children. The word trans now includes “gender non-conforming.” No wonder there is an avalanche of trans-identifying teens.
It is now standard procedure for children and adults to identify their “preferred pronouns.” For years I happily complied, placing the obligatory he/him next to my name. At first I thought I was acting in solidarity with the small set of gender dysphoric individuals who sought relief from their suffering by choosing to present as the opposite sex. But now that we have bifurcated sex from gender, pronouns are not a signifier of what we are—they signify WHO we are. Announcing my pronouns indicated a belief that I and all of humanity has an internal “gender identity.” I now realize that sentence actually reads, “Hi, I’m Tom, and I believe that sex and gender are unrelated. Sex is an assigned attribution at birth and not a mere observation of physical reality. My ‘gender identity’ just happens to be congruent with everything your eyes and 20 million years of human evolution can see. But, I need to tell you my pronouns because that is not always the case.” I am a male. No rational person could look at me and think otherwise. Pronouns now purport to signify an aspect of ourselves not visible to the naked eye. They signify one’s identity. No wonder we’ve identified fae/faer/faers/faerself and seventy other “neo-pronouns.” How is a simple pronoun going to describe the complexity of any person’s “identity?”
A few weeks ago, at the kitchen stove, I had a shocking revelation. After years ensconced in the belief that people have a biological sex and a gender identity, I realized I don’t have a gender identity. Staring into my pasta, it became clear to me: the only people who truly have a gender identity are the .003% of the population with gender dysphoria. They have a gender identity because it is incongruent with their biology. The rest of us just have an identity.
The vast majority of us live in male or female bodies and try to make sense of the gender roles ascribed to our sex by the culture we grow up in. There is no way for me to truly know how much my sex informs who I am. I have nothing to compare it to. I’m Tom and I like flowers and children, I quilt during Monday Night Football, and cry at movies. What the hell do any of those characteristics have to do with gender other than outdated stereotypes? My 7th grade schoolmates would call me a fag. “Progressives” would now call me “queer.” Because I don’t have gender dysphoria, it is pretty simple. I am a man and always will be a man. I am Tom. I always was Tom.
The truth is we are all non-binary and gender fluid. We are humans possessing and displaying myriad traits ascribed to sex roles in the society in which we live. Sherry IS a fairy and a loving husband, father, therapist, and community member. I am also male and no “gender identity” or neopronoun is ever going to change that. Pronouns will never describe who we are. Humans are too wonderfully complex for that.
“My 7th grade schoolmates would call me a fag. “Progressives” would now call me “queer.” Because I don’t have gender dysphoria, it is pretty simple. I am a man and always will be a man. I am Tom. I always was Tom.”
I can relate to this more than I would like to admit in a public forum.
This is both well-written and true. We all have fluid and evolving self-perceptions that are informed by both our biology and the conditions in which we develop.
These changing perceptions do not change our sex. Like the author, many men (and women) wish they were more readily accepted when they assume nontraditional roles. Unfortunately, to be that accepting of others requires thoughtfulness, patience, and the ability to think critically. These characteristics are currently in short supply.
As a fellow psychologist, I appreciated this essay very much. Thank you.