Happy gender identity day (#gidentityday). Congratulations on having a gender identity of your very own that is made up of a whole bunch of complicated and contradictory things and may or may not include being a parent.
Gidentity Day is about celebrating the people who helped you to have a healthy attitude to your own gender identity. So it is a day to pat yourself on the back, and give other people a literal or symbolic hug.
Here are my inaugural nominees:
It turns out that first on the list is my mother. I was surprised when I realised this, but it is completely unsurprising. Most people would probably nominate a parent or two even if they were negative role models. You learn a lot from your parents and you obviously inherit a lot from them. In the complex world of growing up a boy with a solo mum (before that phrase seemed to exist) in a pretty conservative New Zealand (it’s not 1984 until I turn 11) I learned a few things:
- Even if your mum sends you to a conservative boys’ primary school so that you will have some masculine influence in your life she will definitely not be tolerating the nonsense of compulsory rugby and will be having a meeting with the headmaster to make it clear to him that I will not be breaking my neck on some rugby field somewhere for school pride on a given Saturday but will be playing soccer for an outside club each weekend instead ARE WE CLEAR ON THAT? The headmaster complied. I played soccer from age 5 to 18. Mostly this decision was saved in the eyes of New Zealand (I didn’t care) by the All Whites making it to the World Cup for the first time in 1982. What that all means is that you can be something other than what everyone just expects you to be because you have a penis. Yeah, that’s right, if you want to you can kick a round ball on Saturday and not an oval one.
- Men can be beautiful. This is probably the one thing I have learned from my mum that has caused me the most trouble. When I comment on a guy’s appearance it tends to go like that moment in Flight of the Conchords… “why can’t a heterosexual guy tell another heterosexual guy that he thinks his booty is fly?” Actually, I have never told another guy I think his booty is fly, but I have been to many dance performances or watched them on film because my mother loves dance and admired the beauty of the body in movement. It’s because of my mother that I can watch old videos of Nureyev in a kind of stunned awe, or that I love Saura’s flamenco trilogy, or that I have read Douglas Wrights’ autobiography. It’s because of my mother that I think Michelangelo’s David is extraordinary (especially his hands), and that I love Greek sculpture (Discobolus and all that), and that I think young Brando is kind of perfect.
For everyone shifting uncomfortably in their seats; keep shifting uncomfortably in your seats. I’m not here to reassure you I’m here to celebrate Gender Identity Day. Thanks mum. Both of those things you taught me (plus all the other things) have made me pretty comfortable with being a man. I’m glad New Zealand has caught up (a little bit) with us.
My daughters. When I was a teenager and in my twenties I was pretty confident that I was a) not going to get married, and b) not have kids. I mean, jeez, how boring and square could you be, man? This was also the period where I was confident I would never be a “suit” and work in a f&*king office, and that I was going to be a rock star. This was quite a long period (1987 – 1998) and was a pop song, pop poster, guitar lesson fueled cocktail of transitions through Frankie, to Prince, to A-ha, to Guns’n’Roses, to Nirvana, to Oasis, to Radiohead while I mucked about very seriously in bands and over-qualified myself in nonsense at university.
Then there was reality. Reality was great; except for a little bump in 2003. Reality was meeting my future wife, and going to Japan for five years, and coming back and having a breakdown, and then recovering and training to be a teacher and getting a job and buying a house and… having our first daughter.
Being a dad was a hell of a shock. I don’t like little kids and babies. Still don’t, really, but with your own little baby it’s a whole other ball game. Everything is amped up. I discovered not only what love actually meant – as in I would unquestionably risk my life to preserve my daughters’ lives – but what anger meant. Man, it is so true that no one can piss you off more than the people you love the most. In short, parts of my heart that had only – as it turned out – been having a light work out were suddenly on a marathon. Did I cope? Judgement is out.
For the first time in my life I wondered about my own father who died when I was five. I also became aware of “father” as an identity. It’s a burden and an opportunity: fatherhood. Mostly an opportunity, but on a bad day it feels like a Larkin poem: passing on woe. Today was a good day. It involved two handmade cards and some cuddles. We went out to see some friends off who are heading to Christchurch and my daughters pottered about in the garden bar and got their faces painted. To be honest, I feel like a dad, but I also feel like that teenage boy with his posters and tapes plotting his escape to rock’n’roll fame and fortune isn’t so long ago.
It’s a hell of a complicated thing being a dad. For me. It has revealed things about myself that I do not like and that I have had to acknowledge and act against; that I have to continue to act against it. More than that, it has revealed things about myself that surprised me. Love, it turns out, is something I should be more comfortable with. It’s good for you. Good for everyone. Turns out being a dad doesn’t have much to do with car parts, and DIY, and “World’s Best Dad” mugs. It’s more about the love thing.