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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 3, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 18
Body diversity and the 'magic letter' - The importance of being true to yourself
Section One
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Body diversity and the 'magic letter' - The importance of being true to yourself

by Mac McGregor - Special to the SGN

As a child of four years old, I was already changing my name and giving other kids I would play with masculine names. I did not understand that anything was wrong with my body, but I quickly learned that society did not see me as who I really am. I was assigned the letter 'F' under the box labeled 'Sex' on my birth certificate.

When our world assigns a letter in that box, they only look at the outward shell of a person. They do not consider any of the other factors that make up who we are - not chemically, not genetically, not neurologically, not spiritually, and not emotionally. We are complex beings and yet so much is expected of us due to this magical letter in the box marked 'Sex.' This letter determines how we are treated from the moment we are born. It sets the bar of what is expected of us for our entire lives with our families, and in many cases in our narrow-minded society.

As a child I did not understand the significance of that letter, I just knew who I was. Even knowing inside who I was, it was frustrating and many times left me feeling misunderstood. I had to tip-toe around to try to be me in a way that did not shake others up too much. So I fumbled around trying to figure out how to navigate the binary gender system in our world. When I was a child I could get away with some by being labeled a 'tomboy.' This label, even though I detest labels, gave me some early freedom to be me as I tried to navigate this complex world in a safe way.

THE SANCTUARY OF SPORTS
I discovered sports as a young child. Having always been a natural athlete, this gave me a place to be strong and more masculine in an arena that it was accepted - up to a point. My body became a fine-tuned athletic machine that brought me many accolades.

Even though my body was doing great things for me as an athlete, becoming an adolescent scared the hell out of me. I saw many of my friends begin to develop breasts and have menstrual cycles, and I did not want any part of that. I hated that entire process, and at that point my body and I were in a battle. I felt like my body was betraying me and yet as an athlete it was performing so well. This dichotomy went on for much of my life - a love/dislike relationship with my body, especially when that time of the month would come around. I could just be me most of the time until my body reminded me that our society viewed things in a way that my body and mind and spirit did not quite match up to. And as I got older the constant, unwanted, objectifying way I was treated by cisgendered straight men was troubling.

Even in sports, our society began to segregate me from who I knew I was by saying I could only compete in the 'girls' categories. I knew that I was out of place but I also knew that athletics was the only positive thing in my life. I had to play the game their way to keep doing what I loved.

THE SWIMSUIT ISSUE
I dealt with a great deal of sexism as a person the world viewed as a female athlete, and I became a bit of a spokesperson for female athletes in my sport. I achieved the highest awards and ranks any 'female' had achieved in the martial arts and helped paved the way for others. The entire time, most of those around me did not understand the inner battles I was experiencing.

Growing up in Florida was also not helpful to this inner struggle in many ways. I loved the beach and the water and am an avid swimmer, water skier, and scuba diver, and I lifeguarded as a young person. This is yet another area that points out a binary gender system and sexism. I could never understand why I could not go around at the beach without my shirt on and felt forced by society to wear girlie beach clothing to cover my very small chest. I hated this. Most of the time I wore baggy surfer shorts and a bikini top because it would freak others out if I did not. Once again, people made judgments about who I was by viewing the outward shell.

The other difficult part of growing up in the Deep South is that there was no one in my world to talk with about my inner struggle. I did not even know anyone who was openly Gay or Lesbian until I was in my thirties, much less someone who was Transgender or a gender outlaw. There was also no Internet at that time to find community. This left me feeling like I was the only one and that I would have to play this imaginary game forever or be totally shunned by society.

FINDING REAL COMMUNITY
Moving to Seattle was a lifesaver. Here I found community - people actually celebrating diversity, allowing others to just be who they are and not feeling threatened by it is very freeing. I found others like me and it changed my world and has allowed me to be true to myself. This does not mean that we no longer have work to do here in Seattle, but we are far ahead of most of the country in acceptance. There are still areas here that can be unsafe for a person like me - public bathrooms, spas, pools, and beaches. Transgender, gender-nonconforming, and gender-fluid people are still very careful of these areas and many times have trouble being comfortable enough to use them.

As an activist who now dedicates much of my time to spreading the word that people can live true to themselves, and helping create more safe spaces to do that, I have made peace with my body. People can label me all they want but they will never find a label that represents all of me. My hope is that there will be a day when no one is judged by their outward shell. Not due to size, gender, skin color, scars, hair or lack of it, perceived genitalia, clothing expression, piercings, or tattoos. This is so elementary. It is like judging a person's heart and character by the car they drive.

BEYOND SOCIAL CONSTRUCTS
Now, I could easily blend into society as a white, cisgendered man. Most of my life no one would ever know the difference. However, I know I have the ability to speak up with confidence and humility and to speak for some who cannot yet speak for themselves. I am not the type of person who can live quietly when there is so much work to do in the world to create a safe place for everyone to be who they really are. I want to do all that I can to live as an example of being true to self for everyone. This is why when I was asked by Social Outreach Seattle to be a part of this amazing project to celebrate the beauty in all types of bodies, I knew right away I needed to do this. I am honored to be a part of SOSea's Body Diversity Project and Exhibit and to help begin the discussion on body diversity in our society.

I walk proud as someone who is not the norm in our society. I am proud of my body even though it does not fit into society's binary gender construct that most live and understand. I have some things I still want to change about my body, as we all do, but I am also thankful for it and the life experience I have because of it. Some men have vaginas and some women have penises, and those of us who have lived this yin and yang of life, I believe, have a greater understanding. Don't let that magic letter that you were assigned by our culture at birth, or any other label that our world has put on you, box you in. Be true to yourself, whatever that is for you!

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