I just had a memory from my present life that was really difficult to deal with.
I remembered how I felt as a very young child, and I distinctly remember having no sense of gender whatsoever, and I was happy that way. I certainly didn’t feel male. I called myself a boy because that’s what I was told, but I had no sense of what it meant to be a boy at 4 or 5. I tried hard to fit in with the other boys, but I just wasn’t into the same things they were. In fact, their aggressiveness scared me and most often, I was the one being beat up for not being enough of a boy.
Even now, I guess I’m on the feminine side of androgynous really. I wear exclusively women’s clothes, but combined in a rather androgynous way; I let my voice, my slowly-developing breasts and the care I put into keeping my hair in good order bump me over the line into female. I don’t have a strong sense of gender either way; I identify female probably because that’s where I’ve got the most room for my kind of expression; it’s close enough to home that I’m happy as a woman. I am kind of dysphoric about my male anatomy, but for the most part I’m only just on the female end of the gender continuum.
I kind of miss just being me, though, not having to choose a category. I often wish I’d lived in a time or place where I could have been seen as a shaman or a seer, as someone who is both male and female and seeks spiritual fulfillment and enrichment through reflection and interpretation of dreams and visions. It could have been great.
But all of that was set in motion so long ago; our notions of gender binaries might have been reinforced by modernity, but they’re distinctly Greco-Roman and deeply ingrained in Western identity. As a man in medieval England, we already had a strong sense of binary gender and non-conformity was treated as a threat. But in that life, I had a male body and a male brain so I guess it didn’t occur to me what it might feel like if the software didn’t match the hardware.
Same with John, and with Phil. I can’t recall ever having to deal with this before. I remember being pretty happy as a farm boy in Somerset. As Phil, in what little flickers I can recall of his childhood (brief glimpses from between about ’33 and ’39), I was socially awkward but never doubted that I was completely male.
I have to say that finally confronting all these complex feelings about gender as an adult is one of the most daunting things I’ve done, in any of the lives I can remember. I’d say this is better than the Western Front, but statistically speaking only slightly less dangerous and it’s nowhere near as good as a straight, cisgender man’s life in the mid-20th century.
But there’s a silver lining here: Phil was an early ally of the LGBT community. He didn’t just have gay friends, he was very close with Bishop James Pike, an early proponent of religious tolerance of the LGBT community. He was sincere in his “live and let live” beliefs and nobody has a credible case that he wasn’t.
That means if I was him, in some small way, I helped create a world where someone like me had a fighting chance. That’s a really wonderful feeling. It means that even if I can’t save the world, I can do something small on the side of compassion to make my next life easier. I guess you could call it karma, or merely a selfless investment in the future. Maybe one day I’ll really admire what I fought for in this life too.