Here’s a tale of two children.
One, a boy, came from a family that rigidly adhered to gender roles. Growing up, he was chastised for liking to play with G.I. Joe figures, which his dad called “dolls,” and ridiculed as being gay, because only girls and gays liked to play with dolls. He sometimes snuck into his parents’ room to try on articles of his mother’s clothing and jewelry, and while his mother turned a blind eye to it, his father exploded when he found out. He didn’t stop crossdressing, he just learned to hide it, and continued it on into adulthood.
The other child was a girl whose family challenged, to a degree, gender roles. She wasn’t limited to only playing with girl toys – in fact, she liked Hot Wheels cars and Lincoln Logs – and her Easy Bake Oven and collection of stuffed animals (though she really had no use for dolls at all). Her parents often dressed her in items of clothing for boys, sometimes because they were more durable and comfortable, such as shoes, and sometimes because they just liked the look. Growing up, she had no desire to wear makeup, and her parents didn’t push her that direction. As an adult, she sometimes intentionally dressed as a man.
He grew up to be transgender and I married him.
She grew up to be me.
I’ve given these two life stories a lot of thought and, when we were married, spoke about it often with my ex. I asked him if he thought that he developed into a transgendered person (first a crossdresser, then a declared transsexual) because his parents demanded such a rigid adherence to gender roles. After all, if only gays and girls played with dolls, and he liked dolls, what kid wouldn’t think that he must be other a girl or gay?
He said there was probably a lot to that. But, he’d say, that was decades ago, and he is who is is now, and nature or nurture, there was no changing it. I agree.
So our marriage was a bit unconventional. While he made a lot of noise about creating his “man cave,” he also took classes in cake decorating and baking. (And seriously, why would anyone object to that?!) He valued taking care of his nails and growing out his hair and wearing it in a ponytail.
But. But! He was simultaneously strict with how the sexes should relate to each other in a marriage. He wouldn’t lift a finger to help around the house. No matter how much I begged. No matter how much I tried to reason. No matter how much I cried. No matter how much I warned that his assumption that I was the one to do all the housework was slowly and surely eroding the love I once had for him. He wouldn’t budge. Women did women tasks and men did men tasks and the only time that ever changed was when he wanted to do something fun. Like decorate a cake.
In college, I wanted to do a research project in which I interviewed both transgendered and nontransgendered people about their adherence to gender roles. I was talked out of it, mainly because my adviser didn’t want the hassle of going through the clearance process to interview human subjects, but I still wonder. My hunch is that a scientifically created study taking a thorough look at this would turn up some interesting conclusions.