Truth, Tools, and Gender

Beth - Cleveland, Tennessee
Entered on December 2, 2008

I believe people should remain true to themselves no matter how much they stray from conventional—and yet ever-changing—gender roles.

I have always been a mechanic. It all started when I hid in my bedroom closet when I was about 7 or 8 and took the toaster apart. I then moved on to tricycles, bicycles, and remote controlled cars. My dad, a very practical man, believes that everyone should be self-sufficient. He began teaching me how to work on cars when I was 10. I know you are wondering what exactly a 10-year-old can do to help, but I assure you there was plenty. It all started with small things like pressing the gas or brake pedal when needed, pouring oil into the engine, or handing Dad tools. By spending so much time assisting and just listening, I learned the names of every car part and tool. But what I really learned went beyond master cylinders, clutches, and steering mechanisms. I learned that I had the ability to do anything I put my mind to regardless of my gender.

There was only one problem with this scenario—I grew up in a small, southern town where men were men and women were women; gender roles simply did not cross. While I grasped the tools needed for automotive repair, I lacked the psychological tools I needed to define my feelings. I just knew I felt like an outsider. Ironically, I received confused looks from my dad’s auto repair customers regardless of their gender. Most of the male customers who came into the shop would not address me directly and certainly never asked for my help in diagnosing a problem with their cars. Female customers just snubbed me or treated me like a little servant girl.

Since my gender clashed so violently with my occupation I was labeled a lesbian. Funny thing—I don’t remember ever receiving any kind of handbook when I entered the world that stated women who were heterosexual could not and would not ever work in or be associated with the automotive industry. I am 31 years old now and still get dumped into the “other” category. I certainly have nothing against lesbians, gays, or any other minority. I have a problem with everyone feeling the need to define gender based on irrelevant stereotypes. Never mind that my boyfriend and I have been dating for over five years, and he accepts me for who I am.

I have never really cared what others think, and I take great pride in my abilities. In less than a month, I will be graduating with my Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication and finally have the “tools” to define my situation. The foundation of society is built on gender differences. The moment a shift occurs, fear inevitably follows upsetting the societal balance. While others are learning to accept me, I will continue to be true to myself.