The Struggle with Gender: An Article from a Genderqueer Individual Living in Ecuador

Noah Hapke - Ecuador


December 28, 2015

If you may remember, a couple months ago I wrote a blog about being gay and appearing to be “straight” in my community of San Juan. My standpoint on the matter still holds firmly, as I see no need to express this part about me to my community – especially because, after living here for over 4 months, I don’t think it is a factor they would necessarily jump up and praise the Lord for.

Anyways, I’m back to bring about another subject that I hold near and dear to my heart and that is: gender.

Even from high school, I always felt like I didn’t match the stereotypical male that I had thought to be so important. I even wrote my college essay about being gay and not fitting this stereotype (even though that matter is more connected to gender expression… but that’s for another time). When I arrived to Ecuador, I had this stirring feeling that I still wasn’t quite being who I could be. I thought that coming out (an expectation that should be removed entirely… why do straight people never have to come out of the closet?) would make me feel more confident; it did for the most part.

When I started teaching at the school in San Juan, I noticed how my male students expressed themselves, and it was an overwhelming similarity. Most hold on to the machismo culture that is fairly prominent in my community and they would rather spend time playing soccer than studying (which, let’s be honest, studying is wayyy more fun… and that isn’t sarcasm). Then there’s me who’s afraid of the ball and enjoys dancing with my students during club (dancing is for girls… right?).

After my first month in country, I began writing to a fellow alumni who has been one of my biggest mentors and support even before being admitted to Global Citizen Year. She had helped with numerous amounts of questions, and finally I came to her with one about gender identity. Meanwhile, I had been reading Sam Killermann’s book, A Guide to Gender (which I highly recommend reading if you think that sexism, heteronormativity, or homophobia are prominent issues) and began understanding that this feeling of not belonging derived from the fact that I was trying to identify myself as something I wasn’t – and didn’t need to be.

As my dear friend/mentor/alumni explained to me, and I had found out for myself from endless books, articles, and Ted Talks as well, gender truly is an issue that needs to be addressed and corrected. As a society, we often put expectations onto children about what they should be, often keeping in mind that they are a either a ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ (and this is an issue for all children growing up). We forget that it is okay for our sons to play dress up in skirts and daughters to join the wrestling team because we so often link biological sex and gender together (huh?… Google it). The gender-binary, although exists in different levels all throughout the world, is an idea I have struggled with while making Ecuador my new home, trying to not lose parts of my own identity while absorbing a new culture.

In San Juan, having long hair is for girls (MAN bun?). My earrings mean that I like boys (which… let’s be honest… I totally do). My students often question me and ask if I’m girl because I have three earrings when boys only have one. I like shopping for jewelry and have to say I’m shopping for my mom (even though I haven’t bought any yet for my mom… sorry mom). I put a on shawl and my brother calls me “mujer” because of how I wear it. Because I am always reading, that makes me girly, because boys don’t like to study. I clean the kitchen for my mom and she tells me that only women clean.

This list could continue on. I am not writing this to give off a sad demeanor; I am trying to show how such little things may seem of no importance when they really hold so much more. Trying to identify myself as genderqueer in a society that has so many existing gender norms, while trying to express myself in a way in which people will take seriously yet I am also being true to myself, is definitely one of the biggest struggles I was not prepared for. However, the unexpected challenges are what’s making this year so impactful for me.

I never had realized how gifted I am to have grown up in California, to go to the high school I did, and make the friendships I made. I didn’t realize how supportive my parents and entire family are of me. I didn’t think I would have a cohort in Ecuador of such diversity and supportive energy.

Recently, I was on the Global Citizen Year website looking at the application (I’m still deciding whether I’m going to apply for India next year’s cohort 😉 and saw that they had changed the gender options to include ‘other.’ I nearly screamed with excitement. (YES FOR ADDING INCLUSIVITY!)

You may be wondering where this blog post is going (I kinda am too…) The point of the matter, as my old alumni friend explained, is that gender is an ongoing personal journey that will, and should, change and develop on its own. I am still buying new rings and shoving them in my pockets before coming home so my mom won’t see them, and wearing scarves as my ‘fashion statement.’ I spend days in the city of Cuenca when I need to be ‘more feminine’ and take a break from trying to dress ‘manly’ (Funny joke, Noah). Gender (sexuality, sex, and so forth) is just another characteristic that makes us *people*.

In my last blog, I had said that “I’ve found a way to totally and completely be myself without verbally saying ‘I’m gay.’” and I think I could connect this to also not identifying with a gender. My bridge year has made me more aware of who I am, and the capability we as people have with expressing ourselves in so many different and beautiful ways.

“But these are just differences in cultures I will, and have begun to, accept.”

 

 

Noah Hapke