How We Made Too Much of Gender

Reclaiming an identity more meaningful than manhood or womanhood.

I’m not minimizing the difficult reality of Jenner’s condition, gender dysphoria, and others like Jenner. Still, we’re all experiencing the consequences of a cultural fixation on gender. A man or woman, a boy or girl, who tends toward the features considered “the other” might question his or her identity in a way that may not have happened a few decades ago.

How do I live as a woman in this wild corner of the world? I couldn’t answer that when I first came to the Alaskan wilderness as a 20-year-old bride of a fisherman. I couldn’t even ask the question, mostly because I did not consider myself a woman. Nor did I think of myself as a girl.

I didn’t think about gender much, partly because I grew up in a genderless household, and partly because of the culture itself. In the ‘70s, men and women alike wore bell-bottoms, parted their long hair in the middle, and clogged about on platform shoes.

Science and media pundits told us that gender differences were purely social constructs—we were all products of our environment. Progressive parents gave their young daughters trucks underneath the Christmas tree, and boys received dolls. Even middle-aged and elderly couples walked hand-in-hand down the sidewalk in matching outfits.

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