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Emails to my Therapist

Gender Identity: The Old-Fashioned Way(s)

People of different generations may view gender differently, it seems. My brother Franc Payne offered this charming gender identity account in a recent email:

“QUICK UNCLE LUTHER STORY: Our whole family and Granna and Grandaddy were up visiting Taylor Pond on some holiday. We were sitting out on the screen porch …. As usual most of the men were in that room and the ladies in the parlor. The conversation had slowed to a crawl and there was a dog wandering among chairs looking for attention. I was quite young. Talking to Grandaddy was sometimes challenging. The dog had perched beside his chair. Looking for something new to say because I had run out, I walked up to Grandaddy’s chair and asked while he patted the dog’s head, ‘How can you tell if the dog is a boy or girl?’ His eyes got big as saucers as sheer panic took over, as he had raised two girls and been able to duck that question for six decades. He thought a minute and then took my hand and had me count the dog’s ribs one at a time from the shoulder blade back while explaining that girls have one more rib. In a nervous shuffle he got up and left the room when we got through counting.

dachshund isolated on a colored background

Uncle Luther had been watching and listening patiently and kindly to Grandaddy teach me the facts of life. After Grandaddy left the room, he said, “Franc, come here. I think I have a faster way to show you.” In one quick move he flipped the dog upside and pointed between the stern legs. “If there is equipment there, it’s a boy. If there is not, it’s a girl.” I said, that’s easy enough.
dog with a tie and glasses hodling the blank

Years later when I was confronted with my first naked female human, I could confirm immediately with confidence the gender using Uncle Luther’s Method. Using Grandaddy’s method of counting her ribs might have been awkward and a passion killer. Thank you, Uncle Luther.”

IMG_20150430_121659765 (Franc Payne, much later)

Do you remember how the boy-girl difference was first explained to you? Has your definition of gender identity changed?

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  • April 30, 2015 at 6:02 pm Reply

    I don’t remember it exactly, but I am sure it was just as clumsy as your granddaddy’s explanation.

    Has my definition changed? Oh, yes, since there are many more genders now than there were (at least, acknowledged, back in the 40’s and 50’s

    • Peggy Payne
      April 30, 2015 at 11:33 pm Reply

      I just realized, kenju, that I don’t remember having that conversation either. I hadn’t even asked myself that question.

  • Jane Andrews
    May 2, 2015 at 2:37 am Reply

    From having an older brother I learned that gender meant boys had penises and privileges, and that I was not entitled to either because I was a girl. Some of that has changed. Some has not.

    • Peggy Payne
      May 2, 2015 at 6:43 pm Reply

      I think that some of it was meant to protect girls, Jane, not being allowed to ramble around alone at night, etc. But it also damaged us in the process. I wonder now why I didn’t object to the boys getting precedence in the gym in junior high. I remember a particular day when I looked back at the boys playing basketball on a smooth floor inside while the girls were led out onto the dusty yard. I must have questioned it somewhere because I remember being told that the boys “needed” the gym.

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