Manhattan, New York

 

Blue for boys and pink for girls. Right? Well, maybe. Who invented what colors belong to what gender? Who decided for that matter, what boys and girls are meant to like, dislike, do, or not do? We know it’s not anyone specifically who decides these things, but generations of tradition that produce these cultural norms. Most of us are raised by these cultural norms and are taught to do what other members of our gender in our culture do.

Fortunately, there are people like Jacob who show us that these cultural norms are mostly an illusion. Now, that doesn’t mean the illusion itself is bad. It only becomes harmful when we adhere to it too strictly. For example, my grandmother grew up an only sister to four brothers. She often shares the story of throwing away her dolls and stealing the boys’ toys. She laughs when she tells us that her mother would always get angry with her. The label, “Tomboy,” which dates back as far as the 14th century was still reserved until the early twentieth century to be “a form of freedom for gender exploration in young females”. My grandma was born in the first generation that allowed adult women to keep exploring their gender. Today, it’s easy to forget that women were very recently not allowed to wear pants. But isn’t it strange then, that we still think it is absurd for a man to wear a dress?

“Welcome to New York,” says Jacob with only a subtle native North Carolinian accent. Even on a stroll through the Big City people stare. More looks were shot at us during the hour we followed him in the streets than are shot at me in a year. Jacob has to face this reality every day. As we walked around I couldn’t help but think of every person who has felt like wearing something and decided against all naysayers and scouring onlookers to wear it. The first women who wore pants were shunned like this. The issue, however, that was challenged by the second-wave feminists and still being challenged today by many people including Jacob is much larger than just deciding what clothing is acceptable. It is an ongoing battle to replace false assumptions and unspoken cultural stigmas with curiosity and open-mindedness. The old world may have told Jacob what he ought to do. Today, in a world where social change moves us in the right direction, we ask Jacob what it’s like to be him. In the process, we learn about our relation to one another, which is always much closer than we think.

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