Credit: George Danby

Unless you saw it as a sign that Maine is going to hell in a handbasket, you probably didn’t pay much attention to an item in the Bangor Daily News in June: Maine is adding an X gender identity to driver’s licenses and ID cards for people who don’t fully identify as M or F.

This is a major step in the right direction. It acknowledges that gender is so much more than basic equipment. This concept encompasses how we think and feel about ourselves and present ourselves to the world through words, actions and attire.

When I was a child, tomboys were allowed to be loud, messy and active. At puberty, we became identified as good girls or bad girls. Good girls went steady with popular boys, somehow keeping them interested while not letting them go too far. Keeping them interested meant focusing on their passions and hobbies while downplaying your own. You had to never let Prince Charming guess you might actually be smarter than him. Letting him go too far turned you into a bad girl, one he could sow his wild seeds with and leave (even if one of these seeds resulted in pregnancy) to marry a good girl.

There was a name for teens like me who were curious, smart (and not afraid to show it), assertive, adventurous and active, with no desire to spend hours on hair and make up: boys.

When I became a mother, I stayed home with my children to be present for and cherish their growing up years. However, I did not extend this role into membership in the Susie Homemaker club. I felt that spending hours in the quest for perfection in everything from birthday cakes to home decor was a waste of time and not the example I wanted to set for my kids.

In addition to encouraging and helping them find and pursue their passions, I shared mine instead of shelving them. I have wonderful memories of us election campaigning and riding the bus to Washington, D.C., to protest war. Those nights when we weren’t frantically busy, I let them see that my reading time was precious because I love to read — even if it meant buying cookies instead of baking them from scratch.

When it comes to pursuing my passions and values, I’m a big risk-taker. When I decided the lower-income kids and families in Veazie deserved someone to represent them on the school committee, I put myself out there, getting on the ballot and campaigning door to door. When I had my first chance to perform in a drag show, I went for it at age 63. I applied for a competitive graduate school program.

It’s better to try and fail than go through the rest of my life wondering if I could have succeeded.

I take up a lot of space. You won’t find me sitting primly, ankles crossed, or mincing along in high heels. I’ve chaired school committee meetings in front of TV cameras. I love being on stage — doing drag, reading my own poetry or singing — and I adore applause. I speak my mind even when what I say will be controversial or unpopular. I put my heart and soul into the opinion pieces I write every other month.

I embrace the word “no.” I say no to things I don’t want to do. I once let neighbors talk me into going to a Pampered Chef “party.” (I can’t see real-life infomercials as parties.) It felt like an evening in purgatory, if not Hades. Never again!

I also say no to things I might enjoy if doing them would involve overextending myself. I make sure I sleep, be mindful and enjoy life. In my mind, self-care is as important as and essential to caring for others. It’s why I read instead of obsessing over decorating cupcakes when my children were growing up and never aspired to perfection.

I embody traits across the gender spectrum. Thank you, Maine, for acknowledging that gender is more than genitalia.

Jules Hathaway of Veazie is a writer, community activist, proud mother of three and a student at the University of Maine in Orono.

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