I got back from Italy last Monday. After spending a few days with my father in Tampa, Florida, I’m back in the Big Apple. They always say that one’s first trip outside of the United States has the biggest impact on one’s worldview, and I am not the exception. The problem is, I’m afraid that perhaps my worldview has been changed too much to even exist. I’ve been constantly dissociating since I got back trying to put the pieces back together.
Probably the biggest mindfuck of my Euro-Trip is the subject of Gender. Rome is a very metropolitan city, filled with people from all over Europe and all over the world. It has accepted Americanization only to a small extent, in the forms of McDonald’s and iPhones. Social and cultural norms remain more-or-less untouched by the scourge of some of the darker parts of Americana: evangelical moral majorities, masculinity defined as a foil to femininity, and over-regulation.
Through all of its political sex scandals, male-only emperors in antiquity, and overwhelming presence of the Catholic church, Italy is largely a matriarchal place. Mothers and grandmothers are some of the most respected people in the entire culture and are the seats of power within the family unit. Italy is also a much larger and diverse place than it is given credit for. The culture of the far north is much more similar to that of neighboring Switzerland than Sicily. Rome, Florence, and Milan are all very cosmopolitan cities that attract the world, which gives them their own unique culture. The south of Italy and Sicily are very conservative and vary greatly from the rest of the country—in my observation, of course.
The entirety of my trip was spent in Rome.
In America, we speak ad nauseum about the concept of “space:” who’s occupying it, how much of it they’re occupying, what that means for the individual next to them, etc. This is a conversation that is particularly poignant in the feminist movement. We observe American men generally occupying substantially more space than their female counterparts. We’ve coined terms like “manspreading” to explain this phenomenon. This phenomenon does not exist—or exists to a far lesser extent—in Italy.
Men and women carry themselves and occupy space in incredibly similar ways. Nobody takes up inordinate amounts of space, no one needs to spread their legs as wide as their hips will allow. Space is at a premium in Rome. Even the people seem to take that into consideration.
The differences in gender presentation, roles, and equity between Europe and the United States also created an environment in which I, an extremely effeminate-looking, pre-transition, masculine-of-center trans creature, was correctly gendered in one out of every four interactions. I present the same way every day, in a relatively masculine-of-center androgynous way, but I am never correctly gendered by strangers, and am often misgendered by friends and acquaintances.
So, between the beauty and fabulous food of Italy, my entire perception of gender has been shoved into flux.