Interview with Ronald Gerlock
This interview was with my maternal grandfather, Ronald Gerlock, 71, a retired engineer who grew up in Buffalo, New York, but now lives in Salisbury, North Carolina. The interview was conducted in person, on Monday, 3 February 2014.
A note about the interview to follow: The views presented here are not my own, and I do not endorse them. I am not entirely confident in my idea to post the interview, as it may upset some people (some of it definitely upsets me), but I figure it might be productive to shed light on views that are not as progressive as we’d like them to be. In good news, Gerlock and I both found the exercise useful, as he hadn’t been asked to think critically about his gender before this.
Stern: What is your gender identity?
Gerlock: You mean my manliness? Um, probably when I was younger, it was more the attention that females gave me and the reaction I got, etc.
Stern: At what age did you identify that way?
Gerlock: Uh, That’s I don’t think it came, it came over a period of time. You know you’re a boy, but you don’t know that you, you’re still not pubically adult, and once you get to the point where I guess, being able to ejaculate, talk about things like that, things that we didn’t know about, or the older kids knew but they never really passed it along, and you had to learn it by yourself, at least when I was growing up.
Stern: How does identifying as male make you feel?
Gerlock: Manly. No, I feel in control of myself. I feel that I can solve just about any situation within reason.
Stern: Do you sometimes feel trapped by your identity?
Gerlock: Um, yeah, I think I get a little embarrassed when I show too much emotion. Men aren’t supposed to have emotion. Crying, uh, certain things bring you to tears. It’s funny, whenever I hear the National Anthem, I get a tear in my eye. And I think of that as, I don’t know, I guess it’s manly. A lot of other men do it.
Stern: What made you decide to dress as your gender?
Gerlock: Haha, probably the hand-me-downs that I got from my brothers, more than anything. It wasn’t some stupendous awakening that “Oh gosh, look at me, I’m dressed like a man.” It was probably as much my parents and siblings. We dressed like boys because we were boys. That’s about it.
Stern: How did you realize that you were ready to transition into being a male?
Gerlock: Again, I don’t think it was this awakening that uh, one day I was a boy and the next day I was a man. I think as I encountered some difficult problems and was able to work through it, I considered myself an adult. And since I had already identified as a male, a male adult, that’s manhood. That’s the way I approached it.
Stern: Were you pressured by your peers about this decision?
Gerlock: Oh no. No, they’re, I played sports, but I was also in Math Club and Latin Club and things that were, the so-called jocks would consider not masculine, but you’re educating yourself and trying to make as big of, as broad a base as possible. There were 220-some-odd kids in my class I graduated in and I probably knew every one of them on a first name basis and uh I identified with just about anybody. There were kids I can tell you, I don’t recall, and it never was a subject at the time, I don’t remember, I’m sure there were gay kids in school, but when I was growing up, nobody talked about it. Oh, and you might use the, uh, a couple of the terms to yell at one of the guys, you know, in the locker room type stuff. It really wasn’t an issue. It wasn’t a subject anybody broached.
Stern: How long did it take you to “pass” as a male?
Gerlock: I don’t know, I never, I always felt like I was masculine, and um, the reaction of the girls and stuff like that fortified that. They made me feel like masculine, so I never gave it much positive thought. It was probably in the back of my mind, but it wasn’t anything profound.
Stern: Do you ever feel completely at home with your developed voice?
Gerlock: Yeah. Yeah, I know several guys that have the higher-pitched voice and um they live with it as far as I know. I don’t think they, they’re – I guess they get, they had their people make fun of them at times. I remember one of those, I didn’t think that that was right to label somebody. Words like queer, fag, or something like that, would be used jokingly to tell somebody, one of the football players, “You’re a fag” jokingly. They were never meant to demean somebody, although I guess it was a demeaning term. It was just words.
Stern: Do you ever have second thoughts about being male?
Gerlock: No, never. I’ve always, from the time I was 14 or 15 years of age, I’ve always liked to be around women, and I often joke that I have two female horses, a couple female dogs, my wife, and two girls, so I found my way of being surrounded by women. No, my masculinity was never in question as far as I was concerned.
Stern: Can you tell me more about what it is like for you as an individual to function within our society’s gender binary?
Gerlock: Say that again?
Um, I have, it never really was a big issue with me. I always figured for somebody, if they have a gender issue, they’d take care of it themselves. Um, as far as worrying about somebody being, somebody sitting next to me, being a, you’ll have to forgive me; I’m looking for the right words. I never looked at it as a threat to my masculinity or anything like that. We have acquaintances and friends that, now we know, you kinda guessed that they were, we know them as gays and we all talk about it. We don’t like, and when I say “we,” I’m talking about your grandma and I, we don’t like the exhibitionists and the parades and stuff, showing their affection to each other. We wouldn’t do that ourselves, as a heterosexual. We don’t think that, I think that people who do that are really, um, they’re trying to identify themselves and they’re doing it through almost a skit play. They don’t have to do that to be accepted as a person. They just have to be like you and I. Knowing their sexual persuasion doesn’t matter to me. They’ve got their way of doing things and we’ve got ours.
Stern: When did you learn about the different gender pronouns used?
Gerlock: I can truthfully say I didn’t know the difference between girls and boys at least til I was 10 or 11 years old, cause I never had sisters. And, um, we would make fun of, not make fun, play, the boys; I grew up on a street where there were 12 or 13 boys, all in the same age group, and we’d play guns or war, Indians and Cowboys, or apple fights, throwing apples at each other. I never really had exposure to a female, especially physical. So I didn’t really know that men’s genitals were different from women’s until I was in early high school, and that was a shock, but I learned to cope with it, haha.
Stern: Have you ever heard of someone going by the pronoun “they,” instead of “she” or “he”?
Gerlock: No, I don’t, I don’t really anything like that. You mean separating them out, away from the general group?
Stern: Someone who doesn’t want to be called “she” or “he,” they use “they” as a more gender-neutral pronoun.
Gerlock: No, I’ve never really thought of the word “they” in that respect.
Stern: Do you feel the need to conform to what society asks of you, in terms of your gender?
Gerlock: Yeah. Yeah, I think that, uh, I feel if I have to do something, I’ll do it. If I have to expose myself to something difficult, I’ll do it if I’m the only person that’s capable of doing it. I mean, you don’t want to stand up and be the target, but if, and you know, you often wonder how you’d react in a situation, but uh, I think I would take on the role of the typical man, getting the group out or saving, having Lassie come tell me Timmy’s in the well. But I think I would. I haven’t been in situations where I have to stand up and be the fall guy so the rest of the people can get out safely type.
Stern: Do you think gender is merely a social construction? Why or why not?
Gerlock: [Long pause] No. I think it’s overplayed too often. People use it as an escape, they use it as an excuse, instead of standing up and being what you are and being proud of it and not being afraid of what other people say about you. That’s true about heterosexuals as well as homosexuals.
Stern: Well, gender is different than sexuality. There’s a distinction there.
Gerlock: Okay. I never gave that much thought to it.
Stern: Do you think of gender as a thing you would like to undo? Please explain.
Stern: Would you like to abolish gender?
Gerlock: I don’t see any reason to. As long as, I think, if you look at society today versus ten, twenty, thirty, forty years ago, it’s completely changed. The acceptance of, acceptance as a whole is a lot more open and nobody really worries about it. I mean, there might be a yahoo in down, down in some valley in the mountains someplace, and there, there’s people that they don’t like people being gendered. I don’t think there’s that. I think a lot of people have overblown the situation. It’s kind of like, I liken it to any other cause. If you just get the leaders out of the way, the cause would suddenly take care of itself. Like Jesse Jackson, he’s got a job, his job is to activate people, even though he can’t come out and say, ‘Everything’s solved, there’s no more racial divide or tensions,’ he’s out of a job if he says something like that, so he’s protecting his job by being a racial activist. And the same is true about the homosexual community. I think they use, to much emphasis is put on, if they could just sit down and live life, one step at a time, they’re fine.
Stern: If gender did not exist, do you think you would still have the desire to live as a male?
Gerlock: Yeah, I kinda like it. There’s, you have, I wouldn’t call myself a Renaissance man by any means, but I enjoy ballet, I enjoy opera, I enjoy unusual foods and traveling different places, things that the so-called he-man would consider ‘sissy.’ I like it. If I like something, I don’t mind saying that I do. If I like a type of beverage and it’s normally served to women, like a whiskey sour or something like that, I like it. Doesn’t make me any more feminine or masculine, just because you like. So you have, I’m not afraid of being, doing things that might be considered feminine.
Stern: If you could choose to be transgender, would you?
Gerlock: [Exhales] I guess it would be interesting, but it’s hard to say. I mean, I’ve spent 71 years on the earth and it’s always been masculine, so whether I would like it or want to do it, I don’t know. I really can’t answer that question.
Stern: If you were unable to live as a male, what would that mean for you?
Gerlock: I’d live life as a woman. You have to live somehow and you have to get through life somehow, and everyone has their own way of dealing with it. If I couldn’t do it as a man, I’d do it as a woman.
Stern: What is your relationship to the male community?
Gerlock: Um, yesterday was the first Super Bowl I watched in over 20 years. I don’t read the sports page in the newspaper. By the same token, I don’t like people that use their situation to get out of something. ‘Oh, I can’t do that because I’m female or male.” If you’re asked to do something that’s within your realm, that’s not illegal, you do it, and worry about what somebody says afterwards.
Stern: Do you find that your relationships with people in the male community are different from your relationships with people outside the male community?
Gerlock: By ‘outside the male community,’ you mean…
Stern: People who are not men.
Gerlock: Okay. I would say, yeah, it would have to be different. When I’m with the guys or something, I will, if they want to talk, broach the subject of baseball, I don’t know a damn thing about baseball, but I can talk to them as though I do. Golf, never golfed a day in my life, but I know what golf is about. And by the same token, I can stand in a room with a dozen women and talk about this great recipe that we have for such and such, and ‘Have you ever tried this drink before? What do you think of some worldly thing that has happened?’ I feel at home with either gender, but I change my discussions and my tactics and how much more I listen to women talk than I listen to men talk on different subject matters, but it’s all interesting.
Stern: Have you ever felt excluded from the male community because you weren’t “male enough”?
Stern: Have you had any role models influence your gender, “teaching” you how to be male? Please explain.
Gerlock: My father. He was very, very, what’s the word I’m trying, he was masculine. He had to be tough. He grew up, and his father died, and he had to leave school in 8th grade and, back then they didn’t have welfare or Medicaid or Medicare or anything like that. If you didn’t have money, you didn’t get it done. So, he and his brothers and sisters all went out and made money, shoveling sidewalks, cleaning things. These were little kids, 12, 14 years old, so he had a difficult life, but he found a time to raise four boys and make them active members of the community, and how do you, how do you thank somebody like that? He wouldn’t accept it if you tried to thank him for doing something, so I looked up to him as a real man.
Stern: What kind of support for being a male do you have?
Gerlock: I’m not sure. Internal or external?
Stern: External. Do you have people who support you?
Gerlock: Oh yeah. I’ve never, my masculinity has never really been questioned, at least, not to my face, and, uh, I think I accept myself for what I am. Everything’s fine, as far as I’m concerned.
Stern: How does your family feel about you being a male?
Gerlock: Haha. My poor mother would say ‘I wish I had a girl,” but she had four boys. My dad loved having four boys cause he had fun with us. We went hunting, the typical things you can picture a man and his son doing. Some of the stuff was not typical. We got disciplined as boys, not ‘Go and stand in the corner for 15 minutes and that’s your punishment.’ Our punishment was ‘Wait til your father gets home,’ and when he got home, he took a leather switch to us to make sure we didn’t do it again. But I never held it against him. He was the authority figure and if we did something wrong, we didn’t think at the time we were gonna, we didn’t think about the consequences at the time, but around 6 pm, if we did something wrong, my dad would take a strap to us.
Stern: Have you run into any problems with religion, in regards to your gender identity?
Gerlock: No, we’re Roman Catholic. For the most part, we’re not, I would have to say, I’d be lying if I said we were 100% Roman Catholic and do whatever the Catholic church says. We don’t, again I’m using ‘we,’ talking about Grandma and I, we both feel that gay and lesbians are just people like us and don’t worry about it too much. Abortion? We have mixed feelings about that. I guess it depends on the situation. It’s not anything that can be taken lightly. By the same token, there are certain times when something like that has to occur. So, we really don’t talk about it. We both feel that it’s, the Catholic religion is what we want to be, most like what we, our thoughts and activities and everything are. So, if there’s a couple of things we don’t agree with, with the church, we’re just gonna have to disagree.
Stern: Did you have any friends/family who thought they could change you to be “normal”?
Gerlock: Haha, no. I don’t know what ‘normal’ is. Like I said before, we know people that are homosexuals. That doesn’t really bother me one, I don’t think about it. And, in fact, most of the time, I’m impressed with, especially gay men, they have so many things that could go against them, and yet they’re always, at least they have, they, I’m searching for words; this Parkinson’s disease kinda screws me up and I can’t find the words. They usually have it all together, they are very astute on different things, and I’m impressed with a lot of people that are gay because they do have a very broad base, most of them. There are some that have a chip on their shoulder and they gotta get through that themselves, but for the most part, I’m impressed with the way that they’ve advanced themselves.
Stern: How has being a male affected your romantic relationships?
Gerlock: My romantic, my latest one is 40 years old, so. I think I was, I’ve always enjoyed being around women and girls in high school and all that, and it’s something I’ve enjoyed. I’d just as soon sit in a room full of women and admire a good-looking woman, even at my age, ha, but I think my masculinity has helped me there because I was always, not aggressive, but assertive, I come across as being intelligent. Feelings. Women like guys with feelings. I always made sure they knew I had feelings. So, yeah, in the distant past, when I was dating and all, that was important.
Stern: How has being a male impacted you negatively?
Gerlock: Hmm. HMM. I guess, at certain times, things are expected of you that you really didn’t want to do, but you had to do it, and since you were a man, or male, you were expected to do it, and you went through with that. And most of the time, it wasn’t as bad as you thought it was going to be, and or everybody forgot about it six months later. So, in hindsight, it wasn’t all that bad. But that was the difficult part, is when someone expected something from you because you were male.
Stern: How safe do you feel at school/work/public (and why)?
Gerlock: That has changed over the years. I think, when I was in high school or college, even when I, early marriage, we never had the violence that we have today. It’s not violence against you, Ron Gerlock, it’s against you because you’re a person that they don’t agree with. Some of the senseless shooting that now seems to be the, I keep hoping that it’s getting better instead of worse. But I think that’s the biggest thing, is worrying about your family being hurt by someone they don’t even know, just a random murder or shooting or stabbing. Doesn’t matter what the weapon is, it’s the weapon between their two ears that you have to be frightened of. And you see people committing heinous crimes for no reason at all, and that’s kind of scary.
Stern: Have you ever been a victim of a hate crime?
Gerlock: [Long pause] I can’t think of any. I’m trying to think. I guess no, I can’t think of anything where I was the victim. No, I’m at a loss.
Stern: Have you ever been forced by friends/family into mental health treatment for your gender identity?
Stern: If your family had to raise you all over again, what advice would you give them so that your life gender experience would have been different?
Gerlock: I don’t know that I’d want it to be different. I’m perfectly happy with the way my life has gone as a male. I don’t, I’m very happy to be a man, and I don’t feel the need to change it.
Stern: Now that you’re out as a male, what would you have said to a younger version of yourself?
Gerlock: Haha. Study harder. Go to class more often.
Stern: What was the best advice you received as a young person?
Gerlock: 'You can't have everything, and everybody is not happy all the time.'
Stern: If your own child were to declare themselves male, what advice would you give them to help them survive the world they may have to face?
Gerlock: ‘Live up to your responsibilities. Discipline yourself, and show respect to everybody.’
Stern: What do you see as the main issue facing male people today and what do you see as a possible solution to this problem?
Gerlock: I think men today are becoming wusses. They’re afraid to admit that they enjoy doing something, or they’re afraid to stand up for their principles. There’s a general feeling that they have to do everything to satisfy their female counterparts. It’s not wrong to be a man. It’s not wrong to have an opinion or an idea different from the other gender. So, just stand up and be a man. Don’t be afraid of it.
Stern: What is the hardest part about being a man?
Gerlock: Being a man. Not being caught up in this world of political correctness. If you’re a man and something comes to and you feel the need to do something, be active about it, do it. Worry about the consequences later.
Stern: Do you feel like any health disparities you face are directly related to your gender identity and expression?
Gerlock: Well, I have three brothers and all three have prostate cancer, so, and I’m going next Thursday to a urologist just as a precaution because, if the three have it, I’m due for it sooner or later. As far as I know, there aren’t any women with a prostate. I would say it’s gender-specific.
Stern: Have you ever felt that you have been denied proper medical treatment or questioned inappropriately while seeking medical treatment?
Gerlock: No. I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem with that.
Stern: What changes would you make in healthcare in order to receive better care oriented towards males?
Gerlock: For the longest time, it was geared towards men and women were more or less forgotten about, and just in the last, I’m gonna say, 20 to 25 years, it has shifted almost completely to women, healthcare for women, and men are kind of left out. Looking at, women have done a great job of identifying breast cancers as a cause, and a lot of things your grandma didn’t know about, today’s revelations would have made it a lot easier on her. Such things like menopause was very difficult on her because most of the doctors are male, most of them ‘Oh, that’s just a women’s thing,’ and there was no really medications to give women during menopause, so she suffered because of that, and I suffered because she suffered.
Stern: What do you think society could do to better understand people who are male and their needs?
Gerlock: Well, I’m afraid society has done a good job on television advertising and stuff, showing the man as a complete idiot or a wuss or both. And it would take equal amount of time to, and someone would have to take up the cause to find men, problems that men have.
Stern: How could society change to be more accepting or emotionally better for you?
Gerlock: I always, I think that getting rid of this political correctness. It’s wrong. Kids are being raised being afraid to say anything, do anything that says you’re masculine. This common, there’s no common sense left in the administration departments of public schools. There’s just nobody there that knows what they’re doing, as far as I’m concerned. I’m sure there are a lot of good people, but it drives me nuts every time I see somebody defending a totally illogical act, kicking a kid out of school because he made a sign like a gun or like they did yesterday, the day before, taking lunches away from the schoolkids and dumping it because the parents hadn’t paid up the lunch vouchers. Stupid. That’s it.
Stern: That was my last question, so thank you.
Gerlock: You’re very welcome. It’s something that I never really gave a lot of thought to, but it’s a lot of subconscious. So, thank you.