Feminists and trans folks agree: that's restrictive and it stunts and impairs people, so we say NO to that. Your genital configuration shall NOT define your identity, and we shall be free to be, you and me.
So we're on the same page and we're together on this? Well, no. We're at each other's throats. How'd that happen?
Well, feminists tend to look at gender and see nothing but chains. Gender is that mishmosh of sexist expectations and attitudes and double standards. Gender is where you get treated differently depending on whether you've been classified as a woman or a man; so that's what we're against, right?
But the LGBTQIA community, supporting its transgender component, embraces gender. Gender is your identity, whether you identify as a man or a woman or neither or something different, or perhaps one of those on some days and a different one on other days. The important thing is that it is not defined by your genital configuration, it's how you identify that defines your gender, got it?
Many feminists shake their head at that. If your physical sexual morphology no longer defines you as being this kind of person or that kind of person, why would we continue to harbor notions of "this kind of person" versus "that kind of person" as concrete separate identities? So somehow for these transgender folks, gender still exists, but not anchored to genitals. Genital-free gender. Well, if it isn't composed entirely of the social attitudes and expectations that we're overthrowing, what's it made up of?
Outspoken trans people tell their tales, what it was like. Gender is real for them, important. I was expected to be playing football, cussing, sitting with my legs open wide, hitting on girls, but just hitting boys, and that was all wrong for me. I wanted to wear skirts and sparkly things, and have long hair and be flirty, and I wanted to dance.
The feminists glance at each other and shake their heads, because in a world without gender roles and expectations, you wouldn't be expected to play football or wear sparkly things. That, they say, is the whole point. We want to tear down the fence that keeps people on one side or the other side of the gender pasture, and you trans folks just want to hop over the fence in order to be confined to the other side!
So, communications breakdown.
Trans people, and the LGBTQIA world of which they are a part, do tend to talk about gender as if it is self-explanatory and as if, except for emphasizing that it doesn't have anything to do with what's between your legs, it's all self-explanatory and quite real. And feminists, meanwhile, talk about gender as if it consists entirely of things you can't do or ways in which other people don't see you and your traits and accomplishments; they see it as entirely composed of social beliefs and not real, just ideology.
I don't agree with either side.
First off, I think gender is composed of social beliefs, but social beliefs are real things. We have to deal with them, we are social creatures.
Second, they consist of more than restrictions and chains. Let me elaborate on that. When people talk about "gender roles" the examples are often broad klunky things like "the man was expected to go to work and earn money, the woman was supposed to stay home and raise children and cook and clean house". But when people talk about roles in a movie or a stage play, they describe characters and personalities, behaviors in a fully fleshed out way. It's like the difference between talking about the role of king and the role of King Lear. The first is a social office but the second is a sort of archetype of a way of being in the world. We can establish a chartered egalitarian representative democracy and not have a king, and say that anyone who thinks they are a king is delusional and anyone who aspires to be one is politically reactionary. But if someone finds strength and inspiration by channelling the character of King Richard the Lion-hearted, (perhaps as portrayed onscreen or onstage by their favorite actor), they're doing a different thing; they're drawing upon a library of behavioral nuances and expressions, attitudes and charisma, examples of how to behave in various situations, ways of conducting one's self socially.
And we all use those. We are social creatures. We learned how to be who we are in social interaction by borrowing and emulating bits and pieces of how we saw others being, bits that resonated with us. Like assembling a wardrobe of clothing from borrowed apparel, we try on things to see if they fit us, and what we keep, over time, is what fits best and expresses who we are.
Gender is like that.
Yes, over time, after a few generations of people not harboring and embracing rigid notions of how folks with a clitoris and vulva are quite different from folks with a penis and testicles, these available libraries of roles should diverge from being anchored, erotically or otherwise, in one sex or the other. But the ones we grew up with mostly are sex-specific, aren't they? Rather than showing us a way of being in the world, they mostly exhibit to us examples of how to be a man (this kind of man, that kind of man, this other kind of man) or how to be a woman (lots of diversity here too but a very different library of how-to-be than the man library, yes?).
So, transgender (and genderqueer and etc) people. People who find it empowering to draw heavily on the library that has historically been marked as gendered for people of a different physical body than the one they've got.
Can you see how that's different from "hugging one's own chains"?
Next episode: remedial laws and policies anchored in one's physical sex, not gender, and how that has pitted transgender women and feminists against each other
You're secluded in quarantine, and all the performances and events have been cancelled, so it's a good time to read a book!
My book, GenderQueer: A Story From a Different Closet, has been published by Sunstone Press. It is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in paperback and ebook, and as ebook only from Apple, Kobo, and directly from Sunstone Press themselves.
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