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GENDER AS BEHAVIOR (Reblog)

WHAT IS GENDER? PART 5:

This post is the fifth in a series on What is gender? Click here to read the first post, or here to return to the previous post.


THE CONVERSATION ON GENDER EXPRESSION.


In the last post I talked about gender groupings and how one is perceived/treated as a gendered individual. The gender one is perceived as is largely determined by two factors: secondary sexual characteristics, and gender behavior. The first, secondary sexual characteristics, is the physical amalgam of sex-typical characteristics (facial hair, breasts), which is largely determined by hormones and can change over time. The second, gender behavior, is the varied ways in which a person displays femininity, masculinity, or androgyny in the world.

In my chart I break gender behavior into several terms. The first one is gender expression (or gender expressiveness), and for my purposes it means thenatural outflowing of masculinity or femininity. Generally this is affected by subconscious sex, gender identity, hormones, and any inherent masculine or feminine tendencies. The gay boy who cannot stop himself from having limp wrists no matter how much his parents try to beat it out of him might very well be expressing natural femininity, just as a left-handed person expressesnatural lefthandedness even if they’re taught to be ambidextrous. When I came out of the closet, at least some of the femininity in my behavior arose from a subconscious place that was natural to me but that had been shut down by society. Certainly the more integrated I’ve become, the more natural expression has emerged from the deep.

Gender performance (or affected gender) is the side of gender expression that isn’t natural. Some feminists would say that all gender behavior is performative, but I disagree. There are too many people who act naturally feminine or masculine despite being socialized in the opposite direction. However, some of gender is definitely an act. The little boy who hates sports isperforming gender when he pretends to like sports. When I tried to suppress my subconscious sex and redefine myself based on forced masculine role models like Teddy Roosevelt, I was studying how to perform gender. On the other side of the coin, a female drag king who dresses as a guy to entertain a crowd is quite literally performing gender. For some gay guys (certainly not all), their particular culture of gay-specific flamboyancy (or effeminacy as it’s derogatorily called) is a performance to mark themselves as visibly gay.

Gender breakdown drag queent

Both natural gender and performed gender combine to create gender presentation, which mostly has to do with how one deliberately appears to the world. If gender performance is how one deliberately acts, gender presentation is how one deliberately wants to be perceived. It is how oneattempts to have their gender perceived (not necessarily how other people actually perceive it).

As a transsexual woman my gender expression is now feminine because my femininity is unrepressed. My gender performance is also usually feminine, but more because of social pressures to conform to cultural notions of femininity, as well as my desire to be affirmed as a woman. The sum total is a female gender presentation: I present myself as a woman, with the hopes that people will perceive me as female (my perceived gender) and will group me with other girls (my gender grouping). Tension exists when all these factors don’t align. Just the other day I had an experience in which my gender performance and perceived gender didn’t match my gender expression, and the result was incredible anxiety.

Unfortunately, gender behavior is the side of gender that the media leans all its weight on. A lot of public discussions about gender behavior become steeped in pejorative sexism. Gay men and transgender women are confused with each other because both are considered “feminine males.” For those who define being a man as being anatomically male, both gay men and transgender women are effeminate men; whereas for those who define being a woman as being feminine, both gay men and transgender women are “basically girls.” Misogyny turns this evaluation into an insult, since (after all) it’s bad to be feminine or a girl, especially if you’re male. Of course, confusing gay men and transgender women is ridiculous and defies actual experience.

A place where gender-as-expression creates tension within the trans community is the de-medicalization of trans issues by trans liberationists. For many transsexuals, the existence of transsexuality or gender dysphoria as a medical diagnosis is extremely comforting. It aligns with our own experience, that being trans is problematic not only because of how society views us, but because our body itself experiences an innate tension that can be crippling. Gender reassignment surgery really is life-saving for some. Other transgender people who conceive gender primarily as a presentation which ought to be queered or usurped view hormone therapy and surgeries as elective cosmetic procedures. This is why the transgender community is sometimes schizophrenic on this issue, one moment demanding health care coverage and the next demanding God-like autonomy over their own bodies. The community doesn’t know how to treat issues of problematic embodiment separately from issues of  gender performance.

These assumptions and conflations become crystal clear with the media hype around Caitlyn Jenner. During her interview with Diane Sawyer she had some vulnerable breathing room to talk about her gender as both subconscious sex and social grouping – she feels a sense of belonging both to the female sex and the “woman” social group. However, perhaps in no small part because of how she presents herself, since then the media has only latched onto the most superficial elements of her femininity. It’s not her lifelong subconscious transsexual experience that makes her a woman, but her new hairdo, name-brand cocktail dress, and plastic surgery.

Gender breakdown media

With Caitlyn Jenner we see the negative side of this view of gender. If gender is nothing but a set of superficial cosmetic stereotypes that mostly apply to women, then gender ideologists are right to tear it down because it’s essentially meaningless. There was no Christian Doir in the Garden of Eden, or even in the Bronze Age.

So much of gender is performance that it’s hard to see what’s genuineexpression. Expression is important because it points beyond the superficial to the subconscious and natural. The two are hard to parse out because they often coincide. When I wear a floral skirt, it’s predominantly expressive in that I just frickin’ love floral skirts, but it’s also performative in that I’m conforming to standards of femininity. We need to separate out these two elements so we can both talk about what this expressiveness says about my nature (are you listening, gender essentialists?), and what this pressure to perform says about our society (how about you, gender deconstructionists?).

The ways in which my gender behavior isn’t natural is only in the same way that some cisgender people unnaturally exaggerate their own gender behavior to fit in. Would I feel compelled to wear makeup as often as I do if the world was more accepting of frumpy women? Probably not. However, for transgender people there’s an added dimension to behavior concerns: namely the need to feel safe and validated. Transgender women in particular get a lot of flack for practicing their feminine voice or obsessing over “passing” as women, and cisgender people use this as proof that trans women are “performing” in order to “deceive” others or “play” at being women. They fail to empathize with the social ramifications of being a tall woman with a deep voice. This kind of “practicing gender” isn’t usually about “transforming into a woman,” but about having the luxury to live as oneself without being constantly accosted. The end goal is free expression – creating safe space in the world to allow oneself to be oneself.

A lot of conservative rhetoric against me assumes that in acting as a woman in society, I’m putting on an elaborate ruse to fool the outside world. They miss the fact that much of my female persona is a natural expression flowing from my inner self.

It’s this expression that forms the core of some peoples’ gender identity. An anatomical female may, for example, be naturally masculine but not have a subconscious male sex. They identify as transgender not because they feel an inescapable male identity at their core, but because their natural gender expression is so masculine that it puts them outside any recognizable female gender expectation. There’s nothing about “girlhood” or “womanhood” that resonates with them.

Gender breakdown expression

In this case, as is partially the case for a transsexual woman with a subconscious female sex, the issue is authenticity. However, it’s authenicity of expression, expectations, social grouping, and role rather than subconscious sex. This distinction is lost on most people, even some transgender people, but that’s why we need to have these more nuanced discussions about gender. The transgender person above has just as valid a complaint against gender oppression as a transsexual like me, but their complaint is entirely different. They quite naturally don’t fit into the binary, and in asserting themselves as transgender, they’re refusing to be shoved like a square peg into a circle hole.

If we can’t create a society that tolerates exceptions to the gender “norm” such as this, then we’re heartless. You can kick and scream all you want about how “it’s only natural that males be masculine and females be feminine,” but you need to read what’s actually natural to real people, just as you have to simply acknowledge the existence of intersex people. You can formulate a lofty notion of gender essentialism to define “what a woman is essentially,” but be careful not to ignore the individual woman whose essence doesn’t quite reflect the characteristics you thought it would.


Part 6, the conversation on “gender as role,” is coming soon.

Binary “Gender Ideology” Refuted: The Complexities of Gender

Ever since the 2014 Family Synod, some Catholic bishops (and Pope Francis himself) have expressed criticism of what they refer to as “gender ideology”, by which they seem to mean gender theory. Gender theory, however, is not by any stretch an “ideology”, but a sound academic attempt to understand the complexities of gender as encountered in the real world. The only “ideology” I’m aware of about gender, is that espoused in Vatican doctrine, which reduces everything to a simplistic binary; everyone is either male or female, with distinctive roles appropriate to each; and that our primary social purpose is to find a suitable mate of the opposite gender, marry, and produce offspring. This is simplistic, patent nonsense, which should be obvious to anyone who simply observes the reality outside the lens of what is fondly believed to be the “traditional” family structure. There are many societies around the world in which traditional family structures recognized more than two genders. The hijra of South Asia are one example of a socially recognised third gender, now being recognised in government documents in some countries. Some Native American societies recognized even more than three genders.

gender-breakdown-3
The complexity of gender (graphic from the Catholic transgender)

Continue reading Binary “Gender Ideology” Refuted: The Complexities of Gender

A PERSONAL PLEA FOR GENDER SANITY (Reblog)

WHAT IS GENDER? PART 7:

This post is the last in a series on What is gender? Click here to read the first post, or here to return to the previous post.


I PLEAD THEE…


As a transgender woman who was raised as a boy and is a devout Catholic and devout feminist with a foot in both the gender essentialist and gender deconstructionist camps, I find myself hemmed in on all sides by quibbling voices that have no interest in doing anything but shout at each other. I’m not sure this makes me an expert in anything except the fruitlessness of shouting matches, although I like to believe I’ve gotten an accidental glimpse at a larger vista above and beyond these narrow entrenchments. I’m nervous to express this because in effect I’m disagreeing with everyone, but in another sense I’m finding agreement with everyone.

There’s a lot of liberation activism going on right now, for feminists, transgender, autism, Deaf, #BlackLivesMatter, and all manner of oppressed peoples. I first want to assert that as a follower of Christ, I feel it’s my duty to stand beside all those in pain, and my heart marches with you. Each and every person deserves unconditional respect in light of our dignity as human beings.

I also feel the need to cut some of the bullshit regarding gender. There’s a false cultural dichotomy being set up that creates oversimplified and often unnecessary tensions in discourse on gender liberation.

The previous posts are an elucidation of why I make claims of transsexual embodiment with a grain of salt, stand in solidarity with gender revolutionaries but also have reservations about the transgender ideological campaign, resist the invalidation of radical feminists while also feeling sympathy for the womyn-born-womyn mindset, and both distinguish myself from and relate to intersex individuals. Gender in its complexity is a site of massive intersectionality, and every person for which gender is a battleground is sharing in the same oppression. At the same time, gender is such a factually multi-faceted thing that we need to have more sensitivity, nuance, and room for complexity. Also, given the inescapable import that gender has on our lives, religious claims of gender essentialism need to be considered as more than “patriarchal prattle”; they need to be seen, at the very least, as a memory of humanity’s deep spiritual encounter with gender.

No matter what personal ideologies we hold or oppose, we need to dump less babies in the sewer with our smelly bathwater. There needs to be less “my experience versus yours,” and more collective imagining. Instead of cancelling out sex with gender, or cancelling out gender with sex, why can’t we consider both on their own terms? Instead of putting all the weight on nature or nurture, why can’t we consider both? Instead of using gender non-conforming people as deconstructive principles in academic textbooks, or as specimens of pathology in psychological freak-shows, why can’t we listen to their concerns and how they navigate their tensions?

So allow me a final moment of appeal, as a Catholic, transsexual, male, transgender, woman, feminist, gender idealist, gender anti-ideologue weirdo who finds herself caught very much in the middle of everything.


To fellow Catholics. When we talk about God’s created order, we need to actually talk about the order that was created. Yes, I know humanity is fallen and sin affects every physical and spiritual aspect of our life on Earth, but we really need to consider where our views of gender are coming from. A blind man may be blind because of the Fall, or because God made him that way, or (in Jesus’ words) “that the glory of God may be revealed,” but what’s certain is that he is blind, and his dignity is equal to the most far-seeing Tolkien elf. Steve may be a man like our forefather Adam, but he isn’t Adam; he’s Steve. So however Adam was created in the beginning, Steve was created different. Otherwise he wouldn’t be Steve; he’d be Adam. And yes, “all have sinned through Adam,” sure. But all have been redeemed individually, as themselves, and will stand before the throne of God in their own particular flesh. So before we start talking about “Biblical masculinity,” let’s actually read about the men in the Bible. Before we start talking about the metaphysics of gender, let’s consider (like good hylomorphic Catholics) the physics of sex. Before we start throwing around “natural law,” let’s deeply consider what’s in actual factnatural to man. If the design of the Creator is truly written in nature, then gender is a much more diverse thing than we give Him credit for.


To fellow feminists. Whether you’re a self-identified TERF, queer revolutionary, transfeminist, riot grrrl, or dyke, we need to recognize that these labels are sometimes distracting. Feminism isn’t first and foremost an ideology – it’s a community, or a set of intersecting communities.

It’s not enough that I identify as a woman. It’s not enough to argue about whether I really am or am not a woman. The more pressing matter is that I experience crippling gender oppression all the time. The fact remains that I’ve seen the face of misogyny. The fact remains that I need safe spaces, not to pet my own ego and validate my sense of identity, but to take shelter from the storm of gender oppression and share my experience of feminine embodiment.

We need greater unity. Feminism exists because our culture inherited a patriarchal view of gender that sees Man and Masculinity as the human ideal. This means that everyone who doesn’t conform to maleness, manliness, or masculinity is oppressed. Transsexual men, even though they identify as men, share in your oppression. Transsexual women, even though they were raised as boys, share in your oppression. Even gay men, with all the privilege they’ve gained in the last few decades, share some part in your oppression. The straight cisgender boy who likes My Little Pony and gets beaten up for it – he too experiences something of your oppression. Even the macho guy who makes sexist slurs like a foot soldier for the patriarchy because he’s so insecure in his own masculinity, and who can’t cry at night because he’s so emotionally repressed; even this bully needs a field hospital to dress his wound. These shared oppressions don’t need to invalidate your own, any more than they need to erase womanhood or crowd out woman voices. Intersectionality” isn’t just a PC buzzword – it’s an imperative. If we don’t see how these struggles interconnect, we won’t be able to make a dent in misogyny.

To womyn-born-womyn. I’m not going to nail ninety-five theses to the door of your enclosure. I’m not even going to demand a space in your gatherings. I’ll take shelter from the rain under the awning outside where you set up shop, and if any of you wish to stop by and chat, I’d be happy to have a cordial discussion. I hope that one day I’m afforded some unobtrusive corner in (or near) your community where we can value womanhood together without invalidating each other; in the meantime my door is always open to sisterhood. I recognize that as a transsexual, I’m something of a gender orphan. I hope for adoption, but I’m not about to demand it.


To gender ideologues. You can say “all gender is constructed” ’til the cows go home, but I have to wonder why we couldn’t construct a male gender for me no matter how hard we all collectively tried. You can say “all gender is performative” ’til the last trumpet sounds, but I have to wonder why it takes so much effort to perform the gender I was taught, and so little effort to express the gender I am. And if these experiences of mine mean nothing to you, try to make them something to you. At least chew on them for a second.

I recognize your catchy phrases are easy academic solutions to the gender problematic, but are they true ones? My fear is that in making gender easier for some to swallow, you’ll make it easier for others to choke. If you can’t stomach the full ten-course meal of gender – if you must make it pill-sized – at least put a stipulation on it:


To gender essentialists. Attacks on rigid essentialism aren’t necessarily a sign of neoliberal thought police, and believing so is discrediting to you. After all, one of the major red flags for pseudoscience is the belief that all opposition to your theory is a conspiracy.

At least in it’s blanket idealized form, gender essentialism has issues. If any male who isn’t 100% masculine or any female who isn’t 100% feminine is disordered, then every human being on the face of the Earth is disordered by dint of having a personality. I realize this is a bit of a straw man argument, but it gets at the overarching problem with most forms of gender essentialism. It’s one thing to value masculinity and femininity; it’s another thing entirely to devalue people because they miss your ideal. The idealism of gender doesn’t promote individual flourishing, and therefore promotes neither order nor virtue.

Instead of focusing on overarching roles, we need to study relationality and how persons dynamically and intentionally co-express love and identity.


To fellow transsexuals. In your online forums and private communities where you hide from oppression, don’t start forming your own oppressive systems. When I first came out as transgender, I was scared by the way some of you treated other transgender people. No, being transsexual isn’t the “true transgender experience.” No, you’re not necessarily “more woman” or “more man” than someone who is less vocal about their gender identity, or who didn’t experience gender dysphoria until puberty. No, a domestic, passive trans woman isn’t more womanly, and certainly isn’t more Woman, than a tomboyish, outspoken trans girl. Wearing gender-conforming clothes, or getting all the surgeries, or only falling in love with the opposite gender, doesn’t make you more transsexual or more transgender. Another transgender person’s battle with gender may be different than yours, and they may use language in different way, but their pain and struggle is just as valid. Don’t forget that. “Treat others as you would have done unto yourself.”

We need our own space for specifically transsexual issues, but that doesn’t mean we need to drive every other person off the face of the Earth.

To transsexual women. I think we need a little more humility when approaching women-only spaces. Yes, we need safety and basic accommodations. Sometimes we even need to pee. We’re battered, beaten, bruised, and constantly invalidated, so of course we want change. However, we’re not exactly “women just like other women.” We’re “women similar to other women.” Let’s slow down a bit and show more grace. We don’t need to be invalidated by acknowledging our difference. Our difference will only be accepted by other women if it enriches rather than poisons women-specific communities.


To transgender activists. I know the easiest way to win a culture war is to rewrite the language and give people a politically-correct script to read off. And I know that the easiest way to justify hard decisions is “it’s none of your business what I do with my own body.” And I furthermore know that the easiest way to win freedom for gender-diverse people is to say “gender is a social construct”; it’s a nice, simple, short thing to say to brush all debate under the rug. But please, let’s not erase different experiences of gender. Let’s not erase the cisgender woman’s very real experience of not only being raised a girl, but of having to put up with menstruation. Let’s not cover up the fact that even in Native American societies, which are glorified for their “radical” two-spirit “third gender”, some of those two-spirit people saw themselves similar to how modern transsexuals see themselves, and would perform intense rituals to simulate menstruation and pregnancy. The complete erasure of gender (or sex) is as invalidating to those who don’t have the luxury/privilege to bracket gender (0r sex), just as “color-blind” attitudes are invalidating to people of color.

If we really want long-lasting change, let’s discuss real personal narratives, not scrubbed-up soundbyted clichés. Society will buy the clichés for a hot minute, but not a second longer. That, or we’ll be stuck in stereotypes of our own making for generations to come.


To all of you, PLEEEEEEASE, stop the name-calling! Call a cease-fire and talk. You all have deep personal stakes in the “gender war,” but that gives you all the more reason to stop firing bullets and start encompassing gender experiences with your hearts. We need some sanity in these gender conversations so we can stop talking about disconnected ideologies and start talking about people. If our ideologies eclipse the concrete experiences of individual people, then what’s the purpose in believing them except to be deliberately exclusive, self-righteous, and cruel? My hope is that any discourse on gender is aimed at truth – namely, to actually get to the bottom of the issues we face, not to pet our own egos.

If you take anything from this series on What is Gender?, let it be how humble we need to be in the face of such complex diversity and diverse complexity.

GENDER AS ROLE (Reblog)

WHAT IS GENDER? PART 6:

 This post is the sixth in a series on What is gender? Click here to read the first post, or here to return to the previous post.


THE CONVERSATION ON GENDER ROLES.


So far my posts on gender have focused on various transgender or queer experiences to help bring to light the ways in which different aspects of gender can be problematic for different people. This last post has the most to do with cisgender (non-transgender) people.

Many cisgender people sympathize with the transgender movement because of small ways in which they don’t conform to stereotypical masculinity or femininity. Until recently, a man who wanted to be a nurse was berated because nursing is a “woman’s job,” despite the fact that he gravitated to that profession simply because he had a heart for nursing. Similarly, people might assume a woman is lesbian simply because she plays rugby.

This is the battle with gender expectations, and it’s the most universal site of gender conflict. I’d venture to say every single person fails to conform entirely to the gender expectations of their time. If everyone perfectly conformed to archetypes of men and women, there’d be no personality or individuality in the world. These roles are what people are most willing to question, and rightly so.

Gender breakdown common

Gender expectations are all the assumptions we make about an individual based on their assigned gender. If a child is pronounced a boy upon delivery, he’s often dressed in blue because the expectation is that boys and blue go together. This is the beginning of gender rearing, the socialization of the child based on who that child is assumed to be. A girl will often be given barbies because it’s assumed she wants to play with them instead of toy swords.

Gender expectation also plays into gender roles; what “part” the person is expected to play. The girl is given dolls to play a mother role, whereas the boy is given guns to play a warrior role. These become at once more exaggerated and more nuanced in adult life, where certain professions (like police officer) are considered male-typical, whereas others (like homestay nurse) are considered female-typical.

These strict gender roles aren’t just assumed; they’re enforced. This is wherepejorative gender comes in. A boy who cries is called a sissy – his non-“masculine” behavior is negatively compared with women. A girl with masculine features is mannish – her non-“feminine” physicality is negatively compared with men. Failure on a biological level is just as censored. A man or woman with reproductive issues is a “failed” version of their gender – sterile, impotent, barren, depleted, unfruitful, infecund. Slurs against queer people like fag, he-she, and freak serve the same purpose.

Some rigid conservatives may still believe a woman’s role is exclusively in the kitchen; the question they never seem to ask themselves is what if a particular woman is genuinely inclined toward working in the stock exchange? You can formulate as many opinions as you want about how “she’s denying her natural femininity because of ungodliness or bad female role models or feminist brainwashing,” but what if she’s really, actually, truly inclined and disposed toward a professional life outside the home? Similarly, if feminists rewrite the script for “true women” to only include a professional career, what if a woman is really, actually, truly inclined and disposed toward a domestic life with lots of kids? Either way, an abstracted ideal is taking the place of the individual’s personality.

This every-day experience of gender is more or less universal. Through this window every person, cisgender or not, can relate to the gender embattlement of gender non-conformers. We’re all gender non-conformers in some way; for some people it’s just more pronounced, physical, conscious, or problematic.

Since this is the most relatable aspect of gender that everyone can understand, it’s no suprise that often it’s the only gender paradigm through which people will consider transgender experiences. Clearly I must “want to become a woman” because I don’t like competitive sports as much as most guys, or because I’m emotional and empathetic, or because I value the role of motherhood. The truth is I value motherhood because I experience myself as a girl, not the other way around. Transgender allies need to use this role aspect of gender to sympathize with transgender people, but also need to be careful not to over-relate their own struggles to those of particular transgender persons. Otherwise, they risk weaponizing and appropriating transgender narratives toward ulterior agendas.

That being said, gender roles touch on what might be the most important aspect of gender: relationality. What sexual reproductivity, sexual orientation, subconscious sex, gender identity, masculinity, femininity, and social grouping all have in common is they mark how we relate to ourselves and others in the world. Gender essentialists are getting at this when they assert that people have a natural place in the world that situates them in biological relationship with others. (Religious gender essentialists are getting at this when they talk about the divinely-ordained orientation of the masculine to the feminine.) Gender deconstructionists are also getting at this when they point out the ways in which people are consigned to unjust, demeaned, and heavily policed situations of inequality because of gender norms. Both acknowledge this relational aspect: either where biological facts (or divine intent) situate us, or where social oppression warps those facts to demean certain individuals. We need both sides of the coin.

The truth is that apart from small conflicts with gender expectations, the majority of the population experiences gender and sex in incredible alignment. Most people designated “male” have a male genital, genetic, hormonal, sexual, and subconscious sex that is undisputed, masculine tendencies, and identify their gender as “boy” or “man.” Most people designated “female” have a female genital, genetic, hormonal, sexual, and subconscious sex that is undisputed, feminine tendencies, and identify their gender as “girl” or “woman.” The fact that this dichotomy exists isn’t in itself problematic. This statistical binary is present even in the animal kingdom where socialization is rudimentary and gender ideologies are non-existent, so it can’t only be a social construct. The problem isn’t with binary sex, but binary sexism.

Binary sexism is precisely the aforementioned universal experience of being bullied into rigid gender conformity regardless of a person’s natural mode of being. It’s the idea that the gender binary has to be enforced as a law, rather than enjoyed as an outgrowth of human relationality. In our current culture most binary sexism is related to misogyny; the standards that both men and women are held to praise masculinity and demean femininity, so the policing is often centered on protecting masculine superiority. This is why transsexual women are far more demeaned than transsexual men – transsexual women threaten masculinity, whereas transsexual men prove that masculinity is something to attain to. It’s also why boys are punished more severely for “devolving” into “effeminacy,” whereas tomboyish girls are given relatively little trouble.

The truth is the gender dichotomy doesn’t need to be enforced to exist, and doing so causes unnecessary damage to individuals.My little brother, for example, seems to be a naturally masculine child. Unattended, he would probably gravitate toward toy soldiers of his own free will. As he’s undergone puberty and his social group has gotten more demanding, and perhaps in part because he’s conscious of my own feminine expression, his demeanor has changed. I’ve noticed a stiffness in him that I never perceived when he was a kid. His masculinity, which was once free and expressive, seems that much more performative than before. He doesn’t act differently; he behaves the same, but with more self-conscious huff-huffing about his masculinity. I’d like him to live in a world where he can be a man because he’s a man, not because he needs to prove that he’s a man.

As far as I know, my brother is part of the statistical majority: he physically, psychologically, and socially fits within average male parameters. This is fine. What I don’t understand is why it’s not fine to exist on the fringe of these averages. Most people have untroubled sex-gender alignment; some do not. Most men are masculine; some are not. This shouldn’t be more troubling than the natural variation in peoples’ voices. On average, males have voices with a fundamental frequency of 125 Hz, and females have voices with a fundamental frequency of 200 Hz. In actual fact, the vocal ranges of males and females overlap, and outliers from both sexes can have voices that approach the fundamental frequency of the other sex. How tyrannical would it be if those outliers were forced to have vocal surgery to “correct” their voice? How barbaric would it be to lop off a woman’s legs because she’s on the tall end of what’s considered average for a female?

It’s ridiculous to claim that stereotypical males or females are the only “real” way to be human. It’s just as ridiculous when transgender activists want to make transgender the “new normal.” Any group that tries to remake the world in their own image is doing the world a disservice. Whether a cisgender woman treats every gender non-conformer as a freak, or a genderqueer person wants everyone to be completely androgynous, the gigantic world of gender – and with it, the entirety of humanity – is being crammed into a small, ego-sized hole in which it can’t possibly fit. The exceptions to gender norms don’t disprove the reality of gender any more than the gender dichotomy render gender non-conformers nonexistent. There’s an imperative to coexist just as there’s a reality to acknowledge: we already co-exist in the literal sense. The challenge is to coexist humanely and with attentiveness to each others’ unique existence.

Gender is a many-faced thing, so instead of proffering the word like a shotgun, we need to take the excruciating time and exhausting energy to actually differentiate peoplenb s’ experiences and hear their genuine concerns about gender enforcement. Different sides to an issue don’t make the issue contradictory; they just make it three-dimensional.


Click here to proceed to Part 7, a personal plea for gender sanity.

 

GENDER AS BEHAVIOR (Reblog)

WHAT IS GENDER? PART 5:

This post is the fifth in a series on What is gender? Click here to read the first post, or here to return to the previous post.


THE CONVERSATION ON GENDER EXPRESSION.


In the last post I talked about gender groupings and how one is perceived/treated as a gendered individual. The gender one is perceived as is largely determined by two factors: secondary sexual characteristics, and gender behavior. The first, secondary sexual characteristics, is the physical amalgam of sex-typical characteristics (facial hair, breasts), which is largely determined by hormones and can change over time. The second, gender behavior, is the varied ways in which a person displays femininity, masculinity, or androgyny in the world.

In my chart I break gender behavior into several terms. The first one is gender expression (or gender expressiveness), and for my purposes it means thenatural outflowing of masculinity or femininity. Generally this is affected by subconscious sex, gender identity, hormones, and any inherent masculine or feminine tendencies. The gay boy who cannot stop himself from having limp wrists no matter how much his parents try to beat it out of him might very well be expressing natural femininity, just as a left-handed person expressesnatural lefthandedness even if they’re taught to be ambidextrous. When I came out of the closet, at least some of the femininity in my behavior arose from a subconscious place that was natural to me but that had been shut down by society. Certainly the more integrated I’ve become, the more natural expression has emerged from the deep.

Gender performance (or affected gender) is the side of gender expression that isn’t natural. Some feminists would say that all gender behavior is performative, but I disagree. There are too many people who act naturally feminine or masculine despite being socialized in the opposite direction. However, some of gender is definitely an act. The little boy who hates sports isperforming gender when he pretends to like sports. When I tried to suppress my subconscious sex and redefine myself based on forced masculine role models like Teddy Roosevelt, I was studying how to perform gender. On the other side of the coin, a female drag king who dresses as a guy to entertain a crowd is quite literally performing gender. For some gay guys (certainly not all), their particular culture of gay-specific flamboyancy (or effeminacy as it’s derogatorily called) is a performance to mark themselves as visibly gay.

Gender breakdown drag queent

Both natural gender and performed gender combine to create gender presentation, which mostly has to do with how one deliberately appears to the world. If gender performance is how one deliberately acts, gender presentation is how one deliberately wants to be perceived. It is how oneattempts to have their gender perceived (not necessarily how other people actually perceive it).

As a transsexual woman my gender expression is now feminine because my femininity is unrepressed. My gender performance is also usually feminine, but more because of social pressures to conform to cultural notions of femininity, as well as my desire to be affirmed as a woman. The sum total is a female gender presentation: I present myself as a woman, with the hopes that people will perceive me as female (my perceived gender) and will group me with other girls (my gender grouping). Tension exists when all these factors don’t align. Just the other day I had an experience in which my gender performance and perceived gender didn’t match my gender expression, and the result was incredible anxiety.

Unfortunately, gender behavior is the side of gender that the media leans all its weight on. A lot of public discussions about gender behavior become steeped in pejorative sexism. Gay men and transgender women are confused with each other because both are considered “feminine males.” For those who define being a man as being anatomically male, both gay men and transgender women are effeminate men; whereas for those who define being a woman as being feminine, both gay men and transgender women are “basically girls.” Misogyny turns this evaluation into an insult, since (after all) it’s bad to be feminine or a girl, especially if you’re male. Of course, confusing gay men and transgender women is ridiculous and defies actual experience.

A place where gender-as-expression creates tension within the trans community is the de-medicalization of trans issues by trans liberationists. For many transsexuals, the existence of transsexuality or gender dysphoria as a medical diagnosis is extremely comforting. It aligns with our own experience, that being trans is problematic not only because of how society views us, but because our body itself experiences an innate tension that can be crippling. Gender reassignment surgery really is life-saving for some. Other transgender people who conceive gender primarily as a presentation which ought to be queered or usurped view hormone therapy and surgeries as elective cosmetic procedures. This is why the transgender community is sometimes schizophrenic on this issue, one moment demanding health care coverage and the next demanding God-like autonomy over their own bodies. The community doesn’t know how to treat issues of problematic embodiment separately from issues of  gender performance.

These assumptions and conflations become crystal clear with the media hype around Caitlyn Jenner. During her interview with Diane Sawyer she had some vulnerable breathing room to talk about her gender as both subconscious sex and social grouping – she feels a sense of belonging both to the female sex and the “woman” social group. However, perhaps in no small part because of how she presents herself, since then the media has only latched onto the most superficial elements of her femininity. It’s not her lifelong subconscious transsexual experience that makes her a woman, but her new hairdo, name-brand cocktail dress, and plastic surgery.

Gender breakdown media

With Caitlyn Jenner we see the negative side of this view of gender. If gender is nothing but a set of superficial cosmetic stereotypes that mostly apply to women, then gender ideologists are right to tear it down because it’s essentially meaningless. There was no Christian Doir in the Garden of Eden, or even in the Bronze Age.

So much of gender is performance that it’s hard to see what’s genuineexpression. Expression is important because it points beyond the superficial to the subconscious and natural. The two are hard to parse out because they often coincide. When I wear a floral skirt, it’s predominantly expressive in that I just frickin’ love floral skirts, but it’s also performative in that I’m conforming to standards of femininity. We need to separate out these two elements so we can both talk about what this expressiveness says about my nature (are you listening, gender essentialists?), and what this pressure to perform says about our society (how about you, gender deconstructionists?).

The ways in which my gender behavior isn’t natural is only in the same way that some cisgender people unnaturally exaggerate their own gender behavior to fit in. Would I feel compelled to wear makeup as often as I do if the world was more accepting of frumpy women? Probably not. However, for transgender people there’s an added dimension to behavior concerns: namely the need to feel safe and validated. Transgender women in particular get a lot of flack for practicing their feminine voice or obsessing over “passing” as women, and cisgender people use this as proof that trans women are “performing” in order to “deceive” others or “play” at being women. They fail to empathize with the social ramifications of being a tall woman with a deep voice. This kind of “practicing gender” isn’t usually about “transforming into a woman,” but about having the luxury to live as oneself without being constantly accosted. The end goal is free expression – creating safe space in the world to allow oneself to be oneself.

A lot of conservative rhetoric against me assumes that in acting as a woman in society, I’m putting on an elaborate ruse to fool the outside world. They miss the fact that much of my female persona is a natural expression flowing from my inner self.

It’s this expression that forms the core of some peoples’ gender identity. An anatomical female may, for example, be naturally masculine but not have a subconscious male sex. They identify as transgender not because they feel an inescapable male identity at their core, but because their natural gender expression is so masculine that it puts them outside any recognizable female gender expectation. There’s nothing about “girlhood” or “womanhood” that resonates with them.

Gender breakdown expression

In this case, as is partially the case for a transsexual woman with a subconscious female sex, the issue is authenticity. However, it’s authenicity of expression, expectations, social grouping, and role rather than subconscious sex. This distinction is lost on most people, even some transgender people, but that’s why we need to have these more nuanced discussions about gender. The transgender person above has just as valid a complaint against gender oppression as a transsexual like me, but their complaint is entirely different. They quite naturally don’t fit into the binary, and in asserting themselves as transgender, they’re refusing to be shoved like a square peg into a circle hole.

If we can’t create a society that tolerates exceptions to the gender “norm” such as this, then we’re heartless. You can kick and scream all you want about how “it’s only natural that males be masculine and females be feminine,” but you need to read what’s actually natural to real people, just as you have to simply acknowledge the existence of intersex people. You can formulate a lofty notion of gender essentialism to define “what a woman is essentially,” but be careful not to ignore the individual woman whose essence doesn’t quite reflect the characteristics you thought it would.


Part 6, the conversation on “gender as role,” is coming soon.

 

Gay Wedding – in Mennonite Church.

Marriage equality is rapidly becoming routine across much of Western Europe,  and also both North and South America. But that’s civil marriage.  Gay weddings in church remain a rare exception, outside of a handful of local congregations and dioceses in the more progressive / liberal denominations. That too is changing though, as demonstrated by this Canadian report, on the country’s first ever gay wedding in a Mennonite church.

Saskatoon gay couple 1st to be married in Mennonite church

Craig Friesen and Matt Wiens were married on New Year’s Eve

Craig Friesen and Matt Wiens were married by the pastors of Nutana Mennonite Church (where they currently attend) in Osler Mennonite Church, the church Friesen grew up attending.

Craig Friesen and Matt Wiens were married by the pastors of Nutana Mennonite Church

New Year’s Eve is a special time for many, and for Craig Friesen and Matt Wiens, it was especially meaningful.

The Saskatoon couple was married on Dec. 31 in Osler, Sask., in the presence of family, friends and the church community.

The men’s wedding marks a point in history for the Mennonite denomination in Canada. Friesen and Wiens are the first same-sex couple publicly married in a Canadian Mennonite church.

“Our relationship doesn’t feel different, but our relationship with our community and with our faith has changed at least a little bit. It was really beautiful and freeing,” Friesen said.

Matt and Craig

Craig Friesen and Matt Wiens were married on New Year’s Eve. (Rachel Bergen/CBC News)

​Friesen and Wiens are hopeful other LGBT Mennonites will learn from their example that they don’t have to choose between their faith and their sexuality.

(Read more at CBC News)

Continue reading Gay Wedding – in Mennonite Church.