The Reality of Gender
This post was originally published August 06, 2009 here.
There seems to be some serious misunderstandings going on about gender as a concept. It happens in the feminist community, it happens in the genderqueer community and the trans community and really, it happens everywhere. Some of these misunderstandings and misconceptions are simply an attempt to describe something that we don’t really have good terms for, using the phrase “gender” with a qualifier attached (identity, brain, natural, social, etc). Some of these issues and mistakes are a little more political, built from strawmen fallacies and willful ignorance to back up an agenda which, amusingly enough, isn’t actually threatened by any of the current facts out there about gender.
Let’s hit the “brain sex” fiasco first, shall we? After reading about a bit of a kurfluffle involving a cissexual genderqueer activist and a transsexual activist documented at QT: (Linky: Critiquing Genderqueer Transsexualphobia), as well as commenting, it occurred to me that more ought to be said on the topic beyond what I can fit into a reasonably sized comment. The brain sex argument, in its more reasonable form, isn’t really a brain sex argument at all. It’s more a bodily integrity instincts argument. Now there are other cases involving bodily integrity instincts, namely, BIID or bodily integrity identity disorder. This disorder does not involve secondary sexual characteristics but instead involves your limbs. Folk with this disorder want a limb removed (sometimes multiple limbs) because they feel foreign and wrong. Much like how many of the dysphoric transsexuals (including myself) want our bodies changed because the birth sex characteristics feel foreign and wrong. Notice a parallel? I did. Bodily instincts are not a sexed trait but it stands to reason that they would also apply to sexed traits. So it stands to reason that if your bodily instincts are miswired, your birth sex traits (some or all of them) will seem off and wrong and another sex’s traits will seem like they fit. I say another sex (not the “opposite sex”) because this theory includes nonbinaries. After all, biology does tend to result in multiple variations on one set of changes, especially in the brain. And there are nonbinaries that transition (agendered/neutrois folk getting nullification surgeries, certain variants of androgynes getting mixed traits to their needs) and clearly are subject to their own dysphoria. If you want to learn more about nonbinaries from them particularly WhatIsGender’s forum is a good place to ask (you’ll have to register, but its free and they don’t spam you)
So to claim that the bodily instincts theory (misnamed by many as the brain sex theory and subject to toxic misunderstandings between it and the utter bullshit of HBS) is binarist is patently untrue and a misconception.
One thing that muddies the waters here is how psychological identity flows. For a lot of folks, when your body’s sexed traits seem wrong to you for seemingly no reason and you discover that the bodily traits of a different sex seem right, that’s going to have an impact on your self image and self conceptualization. For an individual who has less knowledge of feminist and gender theory, biology and less self awareness regarding psychology, I can see how someone might say, “well my brain must be a female or a male or a mixed or a whatever brain”. It would seem like the only way to articulate those feelings. Unfortunately, certain people take this as the official concept instead of the scientific explanations and the actual theory itself.
As a note I’m one of those people who sees GID (a disorder classified by its collection of symptoms, not its cause) as having a high likelihood of being multi-causal. The bodily instincts theory is a theory of one of those possible causes, but its presentation does not mean it is the only cause. I’m sure there are instances of GID where social pressure and mistreatment have caused similar symptoms, among other causes and issues.
And now, on to the “GENDUR ISN’T REEL” idiocy. I’m not going to be gentle. It is idiocy. Completely inexcusable idiocy too. Because you see something that is socially constructed still exists. Social constructs are still real. They may not have basis in biology, and it’s fine to say that. They may not be inherent to all individuals of a given sex structure, and it’s not only fine but important to say that. But to confuse something being socially derived with not existing at all is a level of ignorance about reality itself that really defies description. And of course, the people that use this idiotic argument to try to delegitimize transsexuals, well, I can’t respect people like that. Let’s be entirely clear. It is a strawman argument based at best on layman misconceptions and mislabeling of a certain phenomenon that really ought to not be called gender identity in the first place. It is based on a completely ridiculous misrepresentation of the meaning of the word “real”. And it is used to delegitimize and attack transsexuals on behalf of a political agenda, that (in reality) is not at odds with transsexuals at all.
So not only is it fallacious bullshit that’s used to hurt people who need help to deal with our distress, it’s completely unnecessary fallacious bullshit that’s used to hurt people who need help to deal with our distress. I’m all for cutting as much of the gender role enforcement and assumptions that gendered behavior is inherent to a given sex, biological or needs to be labeled as such out of society. I’m all for going in and revamping out culture so that “gender expression” starts being labeled self expression and the pressures to conform due to your sex (birth or attained) are removed. I’m all for slashing and burning the patriarchy. And I am fucking tired of being misrepresented by a bunch of paranoid assholes who think that by existing, I threaten the cause. Yes, there’s a little bit of rage here, but the rage is carefully meted out with educated knowledge.
Go here to read the comments on the original post.
Filed under: activism, rant | 1 Comment
Tags: feminism, gender roles, identity, infighting, linguistics, self expression, transgender