Why so limited? Because gender is tied not merely to language, but also to deep aspects that govern the way relationships are allowed to form in a culture -- stuff from friendships to marriage, gender affects it all. A phrase often used by our opponents is that Family is the building block of society. It's true, too. The building block of Family is kinship -- marriage and the ties that create family; relationships developed between people and governed by social rules of interaction.
The building block of the rules that govern those relationships is Gender. It lies at a part so deep in a culture that a change to it truly does change the culture itself in a way that is markedly dramatic. That depth is why sexism is so hard to root out and so pervasive on our thoughts, and why language is tied into the concept, and it even affects the very *idea* of sexual orientation at a level that no one really saw when Kinsey was doing his report.
Gender, as its used in the LGBT community, has three parts to it. In sociology of the sort I work in, it has a fourth one, but that's rally odd and has to do with the cultural variance part of it.
Most people experience Gender as a singularity because it can be difficult to see it otherwise unless you are, in some way, different in your way of dealing with Gender.
As I said in my discussion on What is Trans, Gender is always social. It is always a matter of how other people see you. This is because gender is what you have when you do not see the flesh --sex is two naked bodies on a table, gender is everything else. Gender is not about male or female, it is about man or woman, boy or girl.
Gender Roles are what we call Femininity and Masculinity. They deal in how we expect persons of a particular sex to behave or act within our culture. The three billion ways to be a man, and the three billion ways to be a woman,
and all the stuff related to sexism lies here.
Gender Expression is how people present themselves to the wider world, according to their gender role. It has to do with primarily superficial stuff -- dress and body decoration -- that affect things like attraction and courtship.
Then we have Gender Identity, which is about how we inherently expect others to see us in relation to the roles and expression we have. It is different from Sex Identity in that it deals mostly in how we see ourselves as being seen by
others, instead of merely how we see ourselves. For me, this is the other half to "where's my vagina, dangit?" -- it's the part that asks "Why did you
call me sir, what are you, blind?"
These three factors all work together, depending on each other and enforcing each other, and its a very strong, very basic level of understanding. Our Gender Identity informs our ability to see the difference between what clothing is ours and which clothing goes to the opposite sex. Our Gender Expression informs which clothing we choose and how we show the world we are fertile or a good potential partner. Our Gender Role is reliant on the other two for our choices in cultural occupation and involvement according to the rules of our particular society.
And those rules can vary. What is masculine in one culture can be feminine in another. Those rules are unspoken, but we learn them from the time we are born and begin to understand the world around us until we die -- as just as a culture evolves and changes, so do the Roles and the manners of expression.
Hence the idea that Gender is a social construct -- it is an intangible thing that cannot be touched, cannot be seen. It's like emotions -- they are there, and now that we know the words for them, we can label them and identify them and describe them to others, but there's nothing there -- they are aether.
Judith Butler called it performative, using a particular word that strikes people often as strange, but it has nothing to actually do with performing -- there's no putting on a act, and that's not what the word meant when she used it.
It has to do with gender being something that we do ourselves in order to signify things to others -- it's just as non-verbal as it is verbal. The things we are signifying are what make up the whole of gender.
As an example, in US culture (and many others, but not all) courtship is still a matter of boy chases girl and girl attracts boy in the heteronormative pattern. While that doesn't apply, for obvious reasons, the majority of LGBT folks, it does apply to some. By "chases", I mean that men are generally expected to approach and do the asking out and such. By attract, women are generally expected to dress in a manner that attracts the men -- jewelry and makeup are reflections of this.
It's a fairly sexist example by the standards of what we would like, but that's the level to which gender reaches, and although we are breaking down many of those gender roles today, they are still prevalent in our culture. And they are markedly so.
Some have said here that such things don't involve the gay community, but, as I will explore in a later column, sexual orientation is predicated on a conflation of sex and gender, and it's through that aspect that they enter the gender discussion.
A gay man does not follow the gender role that our culture expects of him. This is essentially the argument our opponents use against us, trying to reinforce the heteronormative model I described above. Men should be men, they say, and that means men should be attracted to women and should go after them. The same is true for lesbians, as well (except, of course, in reverse). He can, otherwise, conform to all the elements of his Gender Role, but that still places him at odds.
It also affects the politics we are working towards. A feminine gay man might have a gender expression that is at odds with his gender role, but in line with his Gender and Sex Identities. In other words, he's perfectly fine and has no interest in being a woman -- he knows he's a man, loves being a man, and simply expresses his manhood, his masculinity, in a manner that is not socially acceptable under the cultural rules. Or a butch lesbian.
What happens, then, is that in certain situations, they encounter a kind of prejudice based on their gender expression. Examples are being denied entry to a bar, or mistreated in a pharmacy, or denied service in a restaurant. And, yes, denied work or social services. All because of the way they look, the way that they understand their gender and its expression.
For many transfolk, of course, our gender and sex identities differ in a much wider scope. Some trans people who happen to be the kind called a transsexual, for example, may have a sex identity that says they are female. A gender identity that says they are male, and possess all the intense discomfort and anxiety that accompanies that.
And, in seeking assistance with this, they will be told they are crazy, harassed by other members of the GLBT community (including the T) for various reasons, and, ultimately, end up in a bad situation. Or, they might do as a few people I know who have done and go get their bottom surgery and maybe a little more, then come back and live as a guy in the body of a female.
Because of the complex interplays here, trans folk make up the variations, the differences in gender expression, identity, and roles, that affect everything else. As a result, they experience the same sort of discrimination described earlier for more reasons and in more ways.
Gender reaches into you and affects decisions you make throughout your life -- big and little ones, important and minor ones. Most of the questions that LGBT people ask as a youth are the same ones regardless of if the issue is sexual orientation or gender identity.
"Why am I different" "why do I like boys?" "what is it about girls I find so attractive?"
And when I say trans folk, I man that in the way that I spoke of in the first article of that series, so it includes people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or straight, as well.
Gender doesn't care what your sexual orientation is -- but your sexual orientation, ultimately, does care, for a great deal for many people, about their gender.
There are, for example, a lot of people who think That once they meet someone they are attracted to, that they will find themselves in the bedroom soon, and when they do, they occasionally discover that what the person has down below is not what they expected.
That is the point when the attraction to a person's gender encounters what they think of as a person's sex.
Some people have intense reactions to this. It doesn't matter what their sexual orientation is, either -- the reaction is extremely intense, and its then that we begin to hear things like "you lied" or, just as possible "whoa. Totally cool." Sometimes both nearly in the same breath.
Gay men do it, lesbians do it, bisexuals do it, straight folk do it, cisfolk do it, trans folk do it (although it would be nice to think they don't, truth is, they do it too).
And a lot of that among the lgbt community has to do with how people perceive their idea of sexual orientation in relationship to gender. Which I will get to in the near future of this series.
Gender expression is included in law, often along side gender identity, because of this wide variance, this differing possibility.
Some folks think that gender is not social. Yet gender being social is about the only explanation that accounts for its variance among different cultures. In many cultures, there is what is sometimes called a "third gender", and into that grouping fall the entire spectrum of LGBT persons, with little distinction made among them.
For gender to be something linked to biology -- to be inherent ad inborn -- gender would be expressed in the same way across all cultures -- and yet, it is not that way. In many cultures, there are two classes of people, often treated poorly, that are "acceptable" in the culture. Often, only one sex is permitted to be in this class (males, most commonly), and it may combine aspects of gender expression and role that do not have much in common with what we think of as gay or trans.
Feminine men exists both inside ad outside the gay community, just as masculine women do -- but outside the lgbt community, for all the problems we give them ourselves (and trans folk know that better than most), they get it the same, because the pressure to conform to specific gender roles and expressions is equally strong inside the community ad outside.
A pressure that is known as heteronormativity -- the sociocultural idea of sameness.
That idea, itself, is a strong one. The same concept is what underlies tribalism, nationalism (the idea that we are all Americans in the US, for example), and any movement that seeks to say "we are of a kind".
Part of being "of a kind", being a part of an affinity group, is what I will
cover in my next column.
Until then, remember that gender is always social, and always about other people, and you will begin to see not only why trans is so wide, but also why it affects and involves the gay and lesbian communities.
For, as we know, gay men tend to like men, and lesbians tend to like women. And the idea of man and woman, itself, is always part of gender.
So it cannot be escaped that easily.