Antonia D'orsay

Expression, Role, and Identity: Gender

Filed By Antonia D'orsay | December 16, 2009 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Bisexual, boy, cultural competency, gender expression, gender identity, gender roles, gender variance, Language, lesbian, LGBT, masculinity, Privilege, Sociology, Stereotypes, Trans, transgender, transsexual, woman

As promised, I will now tackle the concept of gender.

Previously, I talked about What is Trans. Then I talked about What is Sex -
between the legs it was, and now we come to the between the ears part.

Sex was easy compared to this one.  But this is the one that people really have the hardest time with, as it difficult to separate sex from gender in the mind when the two often seem to flow in and through each other. You can't really talk about one without talking about the other.

First off, Gender is not really a singular thing.  It is a mélange of elements and pieces and parts and it is deeply embedded into the culture it is part of.  So much so that my discussion here of gender is by necessity limited to English-speaking Western societies.

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.


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Almost completely disagree with EVERYTHING here.

can you be a bit more forthcoming on that, Oynx?

Reasons why, particular passages, the few parts you did agree with and why?

While I respect your opinions, I cannot agree with much of this. Saying gender is almost purely social is not just a massive generalization (some people feel it is, others do not, and as a diverse group many trans* people reflect that). Some people believe it is more biological, and I honestly do not see convincing evidence from either idea. Perhaps gender roles or expression is more socially based, but saying 'gender' implies identity as well.
this link (http://trannyboi22.wordpress.com/2008/11/30/gender-mechanics/) (sorry i don't know how to properly format this) has what I consider to be a good definition of the ideas around gender.

Thank you for a bit more information, oynx :)

The purpose of my column, however, is not to discuss what we feel or believe, but what the current state of science has shown us to be the case.

Gender does imply identity -- as I explained above. And everyone has both a sex identity and a gender identity, but for most people, these things all easily and readily fall into place in a smooth and indistinguishable congruence that is very hard to see without looking at those for whom it does not.

The problem that often happens is that our language -- and, in particular, the language used most often in everyday situtions such as the media reportage or most novels or every day pieces of paper -- is colloquial in nature, and does not draw a firm distinction between sex and gender.

And for a fairly good reason: most folks do not need to. Indeed, many who come here do not need to do so.

On top of that, we have stuff tht predates the current century coming into our discussions on a regular basis, and it doesn't take into account much of what we know (in the rarified world of academia and science) because in that different space, those words cannot mean the sme thing and be used interchangeably.

So there is much lost in translation, and my goal is to bring much of that back into our sphere -- to bring it down to earth, a it were.

Hmm.

Perhaps its too long, or maybe people dislike it but can't think of any way to challenge the content, or possibly folks are just still working their way through it.

california panda | December 16, 2009 4:21 PM

When I began transition, my cousin berated me with, "How can you do this to us? Don't you care about how we feel?" And then he and his family promptly separated themselves from me and my part of the family and any one of those who accepted me and condoned my "change". It didn't matter to him that I was on the edge of suicide. It didn't matter to him the conflicts and pain I faced daily simply by trying to maintain the facade of heteronormalcy. It didn't matter all the years when we hunted and fished together and shared meals at each others tables and helped raise each other's families. It didn't matter that holding up the facade had degraded the quality of my life to the point where I could no longer maintain it. My transition had shamed him and I was the one who needed to be "fixed". He chose not to accept that this was vital to me and my well being. I was more acceptable het and dead than "other" and alive. He didn't want to know or learn. He already knew everything he thought he needed to know. This is how I learned what gender is truly about -- others' perceptions of me as they wish me to be. He is still separated from us to this day. As to my own family, that's a story for another time. If gender identity is a disorder, it is a disorder of society not of the individual.

Valerie

It might be sex/gender burnout, Antonia. I can't speak for others, but I know I've hit it myself. I expended a lot of energy after Ronaldgate, and then I'd kind of had it for a while. So even though I'm quite interested in all the things you're writing about, I'm worn out for now.

Probable.

Rather disappointing to me, lol -- I've got several more in this series to go

I would define these terms a bit differently:

Sex Identity: How do I identify, physically? Am I internally oriented toward being physically male? Physically female? Or some configuration that is both/neither.

Example: Transsexuals usually have a sex identity that exists in conflict with their body's physical structures.

Gender Identity: How do I identify socially? Am I a woman, a man, or some identity that is a combination of both or neither?

Example: Suppose we have a person who is an F2M transsexual and they identify as genderqueer. Therefore, we have a person who has the physical structures of a female body, a sex identity that is male and a gender identity that does not easily fit into the commonly understood gender categories of woman or man. This person would seek to change their body's physical structures to those commonly associated with males but would identify in such a fashion that exists outside of the gender binary.

Gender Expression: How one outwardly expresses one's gender identity and/or how one expresses one's sense of being feminine, masculine, or some other gender. This can include superficial expressions such as dress. It can include one's style of speaking and one's body language. Gender expression might also be reflected in one's choice of vocation and avocation. Gender expression can also include, as a subset, one's assumed gender roles.

Example: A transsexual woman who is a lesbian might identify as butch. In this case, we have a person whose sex identity is female, whose gender identity is woman, whose sexual orientation is toward women, and whose gender expression is a form of masculinity expressed by women.

Gender Roles: How one relates to others and how one assumes others will relate to them, based upon the subject's gender identity and/or how one expresses one's sense of being feminine, masculine, or some other gender.

Example: A femme lesbian and her butch partner might engage in certain behavior patterns one commonly associates with feminine/masculine pairings. One partner might behave chivalrously toward the other partner and both partners might engage in distinctly masculine or feminine roles during sexual/romantic intimacy.

How one defines these terms depends upon whether one is defining these items from the perspective of society's expectations of an individual or from the perspective of how an individual personally identifies, regardless of whether this identification exists in harmony with or in conflict with social expectations.

My definitions of gender role and gender expression tend to focus upon how an individual identifies—regardless of social convention—whereas your definitions tend to focus upon societal expectations of the individual.

Both means of defining these terms serve a legitimate purpose, as they explore two sides of an ongoing struggle. The interface between society's definitions of these terms and the individual's definitions of these terms is the place where conflict and oppression take place.

Hi Timberwraith

The reason that I utilize an externalized structure is that the moment one goes to one's internal sense of self, you are deaing in Sex Identity. Gender's performative aspects are structured entirely around the way we demonstrate it, and that cannot happen in a social vaccuum. When we are alone, our sense remains, but without interaction, there's no particular need for Gender.

The internet is an excellent example of this, as well -- gender becomes much more malleable online, bereft and devoid of the other, and yet we still seek to apply gender characterstics according to our cultural milieu. Thus the search for a way to identify someone's gender through their writing, or the number of gamers who cross gender lines to create a situationally gender variant person, or even virtual realms such as the current Second Life and Sims Game as well as previous iterations of such, where people experiment and play and do things they would never do with out the flexibility that they are afforded the absence of their body.

Furthermore, Gender is used to estimate sex under normative patterns -- thus a woman is supposed to be female and man male.

Part of the reason I wrote this, and its based on the most current research I am able to get my hands on from the US, Canada, China, Denmark, and more, is that a lot of the colloquial ideas we have about gender in common parlance are still heavily informed by the last centruy, and its very hard, when the language itself works against us, to separate that stuff out.

For the most part, you and I were very much in sync, and its this tiny little piece (for Gender Identity truly is individual) that separates us. Hence the import of the concept of Sex Identity, whcih takes the idea of gender out of the understanding of the physical nad places it into the understanding of the nonphysical.

To this I would also add Gender Attribute, how society views your gender. There are young boys who are often ID'd as girls and young women who often get ID'd as male. This can be an important aspect of one's gendered sense of onesself. Also, one's Gender Assignment (how one was assigned gender at birth) might vastly differ from one's Gender Attribute (what people think you are) and create a strong dissonance. I prefer this breakdown of gender;

-Gender Assignment (assigned sex at birth AKA birth sex)
-Gender Identity (internal sense of one's gender and what one's body for that gender should look like)
-Gender Role (societal expectations for genders)
-Gender Expression (how you behaviorally manifest your gender identity... which interacts with societies' gender roles)
-Gender Attribute (how people view your gender... it may match your gender identity or not).

To me, breaking Gender down to anything less complex than this model risks a lot of holes and shortcomings. The simplistic tautism how "gender is socially constructed" makes me cringe.

Hi Ginasf,

Your concept of Gender Attribute is what the three part of gender, singly or on combination, create -- that is, your attribute is the sum of Gender, insofar as it is an aspect of how others percieve one socially (which is the meaing of the statement "gender is a social construct".

THe reasons that those litle boys and girls are misgendered is that they present their role or expression in a manner that the observer is not used to -- they "look like" to the observer -- again, a function of the greater society.

What you are getting into is the interplay of our indiviudal expecttions and experiences of what those expressions and roles are -- essentially stereotypes that differnet people develop based on their personal experiences and that then are used to identify such things. My brain is working on a very liited amount of sleep right now so I am missing the word I am looking for (stereotype is not accurate, as its better described as a personal archetype that multiples and shifts accordng to experience into variations), and I apologize.

Gender Assignment would be a forcing of specific gender roles and expression based on the assigned sex of the individual, regardless of the individuals Gender Identity or Sex Identity. After I've slept some, I will re examine your statements and see if there is indeed an element I missed there.

Gender Identity is not what affects how you see your own body -- that's Sex Identity -- the "where's my parts" thing (I was one of those who figured I'd just grow the right ones in puberty). Gender identity deals with how one feels when they say "sir" or "miss" and you are the opposite.

One of the reasons people use simple tautisms like "gender is a socialconstruction" and "sex is between the legs, gender is between the ears" is that they heavily simplify some thing that I just used about 3500 words to explain in greater detail for speed and ease of communication -- and they make pretty good propaganda, which does have its place, especially in a quest for social justice.

Thanks for commenting :D

Gender Attribute is more than socially defined. It also has to do with biological markers our species uses to gender people. Basically, in most situations, people are gendered by others in a split second through mainly physical markers, but also scent and, especially, voice. The way certain body parts appear automatically gender people... which is the basis behind why FFS works as well as it does. Yes, there are many people who naturally straddle overlaps between sexes and that's where presentation can shift perception. But if someone is sexed one way by others yet their gender expression says something different, the mismatch can create a lot of anxiety in people. A clear example of this is the sometime near violent reactions some transwomen get if they appear visually very female looking yet sound more male. I'm not saying the reaction to the received discordance is good, but I do believe there's a biological aspect to it which people can overcome through understanding and acceptance.

I absolutely believe gender is real and multifaceted. Until you're repeatedly misgendered in a way which denies your gender identity, it's hard to explain how painful that experience is. I also believe most of the people I've heard say things like "gender doesn't/shouldn't exist) are not people who've really experienced strong gender dysphoria. They're speaking from a someone advantaged position where they can take their gender for granted because they aren't experiencing the same kind of pain about it. I'm not in any way saying gender identity is binary... there are many different shades in the spectrum. Personally, I think purely socially explained theories (like Butler's) ignore a lot of biology. I feel those tautisms make for a lot holes in how we try to explain our experiences to others and some of the complexity people encounter when dealing with gender/physical sex. When i've used this 5-part model, I find people who had a hard time understanding the concepts of gender and sex understood it a lot better.

I feel Gender Identity consists more of an innate gender identity including body mapping—I believe people are born with an innate sense of their femaleness or maleness. You're trying to make a social aspect to it and I don't see that at all. It's very much about the body you're inhabiting and how that body/person expresses in social is Gender Expression.

Those physical markers you are talking about, ginasf, are all part of secondary sex characteristics themselves, and the impact you are discussing goes to Gender Expression. There is an underlying assumption, I think, that steps outside the scope of this argument (in this case, what goes into the parts of these elements in detail) you are approaching, and that's awesome, but this is more a primer.

But its a damn good point, and I will look at it more in depth. Also, I did indeed get some sleep last night (from right after my reply to you until just a few minutes ago, lol). And I'm not arguing with you that they do, indeed, play a very strong part in all of this -- I'm just pointing out that the intersectionality you are describing (which is what you are talking about -- the point where the intersection of one's physical sex is influenced by the expectations of the gendered aspects of that person) is outside the scope I was aiming for.

I will definitely add that to my series. It's a very, very good point, and thank you for that.

But here, I was going into the general understandngs of what gender is for the beneit of our less informed folks :D

The Body mapping you are talking about is part of what I described in the last article in this series, on Sex Identity (which is exactly what you describe). This is why the Sex IDentity part is so important, and why i is so often overlooked -- without sex identity, one is always missing the largest part of the puzzle.

As I noted, as well, I am not coming at it from a butlerian position. Her and I have some very strong differences professionally, and she approached it from three directions, only one of which really strongly ties in with mine (to wit -- social pragmatics). However, despite that, we arrived at the same goal -- and I used more of the current hard research into it than she did (in part, because she didn't have the research available to her that I did 15 to 20 years later).

In general, though, your five part model has a great deal of value, and I do agree that in terms of explaining it to others, thee's good value there -- its possible my academic viewpoint is getting in the way.

Although you have not done this, Antonia, I would add that there has been a widespread conflation of the terms sex and gender as they relate to transsexuals. For those who are not aware of the distinction between the two, the term sex relates to the physical aspects of the body, whereas gender relates to behaviors, beliefs and roles. One concerns physical aspects. The other concerns social aspects.

People commonly say that a transsexual's gender identity is in conflict with their physical sex. However, this is not entirely accurate and misses the central aspect of a transsexual's identity. Transsexuals experience a conflict between their bodys' physical sex and their internal sense of how their body should be configured. Thus, we have a dimension of identity that deals with a physical aspect of being—one's sex—rather than a social aspect of one's being—one's gender. Hence, it is far more accurate to say that a transsexual's sex identity is in conflict with their physical sex.

This distinction becomes important when one recognizes that transsexuals can express a wide variety of gender identities. Some of those gender identities conform to normative, binary expectations associated with the subject's desired sex configuration. In contrast, some transsexual's gender identities can conflict with these normative, binary expectations.

For instance, a person can be born with the physical structures of one sex, they have an internal orientation toward having a different sex, and they have a gender identity that does not fit into the binary of man or woman. For example, a person can be a female to male transsexual and identify as genderqueer.

There are also people who are completely comfortable being physically male, but identify as a woman. This person would have a physical sex of male, a sex identity of male, and a gender identity of woman. While this person would certainly fall under the umbrella term of transgender, they would not be transsexual.

I can go on with many, many more examples. Human beings are indeed a many varied species.

That distinction you make regarding a transsexual's understanding of their body is Sex Identity, which I covered in the last article in the series -- What is Sex -- and touch on briefly above.

Otherwise -- absolutely :D

Thanks, Timberwraith.

"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."
I think this only goes for gender expression and gender role. Each culture defines the gender roles it recognizes and the ways to express your fitting into one of these defined roles.
You can also express you do not fit in one of those defined roles by deviating from the culturally accepted ways of expression. (This will not make you popular.)

Your gender identity however is, in my view, not socially defined but innate. During your lifetime you find out into which of pre-defined roles (if any) your identity will fit.
In my case that meant I went through several different ways of expressing my gender until I found the way that (at the moment) seems to fit my gender identity best.

Unfortunately our culture has no pre-defined role that comfortably fits the gender expression of a post-op transsexual woman. (Unless she is prepared to deny her past and is 100% passable -- I don't call that "comfortable".)

MitchInOakland MitchInOakland | December 16, 2009 9:36 PM

Interesting piece - but as usual, I have a few countervailing contentions. I'll start with my own alternative taxonomy...

Toni's gender categories:

Gender Roles
Gender Expression
Gender Identity

Alternate respective designations:

Conforming Gender
Vain Gender
Assigned Gender

The underlying basis for Toni's categories seems to be what David Riesman's mid-20th-Century classic, "The Lonely Crowd," called an "other-directed" personality (or what Charles Reich, in "The Greening of America," called "Consciousness II"). But what if one rejects conformity, vanity, and social assignment as legitimate arbiters of one's identity (much as the hippies were said to reject corporate culture)?

The question of whether this is possible isn't a matter of science, or even social "science"; it's political -- in a sense that's at the very core of the notion that the personal is political. (Either one accepts this contention or not, but that determination, itself, is a political act.)

In any event, if one rejects conformity, vanity, and social assignment as legitimate arbiters of one's identity, there goes gender (unmoored from its three points of rootedness in reality).

As for scientific proof to that such a rejection is impossible, such studies can't claim validity if they've already defined as potentially "real" what one then goes on to find ostensibly existing in the brain. Heck, one could probably find a real "ego" somewhere in the brain -- but there's no "scientific" proof that what we find there isn't itself merely a part (or aspect) of the brain whose function (as Buddhism, indeed, asserts) is to generate illusions!

(Incidentally, the idea of ego as illusion - and gender as merely one of the myriad aspects of ego - doesn't imply that one who clings to that illusion [dare I risk using the term "the deluded"?] should thereby be punished or ostracized. Illusion [or delusion] in the Buddhist view is, after all, merely a function of living in this world - for almost all of us, itself a world of illusion. It challenges [and imposes suffering upon] every human being [indeed, every sentient being] that falls short of full enlightenment - anyone whose existence fails to manifest perfect awareness and unmitigated compassion. In that sense, just about all of us are crazy!)

In any event, this ain't about science (let alone merely biotech) -- just as, in the end, neither was the book _Brave New World_. It's about how one construes human identity and the human condition itself.

Toni herself, for that matter, rejects the scientistic notion that gender is in the brain - a notion promoted by some gender theorists, including other trans theorists - instead opting for the idea that gender's social rather than biological, given cross-cultural differences. Thank goodness I'm outside that debate - though I find it curious that both sides in that debate nonetheless insist that gender (whether a socially constructed or essential aspect of identity) cannot be transcended altogether.

(The truth is probably somewhere in-between, as with sexual orientation: an interaction of biological and social factors, and a fully legitimate element of volition as well. I can even accept the notion that some transsexuals have a disability that involves brain-mapping and body being mismatched - but who am I to be curious or interested, as a cis gay male?) ;-)

Something larger than gender seems to be operating here, in any event - perhaps even the illusion of mind-body duality itself.

Meanwhile, addressing the intersection of gender with sexual orientation, Toni claims, "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?' "

Coming to terms with my sexuality as a gay male in the countercultural context I've described above (which, if one recognizes its existence, is a context that rejects or supersedes gender), I never asked such questions: instead, I struggled to accept the fact that I was not interested in girls, and that I could share pleasure with guys as an aspect of male bonding. (I'm using "girls" and "guys" here as Toni uses "men" and "women," to mean biological sex; a jumble of "androgynous" [indeed, post-gendered] attributes trigger the attraction itself.) Note, incidentally that I said "Coming to terms with my sexuality," rather than "Coming out." I never lived in a closet, so strongly do I revile and eschew hypocrisy (a reviling that runs as deep for me as others claim gender does for them!).

I think I may be starting to understand why Toni is a sociologist, and how she once could once even have been a Republican (a fact that initially flabbergasted me)!

It's about conformity, vanity, and social assignment - all of these being aspects of identity (associated with social discipline and power relations) that I reject, and (also thereby rejecting Foucault) that I therefore have little interest in reconfiguring.
This is not just social, but in the most deeply sense, also political.

In the end, either nobody's "passable," or everybody is - as oneself, and as a human being - as far as I'm concerned, gender be damned!

Toni, maybe I'll make an anarchist out of you yet!

In any event, if one rejects conformity, vanity, and social assignment as legitimate arbiters of one's identity, there goes gender (unmoored from its three points of rootedness in reality).
...instead, I struggled to accept the fact that I was not interested in girls, and that I could share pleasure with guys as an aspect of male bonding.

If gender is an artifact of conformity, vanity and social assignment, why would you only feel an attraction to men? Gender is an illusion, imposed by socially and politically repressive forces intent on constricting people's identities. It would seem to me that restricting yourself to loving only half the human race is contrary to the freedom one should seek by rejecting gender and gender identity.

Ultimately, there is no such thing as men or women, for these too are merely social categories imposed by conformity, vanity and social assignment. There are only people with differing body types. Valuing one body type above another would seem to be an artifact of imposing a system of socially derived categorization upon people. Why divvy up humanity by genitals? Why is this characteristic more important than hair texture or eye color? Obviously, placing value upon genitals is an artifact of unjust, restrictive social forces.

Given these assumptions, I propose that bisexuality or more accurately, pansexuality, would be a far more radical and freedom-affirming approach to romance and sexuality. Why not embrace this path?

One should live free and love free. One should allow others to live free and love free. Your sole attraction to those you label as "guys" would seem to be contrary to this spirit... and ultimately based upon the illusory, arbitrary nature of a system of human categorization rooted in conformity, vanity and social assignment.

NOTE: I'm a lesbian and don't actually agree with the line of reasoning that I just constructed. In theory, it sounds like a lovely, politically revolutionary way to live, but in actual practice... not so wonderful. However, I'm still interested in your answer.

MitchInOakland MitchInOakland | December 17, 2009 1:10 AM

Ironically, while I most often identify myself as a gay male (for a variety of reasons), pansexual is a more accurate designation.

I once told my mother I was attracted to "cute boys and elegant women." Her reply: "With those tastes, you'd better make a lot of money. You're gonna need it when you get older!" Since those days, my tastes have broadened and mellowed, and now are more idiosyncratic.

Then again, I tend to be fairly submissive: I like my tits played with, and occasionally I like to be mounted. Orgasms can be disappointing, because the damned thing is still an "outie" and it wants to shoot. (OTOH, occasionally I also enjoy being powerful and radiant, projecting love while my partner melts before me.)

I don't have a penis fetish, but given my attitude toward "organic rather than synthetic," a strap-on or a surgically-constructed cock doesn't appeal to me as an pleasure-inducing projectile.

Given all this, I've gradually learned to accept and enjoy my body as it is.

Ah, but do you actively share physical and romantic intimacy with people regardless of their bodys' configuration? That's what I'm asking.

If you do not, then why do you not do so?

I'm not asking about the roles you engage in when you are with your partner(s). I'm asking about who your partners tend to be.

Do you find yourself with cute boys and elegant women, or do you tend to find yourself favoring one over the other? Why?

Also, your claim to be pansexual contradicts this statement:

...instead, I struggled to accept the fact that I was not interested in girls, and that I could share pleasure with guys as an aspect of male bonding.

MitchInOakland MitchInOakland | December 17, 2009 2:28 AM

Initially, I wasn't interested in boys, either - but that didn't raise any eyebrows in the conventional (straight) world. (By the way, the phrase "interested in girls" comes from my grandfather, who pronounced the last word "goylz."

I was a pudgy intellectual kid who had a late puberty and gradually discovered sexuality while in college as I came to be an aspiring hippie. I started experimenting sexually first with females, though I can't even remember whether a man or a woman was present when I had my first orgasm that wasn't solo.

Over time, I've been with far more males than females. In fact, my life as a "practicing heterosexual" was over, for all intents and purposes, by the time I was around 30. (I just turned 60.) However, this has been primarily a matter of expediency in a world that tends to pigeonhole people and limit one's opportunities for sexual encounters according to the categories and subcultures in which one finds oneself enmeshed.

In my prior response to you, I wasn't so much describing roles (except, perhaps, to clarify how I perform sexually in ways that might otherwise connote "femininity" (but that I construct differently by rejecting gender); I was predominantly illustrating some of the physical ramifications and variations involved in the ways I have sex, and the implications this might have on the biological sex of my partners. (Note though, that I pointed out that I don't have a "penis fetish" as such, so the mechanics of fucking don't coinstitute the be-all and end-all of what I conceive of as sexual possibility, nor do they detemine the sex of a potential partner.)

Now, Timberwraith, please stop stalking me with "make-wrongs" and "gotchas," which seems to be the case with every response you've ever written to any of the comments I've posted on this site. I've been more candid and forthcoming in answering your questions than I generally am even in casual discussions with close friends, but that's just because I believe in open dialogue, whether in private or in public (except when necessity requires being evasive with authority-figures). I'll ask you politely, however, not to take advantage of my good nature any longer. Please stop trying to beat up on me and attempting to ambush me. If I've ever written anything you've found hurtful, that was a result of clumsiness or ignorance, not malice, and I continue to try to learn how best to communicate effectively without causing harm; I'm still learning. Given how toxic anger can be, please do your best to follow suit.

You continue to imply that trans people are deluded or, following your newly chosen wording, living within an illusion. Although phrased a bit more delicately than your previous posts at Bilerico, your ideas about trans people haven't shifted very much.

Incidentally, the idea of ego as illusion - and gender as merely one of the myriad aspects of ego - doesn't imply that one who clings to that illusion [dare I risk using the term "the deluded"?] should thereby be punished or ostracized.

Something larger than gender seems to be operating here, in any event - perhaps even the illusion of mind-body duality itself.

Although your language choice is less harsh—and that is certainly a welcome improvement over your past posts—your core ideas remain the same. Consequently, you will continue to be challenged, and if not by me, then certainly by others. If you don't like being challenged, Mitch, then stop making these statements.

What you see as a "make-wrong" or a "gotcha" is an attempt to challenge harmful statements that you have made about a marginalized group of people—one I happen to belong to. If your hurtful statements are the source of a person's anger, it's a bit much to chide someone on the toxicity of their anger.

"Something larger than gender seems to be operating here, in any event - perhaps even the illusion of mind-body duality itself." should have been a quote rather than a part of the main body of text.

Now, on with the discussion...

Gender places behavioral expectations upon others based upon the physical configuration of people’s bodies. You say that this is an artifact of conformity, vanity and social assignment and you also imply that it is grounded in illusion.

Sexual orientation bases romantic and sexual intimacy upon the physical configuration of people’s bodies. If behaviors and ways of being should not be based upon body configuration, why should romantic and sexual intimacy be based upon body configuration? Is not sexual and romantic intimacy a part of a person’s behaviors and way of being?

It would seem that intimacy without regard to gender or sex—is the only way of avoiding basing one's behaviors upon the physical configuration of people's bodies. And yet, you have clearly reached a point of favoring men over women.

If the bodies that people inhabit should not serve as a constriction upon people's behaviors, then why do behave as you do?

However, this has been primarily a matter of expediency in a world that tends to pigeonhole people and limit one's opportunities for sexual encounters according to the categories and subcultures in which one finds oneself enmeshed.

Well, that doesn't seem to stop other men and women from hooking up with women. Consequently, I don't think that's a legitimate basis for action. People should be willing to challenge gender-based ideology wherever they encounter it. Otherwise, you are giving into conformity and social control. So I ask, once again, why exactly do you favor men over women?

Do you see where I'm going with this?

I've seen the notion of "gender is a socially conformist illusion" used to challenge the legitimacy of trans people's identities in feminist forums... many, many times. However, when trans people turn that around and start asking cis feminists if they apply the same standards to their own behavior, then folks get really upset. Do you still refer to yourself as a woman? Do you wear gendered clothing? Do you use make-up? Because, if you answer "yes" to any of those questions, you're part of the problem, too. Pointing out hypocrisy like that sure does stir up the hornet's nest. My, oh my.

It's pretty obvious that gender and human beings' tendency to divide people by body type are forces that have a real impact upon your life. You are a gay man. You prefer men as intimate partners. That's a no-brainer. You know what? Honestly, I don't care. That's your business. Not mine.

I think using my previous line of reasoning to declare your sexual preference as illegitimate is pretty misguided and on some level... well... stupid. However, it's quite easy to cobble together a nice, egalitarian sounding philosophy and then use that philosophy to undermine other people's sexual orientations and gender/sex identities. If the person who is your target also happens to be a sexual/gender minority, it's even easier. You've got mounds and mounds of societal conformity backing you up. Do you see the irony?

Under normal circumstances, I would find attacking your sexual orientation to be pretty distasteful. As I'm a lesbian, it's hurtful to both of us. Could you please extend the same courtesy to trans people and stop attacking our sex/gender identities?

MitchInOakland MitchInOakland | December 17, 2009 8:10 PM

Timberwraith writes: "You continue to imply that trans people are deluded or, following your newly chosen wording, living within an illusion. It's quite easy to cobble together a nice, egalitarian sounding philosophy and then use that philosophy to undermine other people's sexual orientations and gender/sex identities"

Do you really believe I became (in part) a Buddhist (along with all that implies about ego and "illusion") so that I could attack transpeople? That's pretty insulting -- and outlandish! There's more to heaven and earth, Timberwraith, than is dreamt of in your gender-based cosmology.

I suppose youd've said the same of Allen Ginsberg. I could choose to be in worse company.

Do I now have to go out of my way to move in new social circles, and eventually to meet and make love to a woman, in order to prove to you (despite my identifying as gay out of convenience, as well as to make a current political and cultural statement) that I'm actually pansexual?

What's the basis of such an implicit demand. Why don't you just leave me alone? You're entitled to your share of illusion, and I'm entitled to mine, if it must come to that.

Just don't try convincing me that my identity hinges on gender, and demanding a political alliance with me based on that - especially when I'm perfectly content with an alliance based on human rights - that is, based on the fact that we're all human.

Beyond that - and I know I risk further vulnerability here - the only remaining practical poblem I see involves medical costs. I'm willing to accept the idea that taxpayers should foot the bill for SRS if it's to deal with a disability (if you wish to align yourself with the disability-rights movement rather than with gay men, who, as such, are not implicitly disabled). But otherwise, go pay for your own SRS, and as a 60-year-old, I'll pay for my own tricks. ;-)

Do you really believe I became (in part) a Buddhist (along with all that implies about ego and "illusion") so that I could attack transpeople? That's pretty insulting -- and outlandish! There's more to heaven and earth, Timberwraith, than is dreamt of in your gender-based cosmology.

I never brought your faith into this discussion. Not once did I mention your adherence to Buddhism. As far as I'm concerned, your faith is irrelevant to the discussion at hand. I'd rather keep this discussion within the realms of secular, rational discourse. Why? Well, I have a rather deep sense of spirituality, too, and if this became a contest between my faith and your faith, the conversation would simply deteriorate into meaninglessness. Please, let's not go there, OK?

Do I now have to go out of my way to move in new social circles, and eventually to meet and make love to a woman, in order to prove to you (despite my identifying as gay out of convenience, as well as to make a current political and cultural statement) that I'm actually pansexual?

Nope. I think that I was quite clear that attacking your sexual orientation is a bad idea. I was initially playing devil's advocate and as I said later in my post, I don't think attacking someone's sexual orientation is a legitimate path of discourse. I was attempting to illustrate the point that your efforts to undermine trans identities are no better than similar tactics being turned against people to undermine their sexual orientation.

I have to say though: being put in that position didn't feel very good, did it? It seemed like I was being petty, unfair, and a callous asshole, did it not? Perhaps you now have a sense of how I feel when people attempt to undermine my sense of self for the sake of their politics, their philosophies, their spirituality, or a need to simplify the world to maintain their sense of comfort.

Just don't try convincing me that my identity hinges on gender, and demanding a political alliance with me based on that - especially when I'm perfectly content with an alliance based on human rights - that is, based on the fact that we're all human.

You can hinge your identity on whatever you want. You can hinge your identity on Buddhism, nature, chess, or model railroading—that's totally fine by me. Now, would you mind backing off the notion that my identity is hinged on a delusion, or an illusion, or whatever? My identity is my business. Leave it be.

Believe me Mitch, when I say that you would be the last person that I'd seek a sense of alliance or solidarity with. However, there are plenty of LGBT people who are willing to forge those alliances with each other—some of whom publish regularly at Bilerico—and I'm more than happy to work with them.

Go forge alliances with whomever you'd like. I'm certain that you will have little problem finding LGB people who could care less about trans folk and would rather create as much distance as possible from us.

Similarly, I can see that there are plenty of trans folk who are leaning heavily toward separatism at this point. After a few more political depth charges, such as ENDA 2007 and Ronald Gold's essay, I'm sure that split will become permanent for some. I'm not one of those people who is prone to separatism, but if that's what some folks want to do, then let them invest their efforts where they see fit.

Hopefully, the fragmented, sectarian mess that we call the left will not be completely swallowed by government, corporate, and fundamentalist interests before any of us taste victory.

May the best alliance win.

MitchInOakland MitchInOakland | December 18, 2009 6:21 AM

My only point about the Buddhist aspect of my approach is that I did not adopt it to attack transpeople, and that I resented your allegation that I had -- or at least that I was invoking it for that purpose. Very much the opposite. Frankly, as far as I'm concerned, invoking Buddhism to demolish gender is like using an elephant gun to eliminate a gnat. (No, before you attempt the inevitable ambush, I'm not calling transgender people or their advocates gnats, just saying that gender is a minuscule aspect of a larger predicament involving illusions base on ego attachment.)

You may think these matters of "faith" are beyond rational discussion, but I'd then ask you to recognize -- since I view gender through that lens (more a matter of psychology, epistemology and cosmology than of "faith") -- that you respect my claim that gender, too, is beyond rational discussion, and that you keep your own claims about gender to yourself if you want me to do the same regarding what you call my "faith."

I realized that you were playing Devil's Advocate when you claimed I was pansexual, and perhaps I surprised you by not only playing along, but acknowledging that you'd actually hit the nail on the head. You thought you'd get an "ouch" when you presumably were attacking my sexual orientation, but it turned out you weren't attacking anything real at all. But I'm not trying to foist my claims on anyone else, only to express an opinion and offer my support for their rights as human beings despite my disputing their own claims; I'd only wish others had the same courtesy, and would leave it at that.

What you call "separatism," I call trying to get along on realistic terms that acknowledge our respective differences without undercutting our respective integrity by trying to shoehorn ourselves into one so-called community. There may be plenty of people who live their lives at the intersection of several communities (based on orientation, gender, or all sorts of other human atrributes, real or perceived), and that's fine. I just don't want my own identity herded into some "LGBT" corral where I'm branded as something I'm not.

In that sense, I'm only asking for the same courtesy as trans people.

What you ask of trans people is for us to remain silent about our own oppression, for that oppression resides in the way that society treats those who do not obey society's gender rules. Regardless of whether you think gender is real or not, society behaves in a way that treats gender as very, very real and the consequences of those beliefs are quite real. For some, the consequences are lethal.

In the mean time, we're doing what we can to survive in the middle of this bullshit.

I tell you what, if you can manage to convince several billion people that gender is a figment of their imagination, you've got a deal. We won't have to have this conversation. Heck, I'll even buy a plane ticket, take you to the movies and buy you dinner at your favorite restaurant. In fact, there are millions of feminists who would probably do the same. You'll have tons of happy people feeding you and entertaining you for the rest of your life.

I'm waiting...

MitchInOakland MitchInOakland | December 18, 2009 10:49 AM

I'm not asking you to remain silent, only that you stop demanding that L's, G's and T's join your chorus, or even that we're uniquely obliged attend your concert.

Speaking of shows, I'll take you up on your offer. However, when you say "if you can manage to convince several billion people that gender is a figment of their imagination, you've got a dea,l" you've got it backward - and by my turning it around, the benefit goes to you.

I'm already convinced, so you now have only a few billion more until we're all part of the solution.

Once you get the results, I'll be happy to celebrate by taking you to the movies and buying you dinner wherever you like. (My recommendation: L'Ardoise, in Duboce Triangle, but I don't mind if you'd prefer Clown Alley.) In fact, if you're in the neighborhood (anywhere in the Bay Area, that is), I'll spring for it in advance.

As for the flicks, you have your choice of two double bills: either "Milk" and "The Gendercator," or "Cabaret" and Visconti's "The Damned." I suggest the second pair as, unfortunately, more timely [and besides, that'd be easier to set up, since they're already both out on DVD]. ;-)

I'm not asking you to remain silent, only that you stop demanding that L's, G's and T's join your chorus, or even that we're uniquely obliged attend your concert.

Not a chance, Mitch. (And I think you meant L's, G's and B's). Your are also going to have to convince the many LGB folk who already see gender as being a crucial part of the social roots of homophobia and transphobia. I can think of many, many cis queer folk who are totally on board with that analysis and are happy to form alliances with trans folk.

But hey, you aren't required to listen to those demands. Form what ever alliances you will. It's a free country.

Hi Mitch,

Rather than get into the arguments here, I will simply be addng this stuff into our ongoing discussion.

However, there are some points that I want to correct, in order to aid your expression of your position, that are incorrect.

1 - This is not my classification (as in, it is not Toni's). This is the current classification used in every major field of social science at this time. All of them. And all of them are established through scientific methodlogy.

2 - The underlying basis for all of them are empirical studies done across cultures and people based in controlled studies and determinations, with excessive citations under efforts worldwide (not merely in the US). So your observtions there are inaccurate. These are not theoretical, Mitch, any more than gravity is. THere are no hypotheses here.

3 - Conformty, Vanity, and social assignment do not, in fact, root identity. Biology does. Which is actally where a lot of my *current* work in my field is going to (sociocultural identity work).

4 - Note that following the scientific method requires that one be willing to discard the hypothesis in favor of what the evidence shows. In at least one case with a control, the hypothesis was similar to some of the ideas tht you state, and failed. With a rather saddening loss of life as a result.

5 - WHile your discussion is not about science, mine is :D At least here -- you and I will delve into the more irrational areas of religious, philosophical and so forth in depth elsewhere.

6 - Not that what is usually described as Gender Identity by the activists you talk about is what science currently calls Sex Identity -- and that both Gender Identity and Sex IDentity are, indeed, in the brain, as is Sexual Orientation. Slightly more exacting, they are in the lower quadrant beneath brain forward of the stem and slightly to the sides. Ask Zoe Brain for more details. She's quite useful there :D

7 - Toni does not use men and women to mean biological sex. Ever. It's inaccruate and defeats the purpose of her position, lol.

8 - Unlikely I'll ever be an anarchist, Mitch. About as close as I will get to it would be a libertarian, and that will require hard evidence that human beings in large scale groups can function without a governmental system that contributes to infrastructure.

MitchInOakland MitchInOakland | December 17, 2009 8:36 PM

Make up your mind, Antonia! Is identity (or gender) socially constructed, or is it rooted in biology, or (as I've suggested, adding volition to the mix in the case of identity) is it a combination?

My intention here is honestly to raise an honest question, since you seem to be all over the map with contradictions on this. Maybe I'm merely misreading you in perceiving those contradictions.

I've already stated my view of the role of science in this discussion (which one might apply, by analogy, to social "science" as well). I'll repeat what I said earlier: One could probably find a real "ego" somewhere in the brain -- but there's no "scientific" proof that what we find there isn't itself merely a part (or aspect) of the brain whose function (as Buddhism, indeed, asserts) is to generate illusions!

As I wrote in response to Timberwraith, I didn't invent the entire Buddhist notion of ego-attached illusion in order to "dis" trans people. I obviously didn't invent it at all, and I adopted that view long before I was confronted with trans identities as a political and cultural issue.

Are you now accusing me of being dishonest (even with myself) about how I came to accept that cosmology? Or is the underlying issue Western, ego-oriented psychology (complete with its mind/body dualism) vs. Eastern mysticism? In either instance, I wonder what might be the best way to submit that question to a civil discussion - or whether that's truly possible.

Either way, please don't equate my approach to spirituality with that of the Religious Right. I may think people are deluded, but I accept that as (in one or another way) an almost universal aspect of the human condition, and certainly don't think it justifies violence or the withholding of equal rights, or even respect for the diversity of human experiences (though it may imply maintaining a mutually-respectful political and cultural distance). ;-)

Your move...

Two different questions, Mitch, neither of them specific enough.

Do you mean sex identity, or gender identity, or gender (as a whole), or identity as a political structure?

Gender, as a whole, has 3 parts, as I explain above.

One of them is biologically rooted -- Gender Identity -- and is based in how one senses one's self should be seen by others. To reiterate for impact, this is only one part of Gender.

The other two parts do not have a direct biological rooting as Gender Identity does -- so in that case, gender, as a whole, dos indeed have a partial basis in biology. However, that basis is strictly on a personal level. As it is expereintial only to the individual, it's social impact is limited beyond the individual in question.

Please don't place scare quotes around science when discussing social sciences -- that's elitist and demonstrates an illusory understanding of them, particularly since buddhism shares several of the concepts the underlie a great many of them. Additionally, social sciences have to adhere to the same rigorous methodology as the hard sciences (and, these days, even more so), and inform them strongly. It is akin to placing scare quotes around buddhism or mitch when discussing you and your ideas for the purpose of demonstrating a degree of disbelief and contempt for the concept.

Disbelief and contempt are not inducive to a civil discussion.

You begin with a questionable premise, as well -- that the brain's function is to generate illusions. Strictly speaking, while there is no proof that it does exist to do such (and I can think of a few existential arguments to challenge that), there is no proof that it does not.

So for that premise to hold, first off, you must prove it yourself. WHich might be a little difficult since its going to be predicated not on evidence, but on faith.

The same holds with the idea of mind body dualism, which is existentially inaccurate, and as my work is primarily based on existentialist systems, outside that realm.

Which is what I referred to as the irrational areas of religion and similar metaphysical areas. They cannot be proven, and as you've noted previously, we come from very differnet backgrounds there (indeed, I come from a background there that less than 3000 people come from in this day and age). That wasn't a comparison to the religious right, that was a comparison to my own religious beliefs, which the religious right would enjoy seeing stamped out even further than their millenial presence already has.

So no, I am not accusing you of being dishonest in any way -- I was merely pointing out that in your commentary you assigned a meaning to thngs I wrote about which were not there or were inaccurate. Everything else I left alone until this point, and there, neither argued towards your points in your discussion with Timberwraith nor against them, merely that in my case the standards are a tad different.

This may mean you have to revisit some of your earlier statements to timberwraith, as you used various misreadings of what I wrote to support your case, and without them, several of your arguments may fall short.

How is anyone supposed to know what words are offensive and politically correct when you read through the comments and see so much disagreement about gender categories. It appears that no two people practically are in agreement. It makes it very hard for someone like me who is trying really hard to educate myself on T issues when I find so much disagreement with regards to appropriate and preferred terminology.

I will keep trying though.

Hi Rick,

The purpose of this column is not to teach you which words are politically correct, nor which words not to use. For that, see my previous column regarding Ten Rules For Talking Trans (which, oddly enough, no one ever realized is a take off of the ten rules for dating my daughter. Sigh.).

As for politically correct rules, however, in order to help you and aid you in this, politically correct refers to an actual change in the language itself -- stewardess became flight attendant, mailman became mail carrier, and so forth.
There is none of that here.

This article's sole purpose is to help you learn some of the fundamental aspects that lie beneath of lot of the other issues that surround those -- its the grounding of the situation.

As for the comments, only a few are actually dealing with the column itself, and they are, for the most part, reintroducing older concepts that are questionable or ones previously introduced.

Indeed, this constant, compulsive,categorical repackaging...rebranding of us as a community in an attempt to present us as acceptable...or worse, 'normal' is a convenenient distraction from the work that needs to be done to liberate us from the chains of language.

This is,to me at least, a very important point. We must move beyond our self-absorbed 'minority adolescence' toward the next stage of activism. What tha stage might look like, must be a matter of group conscience. If we could agree on just one thing, and I would suggest the broadest platform of human rights, then we can move forward as a group of human beings to advance the cause of human 'civil' rights.

This ubiquitous need to define the terms of our existence through the obsessive rearrangement of the categories provided by the narrow social space into which we trans people were born is doomed to failure.

Doomed because we Trans are the gender transcendent group of people with the power to dismantle the semantical prisons into which we are born. Yet we have been socialized to the degree that we are still invested in the rhetoric of the state that insist we have an identity that can be easily marginalized.

Within this ongoing fleshing out of the terms that might somehow make TRANS pallatable, we find a perfect example of the way in which language obfuscates the essential nature of the thing it supposedly describes. Language naturally reinforces a singularity of perception. Like cumulous clouds hiding a rainbow, language works to suppress the beautiful diversity nature. To glorify the language is to glorify our oppression.

While we endlessly celibrate our oversized ego/intellect by the eternal dithering over choice of the best words to use to describe our selves and our communtiy, bad things continue to happen to us as people who comprise this amorphous, ambiguous category of gendered beings.

While we assuage our need for social identity through the application of our linguistic prowess our people continue to suffer, in the streets, in the closet, in hospitals, in prison...in the nuclear family.

I don't really care what you call me as long as it isn't perjorative. And even if it is, your bias is your problem. What you think of me is none of my business. I have enough to work on in an effort to realize what I think of me. Here is my philosophy as it applies to me.

I AM HUMAN.
KISS [Keep It Simple....Silly]

I'd like to thank the group ahead of time for NOT making it personal. NAMASTE

Hi Sissy,

THis article doesn't cover what people call us, so much as it covers the concept which underlie much of what you write about above.

I'm not interested in this article in saying who is what -- you'll note carefully that this is primarily exposition of a few simple concepts, and that I do not go into any depth on the subject of what being outside of the normative gender patterns means in terms of living a life.

On a personal level, I will note that as a sociologist, I find the oft repeated concept of a nuclear family and its related parts as used in the common culture to be holdovers from the governments midcentury efforts at homogenization under guise of economic recovery.

And directly responsible for some of the difficulties in getting the above information out to the general public.

Thanks for commenting, though :)

MitchInOakland MitchInOakland | December 18, 2009 12:42 AM

Antonia writes, "I find the oft repeated concept of a nuclear family and its related parts as used in the common culture to be holdovers from the governments midcentury efforts at homogenization..."

Ah, but terms like "mother," "father," "son," "daughter," "aunt," "uncle," "brother," "sister," "cousin," etc., seem to derive from reproductive biology. I'm inclined to see "male" and "female" as deriving from that, too. None of these terms were invented in the 1950s by screenwriters for Ozzie and Harriet.

That said, as you know I have little use for gender (as distinct from biological sex). No matter what rights I say I support, that never seems to be good enough unless I also accept transpeople's self-definitions. If it's none of my business, stop making it my business: get rid of "LGBT"! Human ought to be good enough - and it ought to be good enough without the qualifier "gendered being."

Why is that such a problem?

PS: As you know, my own academic perspective and intellectual bias is cultural history and its subset, journalism. I'm far from the only person in the world who continues to express skepticism about the social sciences. Assertions about empirical methodology or rigor won't solve the problem, which, as I've pointed out, is epistemological and linguistic, and ultimately existential and political: what sorts of questions are we asking, what sorts of definitions are we using, what sorts of data are we examining in what context? As anthropologists discovered long ago, the mere presence of an observer changes that which is being observed. But here again, we're back to subject/object dualities, questions of reality and illusion (or artifacts of language) which, I'd submit, are larger than the questions of gender we're apparently debating (but which, I'll continue to insist, are superficial by comparison).

The elements of family you mentioned are not the related parts I was speaking of, Mitch.

Those are related to Family itself, not the particular concept of nuclear family.

Its a problem because it means that the individual elements will not get what they seek, and inequity will remain for both because they are, indeed, intertwined and interrelated.

A gay trans man is still gay and still trans. A Gay man is still going to be attacked because he isn't manly enough. A lesbian is still going to be denied work because she not womanly enough.

Part of the issue that you are failing to see is that what *you* personally think about all of this is ultimately unimportant if you seek equality and tolerance.

As I will explain, still, in my ever increasing missive in response, lol.

Skepticism is one thing, reduction to absence is another, and you might take a few moments to bone up on linguistics itself, which is, of course, a social science.

Note, should you get a chance, the ideas of pragmatics (good and bad, as there are both), especially.

MitchInOakland MitchInOakland | December 18, 2009 6:27 AM

I meant to add, incidentally, that I also have no desire to expropriate the idea of marriage; my slogan is "leave marriage to the breeders." I think we can come up with plenty of more imaginative ways to contextualize our relationships and our lives.

In fact, my goal as an activist is not legitimacy within conventional society, or even "equality"; it's the enhancement of personal freedom, and finding ways to get along in the world even when different notions of what to do with that freedom might seem to conflict.

Although I am devoting this weekend mostly to your missive (which may end pp going out in parts, lol), this explains something to me that I find rather interesting, Mitch.

Your objectives, near as I can tell, are about creating an entire world that is very different from the one we live in. Somewhat utopian, in your mind.

Is that correct?

MitchInOakland MitchInOakland | December 18, 2009 8:00 PM

You just noticed????!

(I'm also convinced that there's only one way to create such a world: to live it in this one.)

Not really just, but that brought it into sharp relief.

Would you apply this belief to everyone -- have everyone follow in its wisdom as you perceive it?

Not, not everyone has a "gender identity." I do not have one. Maybe I speak too soon, as your definitions for the various terms are incredibly vague, but I lack any expectation to be seen any particular way in relation to any gender role, and, even if I did, by what authority would you pronounce it as inherent? What sense does it make to speak of these various concepts as primarily social, only to then claim that gender identity is inherent?

In fact, I don't have a "gender role," either. Society tries to force one on me, but I want nothing to do with it. So, by your definition of "gender expression," I don't have one of those either. I don't understand why you would take these ideas, wherever you've gotten them from, and try to extrapolate them to the entire human race.

Furthermore, why are you re-defining man, woman, girl, and boy? In standard English (in the U.S., at least) they are sex-specific terms: adult male, adult female, etc. You tell us that they are not sex-based terms, but are genders. Why? I have in fact seen many people do this of late, but no explanation is ever given.

My final question has to do with the use of the word "gender" in these concepts. Maybe I'm asking the wrong person, but you did mention doing related work in sociology. As I'm sure you know, gender has been used as a synonym for sex, and, in feminism especially, as a term to denote certain modes of being that people are coerced into based on their (real or perceived)sex by society. "Gender role" was another term to denote the latter. As far as I can tell, the senses in which you use the word came after these. Seeing as how the senses in which you (and others) use the terms are quite different (although "gender role" seems vaguely related in its socially constructed aspect), why would you use the word "gender" to label these concepts, or do you have any idea why they have developed these particular labels? I can say for a fact that it has caused some confusion, what with feminists decrying gender as a tool of oppression while various queer people celebrate gender as means of self-expression.

Hi iconoclass,

Ignoring the superficially priviliged appearance of your statement to start with, yes, everyone does indeed have a gender identity -- nor is it something to be enclosed in quotes.

Even you do. Given your description, it sounds to be a form of agendered or nongendered; but it is still present. Indeed, its possible that you may not even be fully aware of such, because you may be relativel normative, and, in effect "too close" to the situation to see it. WHen they are all in alignment, the experience of it is seamless.

The definitions are vague because rather than place you into an 50,000 word article on the subject I limited things to 2000 words, which necessitates some degree of brevity in explanation.

The authority behind that is some 65 years worth of studies, many conducted within the last decade, each seeking to establish aspects of it. For a *single* study that's generally widely known and easy to look up, I suggest you start with the case of John/Joan.

Sense wise, it is called gender identity because it deals with the social expectations of how one senses one's self should be seen by others-- and differs from the former article's Sex Iddentity in that it is externally focused instead of externally focused.

You do have a gender role -- societies as a whole are rather reliant on them. You may, as an individual, choose or not even consciously fit into it, but you do indeed have one -- in our current culture here in the US, there are two. Most people fit neatly into them, but many are more or less shoehorned into one or the other (and sometimes incorrectly) by the pressures of the society in which we live.

I've gotten these ideas, as I noted in the article, from world wide studies on the subject over the last several decades.

As to why I would do so, its becme apparent that many people are unaware of these aspects of daily life and how they pertain to the LGBT sphere as a whole, not merely to the trans community (which, I should note, did not, itself, develop this terminology).

Awareness is important because if we are to function as a community, we should be aware of how these aspects all interplay in the world at large, and how they function in part to deny us all our equality.

I also do it because some people are convinced that trans people are delusional, and they need to know that the science shows they are not. In much the same way that we often seek to counteract the lies told by our mutual opponents, I am seeking to counteract the lies told by those who are nominally our allies.

Thank you for asking.

I am not, in fact, redefining man and woman, boy and girl. I am using the methods of how they are used socially, and following a standard protocol in use for over 80 years. When we see a man or a woman, we do not, typically, see their primary sex characteristics -- we see the elements of their gender expression and make the assumption that their gentials match. That assumption is based on the gender presnetation -- the social cues we rely on to tell us what is womanly or manly about them, and that is *expected* of someone with that particular gential configuration.

For more on that, in particular, please refer to my earlier description on WHat is Sex.

They use gender because as the research has developed around them, they relied on the research done before in a more theoretical vein. Gender Role and Gender Role and Gender Identity were coined originally in the late 1940's or early 1950's, and about the time of the earliest large discussions on them in the feminist sphere, were largely based on the work of John Money, who is generally given the credit for their coinage. He also coined the term Sex Identity, but that's only partially related to your question.

Although a large portion of his work was later discredited, science doesn't readily throw out the baby with the bathwater, so they discarded what was later proven to be false and continued on with what had been shown to be true.

Feminism then moved forward rather rapidly in a slightly different direction , and it wasn't until the mid 1980's that there was much major connection there again, primarily because a large number of women had entered the field and brought their knowledge with them from that field.

Only some feminists decry gender as a tool of oppression. The basis of that argument is that gender is a social construct, developed by patriarchy as a means of oppression women. In that argument, the nature of gender expression and gender roles are the focus, not gender identity, whcih for the most part is generally overlooked or outright dismissed (usually because of its unimportance to the question and a strong cisprivilege and cultural privilege -- as well as many others -- among the leading feminists that espoused this viewpoint.

So, more clearly, since I just read that, The labels and descriptions for the terms come from the basic sociological and psychological frameworks, and are somewhat vague because they have to account for an incredible diversity among human cultures in how gender is structured (it might surprise you, but there are some really intersting variations out there). For the most part, I confined myself in the article to just the US, because althoug they work, I expected most questions to be asked on a basis that might not allow for me to anser effectively (I'm reasonably conversant with maybe 30 of the world's extant cultures, and perhaps 60 or so of vanished/subsumed ones, personally, and feel highly uncomfortable talking about them as my personal biases might come into play).

The senses developed simultaneously -- and feminism has purposed mahy of them, traditionally, in part with the goal of excising trans women in particular (hence people like Julie Bindel and Janice Raymond, who did great work on feminism, and also really nasty work on the feminism of trans women). THere is also the strong component of non essentialism in feminist thought, which often is made highly uncomfortable by the idea that knowledge one is a woman can, indeed, be inherent -- part of the reason that while I live and do things that some people describe as feminist, I disavow the term (and womanist now, too, since I'm apparently too light skinned an AA to "deserve" that label).

The purpose of my article was, of course, to explain the terms, not really to delve into the nature of their use and discourse among particular groups. However, on a personal note, I'd say that the varianfe is because, like most of society as a whole, feminism simply hasn't caught up to the science yet, or, more likely, is avoiding it in order to avoid dealing with the rise of transfeminism.

I sorta stay out of that mess -- I've got my hands full just dealing with my erstwhile allies and the trans community itself.

Thank you for your really good, strong questions and your thoughtful approach to the article!

"Nongendered" and "agendered" are gender identities? I don't see how that makes any more sense than it does to say that nonreligious is a religion. For the record, I am actually very nonnormative is most all respects.

I think I understand now that when you state that everyone has a gender role, you meant that everyone is culturally assigned a particular social categorization. I was confused because, to me, the concept of "having" such a thing implies that it comes from within, instead of being imposed from outside.

"I am not, in fact, redefining man and woman, boy and girl. I am using the methods of how they are used socially, and following a standard protocol in use for over 80 years. When we see a man or a woman, we do not, typically, see their primary sex characteristics"

A standard protocol of what? Sociology?

Given that you seem to agree that people are attempting to make a sex categorization when they meet other (clothed) people and decide that those people are men, boys, women, or girls (regardless of whether you think that is what they are actually doing or whether or not they are going about it correctly), I think that you are misrepresenting to some extent the process of this categorization. First of all, even if we do not see others' genitals, we usually do see certain secondary sex characteristics which, while certainly not perfectly accurate indicators, are highly correlated with sex (as sex is conceived in the U.S., at least). There
are without a doubt people who base these categorizations on grooming and fashion alone. However, most people dress and groom themselves according to society's dictated gender roles, and therefore present both normative secondary sex characteristics and normative gender expression (you'll notice I have no problem swallowing the concept of gender expression when applied to people who buy into gender roles). We have two cues in this case; one that is a fairly good indicator of sex, one that is not. I don't see how you can come to the conclusion that people are "typically" basing their categorization of man, boy, woman, or girl, on the one that is
not, given that they are both generally present, given that one is obviously a more reliable indicator of sex than the other, and given that you agree that, in such cases, people are generally endeavoring to make a sex categorization (whether they are doing so on a legitimate basis or not).

Furthermore, this sort of categorization is generally more of a split-second decision. While someone may assume that someone briefly walking by them in a dress is a woman, if they have the opportunity for greater scrutiny and, say, discover that this person has a penis, the categorization would change instantaneously for most people. Therefore, it doesn't make sense to me to designate this type of categorization as some sort of gendering or making use of a social sense of man/boy/woman/girl because its seems more like lazy, presumptuous sex categorization.

I think this is a really important point. Everyone has witnessed argument after argument where, for example, a trans person will say that they are X, and people will disagree, but what I've often noticed is that its often clearly a matter of the trans person thinking of X as something like what your article is about, a gender identity (I presume), and everyone else going on the common meaning of X (woman or man, and sometimes male or female) as a member of a particular biological sex. No one ever discusses the differences in meanings. Speaking as someone in the latter group, and someone who has actually read a fair number of Trans 101 and Gender 101
articles, essays, etc., like yours, I dare say that I probably speak for a lot of us when I say that I don't understand why man, woman, boy, and girl would be construed as being anything other than sex categories. That they should be is always championed, but there is never an explanation as to why (aside from the fact that certain people want it to be so). I don't expect you to answer to that, as I assume that it is somewhat outside of the scope of your intention with this article, and as you have already pointed me in the direction of sociological studies (though I wonder if an answer on this specific question is to be found there). I just think that it is important to say, especially with education being the intent behind this article.

MitchInOakland MitchInOakland | December 19, 2009 10:10 PM

Bravo, Iconoclass! See my comments below about the Emperor's new clothes, in which I'm attempting to say much the same thngs, albeit in a somewhat snarky way. ;-)

MitchInOakland MitchInOakland | December 18, 2009 10:13 AM

After reading the above, I feel compelled to copy, from another topic, a comment I've made on the mutual alienation I've seen emerging between different viewpoints - and a sense in which trans people have been generalizing and imposing their viewpoint in a way that (unbelievable as this may seem) invalidates the reality I experience as vital every day as a cis gay man.

As I've participated in the dialogue about "LGBT community" and transgender issues, I've striven to understand and accept the realities other people experience -- that to me seem patently illusory -- as real to them, just as I'm aware that my own reality (that of a cis gay man, with its evident blind spot for gender and mind/body misalignment) must seem illusory (or at least, in a manner crucial to them, blind) to such people.

Perhaps that's why I get a bit impatient when, even having reached that point of acceptance -- and after even longer ago declared that I accept most trans political demands, not because of any ostensible "LGBT inclusivity," but as prima facie issues of human rights -- I'm still accused of hatred (the most overused word since GW Bush wore "terrorism" into the ground), and presented with ostensible scientific (To mollify the scientistic among us, the scare quotes are invisible this time.) evidence that the trans version of reality is the real reality.

To be candid, I'm rapidly reaching the point where following and mouthing the endlessly proliferating complexifications of gender-centric self-definition is starting to feel to me as if I'm straining the limits of my not-insubstantial vocabulary to describe, in ever greater detail, the intricacies of the embroidery that gives such glitz and character -- such reality and... well, such PRESENCE -- to the Emperor's new clothes.

I won't use any of the language that might seem hurtful enough to renew all the allegations of hate and marginalization that have been hurled about on this site.

I'll just ask one question...

Has anyone here ever heard the simple, straightforward word "naked"?