[I originally posted this to my aquestionersjourney.wordpress.com blog. But, after some thought I decided I would post it here too. It expresses my view on gender and on transgender people, but I believe it is in part educational, part personal. Hence, I thought it would belong here despite its more philosophical bent.]
I have, and I believe you have too. In this post I will explore some of the issues around gender. This will mainly be about gender in general, but I will touch on transgender topics at times and at the end. We all do gender, and we are all gendered. I will try to explain what is involved in gendering or being gendered. I will also show how pervasive it is and is it possible or desirable to undo gender. I will further explore how I do gender or at least attempt to do gender, and how people have gendered me, and how I would like to be gendered as a transgender woman, and why it is important to me.
What do you say: “Look at that girl”; “he lives next door”; “that woman is the owner”; “I can’t believe she did that”; “That man looks angry”; “That guys a dick.” Most of the time when we are talking about a person we state their gender. I do it, and I bet you do it too.
Your sister tells you she is having a baby. It is almost automatic that you would ask if is it a boy or girl (probably in that order). You might first ask when the due date is, but the gender of the baby becomes front and center. If you are having a baby or your partner (girlfriend, partner, wife, etc,) once you find out the sex of the baby, you begin to prepare to receive the child home after the birth. A blue room for a boy, and a pink room for a girl. That is if you can have the room and can afford to decorate it. Still, even if you cannot, you will probably have baby clothes in the traditional appropriate colors. This is at least the usual way it goes, still.
Of course, there are those that are more enlightened about gender and will attempt to provide a neutral environment for their child to grow up in.* But as the child grows, if their parents don’t gender them, their friends, schoolmates, teachers and others inevitably will. [Pronoun usage will be discussed below]
Most researchers will say it really won’t matter, a child will pick the gender, genders, or non-gender they feel most comfortable in (most will choose the gender that matches their assigned sex at birth). Yes I include genders because it is perfectly possible that a person will identify with both genders and may fluctuate what gender they are most comfortable in. These individuals are considered genderfluid. But there will also be children who will not identify with either gender, thus being agender. Both of these last two examples are consider non-binary, whereas those that identify with one gender or another whether their cisgender persons or transgender persons are binary.
So children if they are not gendered by those closest to them, whether they are parents, siblings, or friends, will be gendered by others. This could be neighbors, teachers, and later in life in their employment environment. A neighbor might ask, “How’s your little girl?” I remember this from elementary school: “Boys in one line, girls in another.” In that order too. You apply for a job and they ask for your sex, which they also assume will be your gender most likely, and that you are not intersex (those with mixed or ambiguous genitalia). Although, this is changing, “I now pronounce you man and wife.” Again in that order, though some may use husband in place of man.†
And, then there is the way you are addressed or address others. As a polite gesture we often call someone “sir,” or “ma’am.” In the South they use ‘miss so in so,” or “mister so in so.” When addressing an envelope it is common to address it to Mr., Ms., or Mrs. Although, this is becoming less common. Have we become less formal or less polite? I doubt it is more gender conscious.
This is how it appears to be. Is any of this right or wrong? I think it depends on your perspective and on how it functions in society, and if should it function at all? The perspective depends upon whether your are using it stereotypically or rigidly? Are the functions benign or pernicious? And if it is needed or superfluous? And also whether your talking of an ideal world or the real nitty-gritty one we live in. In other words how likely can we make gender less pervasive?
Some would say it functions in a patriarchal hegemonic way. Some belief that gender is used against woman, and lets face it has. The role gender has play out in what women are allowed to do originally,ª and many still believe that these women roles should still applied. At home, having kids, taking care of the household, and most importantly the husband. Today’s western culture is a lot more open to woman doing many more things, but there are parts that do not, and some are super restrict like in some Muslim countries.‡ Despite advances on how women are treated, patriarchy remains an issue, especially sexually. Male dominance is the norm unfortunately. And rape happens far to often.
But, should gender have a function at all? Should gender have a use in modern western society? Can society function without gender? Again some would say it should not have a role at all as it is just a social construct (perpetuated by patriarchy). And I really see no need for it myself. We would have to develop a form of address that is both functional and acceptable. And get use to a gender neutral world. There appears to be an exception, and that is medical care. That is largely about sex though, which unless we all get neutered and change our DNA somehow, is pretty much permanent.
I can see no theoretical reason why society cannot be gender neutral. But, what about how people actually feel about it? Could such a radical agenda be accepted? What about gender identity? Is that just a social construct too? First, many could never get used to it. And many would fight it tooth and nail. Many religious believers belief that god made us male and female—end of story. So, the likelihood of a gender neutral society seems rather far fetch.
That leaves gender identity. Here I think there is enough evidence to show that it is at least in part biological. Actually everything is physical, but that is neither here nor there in the current discussion. But, I do belief that in the main gender expression is socially constructed. But, what about a young child reaching for a dolly at age two or three? How can they possibly be aware that gender expression is a choice.
As a child grows up however, they can learn that it is not necessary that girls play with dolls and boys play with trucks. This is so no matter what their gender identity may be. Certainly, as a child grows older many other socially devised gender expressions are learned. It is unlikely that there are genes for pink and blue (stereotypical colors for girls and boys). Given that the societal appropriate ways of expressing gender, will persons identifying as one gender or another choose these typical ways of expression or should they even be encourage to choose so? No and No. First, it is up to the individual to choose and some will choose gender atypical expressions. Second, for those that choose these atypical expressions it would be wrong to force the typical expressions on them, especially if it would cause harm to that person, which I think is much more likely than not. Even if no harm is present, it is wrong to force a choice on anyone. It takes their free will^ away.
Finally, there is the issue of transgender persons. Do they exist? Fringe scientist and social conservatives say “no.” Lived experience says “yes.” I will go by what someone tells me they feel. I never knowingly discount how a person feels, and this includes transgender individuals. So to me lived experience trumps bad science and people who hold transphobic beliefs. So transgender identity (and this goes with non-binary identities too) is just as real as any other gender or non-gender identity.
It also doesn’t matter how they are forced too or choose too express it. Force here includes individuals who don’t feel free to express them as they would if their living situation involves family intolerance or demands social conformity such as work. The ideal is that they should be allowed to express their gender anyway they so choose. And keep in mind transgender individuals are not cookie cutter images, just like cisgender individuals are not, even if people tend to run in packs. This means if a transwoman chooses (not forced) to dress in man clothing attire, like a tomboy say, there should be no saying they are not the gender they believe themselves to be.
How would transgender individuals function in a genderless society. This is hard to say as I have not heard about how people pushing for one say actually how such a society would function. In a genderless society would gender identity still form, or would it matter? If gender is in part biological, which is the most plausible causal explanation, then people would still identify as the gender they feel. What forms of expression available for them is an unknown at the moment. Even a total unisex expression is still using gender in a negating role.
Sex is a different story and that would continue to have an effect, even if there is a non-gendered society. Females give birth, males do not. So, this in itself says that sex is here to stay. But I will not go any further with sex since my main subject is gender.
This leaves my personal dealings with gender. How do I gender or not gender others? With people I do not even if I have a notion of what gender they are, or if they appear like a transgender person, I try my best to refrain from verbally assigning a gender or non-gender.
So, this is an ideal. How does gender actually play out in my behavior. Mentally, I feel it is how my intuition plays out in how I interpret someone I do not know their gender or non-gender. If I have to provide a pronoun to someone I do not know their gender I will often use they as a general singular pronoun. This however will not work at all times because a lot of people are not familiar with this type of usage, and some claim that it is wrong to use it in such a way. And even bigger problem is that it can be just as an offensive way of gendering someone. If they identify as a binary gender, recognizing them as such can seem out of place at best and hurtful at worst. And for those that do not generally follow the herd being lumped as them can feel disrespectful as it can be felt to deny their individuality.
In all my previous blog posts on aquesitonersjourney.wordpress.com my usual way of gendering in general and when I needed to speak in individual terms was to use he/she or she/he. Also using the variants her/hers and him/his. I claim ignorance as to the use of they. I was made aware of its general singular usage and as a preferred pronoun for some non-binary individuals by a non-binary neighbor. After this conversion with them (my neighbor’s preferred pronoun) I began to consider using they in general, but had decided upon nothing before I switched to writing a this blog, and when gender is not known or in speaking in general I use “they.”
So, how have I been gendered or more often misgendered. As my transitioning to living as a woman progressed it went from Stephie by a few to Stephie by most. My girlfriend of many many years, who I came out to last spring, has now been calling me Stephie at times. My therapist, who I came out to next, calls me Stephie, except once on the phone by mistake. Coming out to my therapist marked the beginning of my transitioning. I am now out to most people I know with the exception of my girlfriend’s family and verbally at least to some of my girlfriend’s neighbors. This includes the people at the mental health program I attend, where I am consistently called Stephie. Being called sir or ma’am is a slower process because even if my looks (which I try very hard at) can pass, my voice will give me away. I have only been correctly gendered a few times. I have written a post on my transgender blog on correcting those that call me sir (I am Not a Sir). [I am now in voice feminization training]
I do not as a transwoman like being male-gendered, like being called sir, referred to as he/him/his, or called by my birth name. My preferred forms of address are Stephie, she/her/hers, and ma’am or miss or Ms. So, please address me as so if you ever are referring to me or interacting with me in person.
I will end on why being gendered correctly is important to me. First, it feels awfully wrong being called by my birth name (still a necessity when my legal name is needed), or being called sir. Second, it is the respectful thing to do. And everyone should be respected. Third, as long as society insists on wide use of gender terms one should use them appropriately.
* I know a woman whose daughter and her husband will raise their child in a gender free manner. The woman is quite upset about it by the way. I tried to explain to her once how this will not harm the child, but we were interrupted before I could finish my argument.
† Now days there are same sex weddings, and I suppose, or hope, that they are equally yoked like, “you are now wife and wife?” Which is still on the sexist side because of the phrase used above “man and wife;” wife being the property of the man. I think that marriage was actually a male introduce institution as a hedge against being cuckolded.
ª There may have been matriarchal societies, but I have a hard time believing it immersed into patriarchy, so it is beyond my current imagination
‡ Sorry, these are the most restrictive countries I am aware of and I am not picking on Islam per se. They do fit the bill though.
^ Free will here is used in the philosophical compatibalist manner, which is that unless someone is forced, coerced, or incapable of controlling their behavior, they are acting on their own free will, and not the conception of free will as a deliberate decision being free of physical (read brain actions) determination.