Gender Bent and Borrowed

by David King on February 19, 2013

Photo property of Carole Moran Gender is an issue that has long been a bother – to me and to millions of people around the world. It’s a complicated subject, and it only seems to get more complicated. It’s the F in M/F, or it’s the M, depending on perspective; it’s the T in LGBT; it’s the pink and the blue, the doll and the truck; it’s both penis and vagina, both John and Jane; it’s who we are and yet not even close, a mere product of socialization; an evolutionary relic, forged in binary minds with eyes blind to all that lay outside the box.

When I was a kid, I struggled with my lack of conformity to the male gender role and all its macho stereotypes. Most of my friends were girls and while I enjoyed my fair share of action figures (and still do) I loathed sports and had a hate-hate relationship with gym class. I identified as a boy, no doubt, but I wasn’t like most boys. The later realization that I didn’t like girls in that way offered a sound enough explanation at the time, but today I recognize that gender and sexuality do not go hand in hand, no matter their degree of association. There are gay men who enjoy sports, straight women who bring home the bacon, and even lesbians who wear dresses. As politically incorrect as the stereotypes sound, we can all attest to their everyday occurrence. And in many settings and situations, they’re nearly impervious to logic and reason.

The reality of the issue is still difficult to swallow for most. But should we dare trust the progressive social scientists whose heads have risen above the edges of the box, gender actually shares one important characteristic with sexuality: it too exists on a continuum, not at all limited to its poles; not nearly so binary. This answer is obvious, really, if you actually live in the world.

But the issue of gender exceeds the need for acceptance of not-so-macho men and hard-headed-problem-solving women. (And even these roles are socially constructed.) Indeed, there is a need for the acceptance of gender variance and nonconformity, and for the notion that we may have gotten it all wrong. Our old moulds are cracking, and they desperately need to be crushed – not replaced.

At the end of the day, I don’t have it so hard. I may forever feel different, but I’m far less threatened by a room full of guys than I used to be (although some degree of threat remains). There are many whose nonconformity amounts to a life-threatening (if not only health-threatening) status – simply because they live in a straight-as-an-arrow world hell-bent on binary constructs. To not conform to one’s gender role is one thing. To blow it out of the water is another, and it’s undeniably dangerous, no matter where it takes place. While the stats are still unclear, it’s been estimated that 1 in 12 transgendered women are murdered in the U.S., with an even higher rate of incidence for trans women of colour. Trans bashing and transphobia are real things that make real people feel like shit – a point that’s easily overlooked by those who carry their genitals and identities in the same pocket. Even many of us gay folk, the ones who know of a similar hatred and intolerance, are uncomfortable with the notion of gender nonconformity (never mind the obvious gender segregation that occurs in much of the gay community). It’s everywhere, because it’s entirely perpendicular to the grain. It’s unfitting with the propaganda of our youth.

When I led seminars for an advanced psychology course a few years ago, I always ended the debate on gender identity disorder by showing a page from an 1857 encyclopedia on race and ethnicity. On this page were 3 hand-drawn skulls. At the top of the page was the skull of a Caucasian man. Below this was the skull of an African man. At the bottom was the skull of a male chimpanzee, with the text suggesting that the chimpanzee and African man were more closely related than the African and Caucasian. This was quite clearly a case of Caucasian superiority, an antiquated perspective on race that marked white people as genetically superior and more intelligent compared to all other races. My point? Science doesn’t always get it right, and if science can be wrong, so can the masses that it represents. Just as gender identity disorder so clearly pegs gender nonconformists as abnormal human beings, a social system which only has room for girls and boys or men and women automatically excludes those who don’t fit the binary. Or worse, such a social system forces those who are different to participate in roles that are unbecoming of their true nature.

The truth is, gender can be bent. It can be borrowed, it can be pink, and it can be blue. But what constitutes who we are as human beings? None of it, because it’s all manufactured. It’s all a product of the system. It’s a product of inferior minds and, quite simply, a lack of understanding. Whether you identify as man or woman, transgender or cisgender, conformist or outcast, no one has a right to tell who you are or who you are not. Gender is a construct, nothing more. It is malleable. It is changing. It has changed. It’s time we all got up to speed.

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