Trans* 101: Gender
This is video three. Here are links to one and two.
Hey, everyone, my name is Ira. This is the third video in a series about being trans* I guess. This is a trans* 101 from a politicized perspective, and today - erm right now I guess - we’re going to be talking about gender. What is gender? What does gender look like? What does gender mean?
To begin, in the last couple of videos, we talked about sex. This conversation is going to start very similarly. In our culture, we learn that sex and gender are the same thing. You know, that we have “Male,” we have “Female.” We have “Man,” and we have “Woman.” “Female” means having a normative vulva or vagina - well vagina is part not all. Whatever yours looks like, mine doesn’t really look like that. And that being “male” means having a penis according to a normative, medical definition. Not everybody identifies a body part that may look like this as a penis. Not everybody identifies a part that may look like this as male.
So we learn that these two (sex and gender) are the same thing. You don’t have any choice in them, and you can’t move anywhere. It’s just something that happens to you. You don’t have any agency over your own body.
Then, in a Women’s Studies course, you learn that “Male” and “Female” do not always mean “Man” and “Woman.” Sometimes (I’m just going to abbreviate M for Male, F for Female, M for Man, W for Woman) these switch so that you can be a female man or you can be a male woman. Gender is a line and, somehow for whatever reason, all transgender people exist in the middle of this dichotomy. It’s interesting because one of the things you’ll learn about in a Women’s Studies course is how we view men and women, males and females, as opposites - the interplanetary view of gender. Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus. We’re from completely two different worlds. It’s interesting that it’s framed - it’s interesting, because they talk about that in how it’s problematic. It creates this relationship between men and women that we are at opposing sides. It creates a war-like relationship where we are against each other as opposed to with each other, coexisting, next to each other, near each other, and such and so forth. But when they talk about transgender people, they put men and women at opposite sides of the playing field and trans* people in the middle despite the identity of the trans* person, which creates this thought of “Well, you’re the best of both worlds.” If you’re not trans*, and you’re talking to someone who is trans*, and you’re trying to pay them a compliment, and you say things like “Well that’s awesome that you’re a trans* guy/girl, cause like you’re the best of both worlds,” that’s not a compliment. Shut up. Don’t ever say that again. That can be a compliment if that’s how you identify, but if it’s not how you identify, that’s incredibly, incredibly insulting.
The problem with this view of gender is that it doesn’t allow for any place above, below, beyond, in front, behind, and such and so forth. It’s very 2D. Another thing that you’ll find in a Women’s Studies class, they conflate gender identities with gender roles. So, you’ll see these lines. This one represents your sexuality. This one represents your gender. This one represents something else. Here’s Male again, and here’s Female again. Then you place yourself. (Well, I guess in this case with sexuality, here’s gay and straight, as if those are the only two options) I see myself here when I really see myself over here. Does that make sense? It’s constantly on a line, on a flat plane that is 2D. It doesn’t allow for any complexity that naturally occurs within cultures, that naturally occurs within ourselves, in our own personalities.
If I don’t think of gender as a line, then what do I think of gender as? I like to see gender as a universe. It allows for a lot more complexity. If you were to ask me what it means to be a man, I would probably have a different answer than someone else. If you were to go back in time, in whatever location you’re at, you would get a different answer than what someone now would give. If you were to go to a different place and ask what it means to be a man/woman/whatever gender you are, you would get a different answer. Gender changes. Gender is fluid. Culture is fluid, and language is fluid. Human beings are fluid. In that sense - (straight) lines aren’t very fluid! By definition.
So, I like to think of gender as a universe, like I said. Here is a gender, this amoeba thing or whatever. This gender is “Woman.” I like that it’s an amoeba thing, because it allows for the complexity of Woman as a single identity. You can be a woman over here; you can be a woman over here. Then, there’s like these little lines, because gender changes in time and space. This amoeba thing can move all over the board. (I don’t know how much you can see) Here’s another gender up in the corner. We’ll call this gender “Man.” Again, you can go anywhere between Man; Man itself moves and shifts. There’s another gender down here. This one is going to be “Gender-Queer” which is usually one word (Genderqueer). Then, there’s another one up here, and another one over here. There’s an infinite amount of them, because I don’t know all of the genders that exist. I don’t pretend to know. I would like to know all of them, but that’s probably not possible.
Let’s say you identify as a woman, and you identify as a woman over here. You can move; there’s nothing saying you have to stay there. So you move, and then you identify as a man. Does that mean you’re the best of both worlds? No. Or you can identify here, which means you don’t identify with any gender. Or you can put your hypothetical feet in more than one gender and identify as both of these things. Or three genders. Because stars have feet, and this star has three feet. Shoe laces, because stars are consumers and like to buy shoes.
Does that make sense? There is space. There is freedom. There is agency when we view gender as a universe as opposed to a line where there are finite ends, where there is the ability to be viewed as an opposing side with another gender. When you view gender as a universe, there is no opposite, because everything is constantly moving. There are no dichotomies, because there’s a bunch of choices. There is freedom, because nothing is stagnant. On that note, I want to say that just because the concept of gender is not stagnant does mean that our identities cannot be stagnant ones. Even if we identify as a single gender our entire lives, it doesn’t mean that that gender in and of itself doesn’t change a little bit. You know what I’m saying? What it means to be a boy or a young man, the way that you express that, the way you feel about that will probably change with time. Not to say that all young people feel the same way or that all older people feel that same way, that’s ageism. Time allows for growth in general or allows for digression (I don’t know if digression is a word but we can pretend it is for now). I hope that makes sense. I recognize that this looks super convoluted now, but having seen the process, I hope that it makes more sense.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask. My blog is www.iradaltongray.com. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can comment below. You can send me a message. You can talk to me on Facebook. Talk to me however you want to talk, as long as we start a conversation. You don’t necessarily have to agree with me. I don’t expect everyone to, but I do hope to inspire people to think and to question paradigms.
I will see you all later whenever I think of what the next video is going to be. K, bye!