Gender. [part 2]
(part 1 was here, two weeks ago)
Gender. How do we even talk about it?
We separate biological sex from gender, and further separate gender identity and gender expression.
Biological sex: attributes such as anatomy, chromosomes, and hormones that is usually assigned at birth and inform whether a person is male, female, or intersex.
Gender identity: our internal sense of being a man, a woman, neither of these, both, and so on; one’s inner sense of being.
Gender expression: the ways in which a person manifests masculinity, femininity, both, or neither through appearance, behavior, dress, speech patterns, preferences, and more.
But even at this level, already, I run into problems. I am female sexed. I was born female. However, I have had problems all my adult life with my sex-related hormones. How much of my sense of being not-entirely-woman is tied to this? When the hippie chicks around me were talking about lunar cycles and fertility as if these defined the archetypal female, they were not describing me.
Then again, as I said in part 1, I dreamed about having a body with both male and female genitalia before I ever knew I would have such issues. Did my mind know on some deep level that my hormones were different? Did my subconscious recognize something essential? Is it pure chance?
And then, I wonder, if biological sex and gender are separate--why is it so important to get a sex change? If male sex ≠ male gender, and female sex ≠ female gender, why would dysphoria ever be an issue? But people who are transsexual are born in a body that doesn't align with their psychological gender. This causes great distress, which can be mostly resolved through a sex change operation. So, clearly, there is some real connection between the biological and the physical.
Sex is commonly described as a binary. However, there are many varieties of intersexuality, some of which are obvious at birth and some which don't show up until later in life. The frequency of this is not clear, as even defining what constitutes male and female in strictly biological terms is debated. A common estimate is 1 in 1500. Which is rare, but not as rare as most people would guess. You could call it a spectrum, but that assumes that there is a clear continuum from male to female, with points that fall next to each other... but it's not a single line. There are lots of variations.
So, if we don't even have clear definitions of male, female, and intersex--and if intersex is not one thing but many--why should gender be a simple matter of man-woman? Or even man-woman-other?
Because when you move from sex to gender, you have cultural and religious assumptions and ideas entering the arena. And ideas about gender change over time, as well as across cultures.
I think most of you are relatively aware and accepting, and understand the basic and most common variations of trans- identity. That is, someone considered biologically male at birth, but who identifies as female is a transwoman, or Male-to-Female (MtF) trans person. Someone considered biologically female at birth who identifies as male is a transman, or Female-to-Male (FtM) trans person. Note: Transsexual is a medical term that should be reserved for people who are undergoing/have undergone surgery. Some people may prefer transsexual to transgender, as it more clearly indicates the divergence of mind and body.
Then, you have the others. The agender/neutrois folks who don't relate to any gender. Androgeny, which is often a matter of gender expression and may not align with gender identity. Butch women, who may be very masculine in gender expression, but still identify entirely as women. Drag queens, who, even if they like to be called "girl" generally still identify as men.
Genderqueer is an umbrella term for a lot of different identities that don't readily conform to binary identities. Bigender, Gender Non-Binary, Third Gender, Two-Spirit.
This is a great article about gender non-comforming kids.
And, finally, the identity that fits me, which is probably the hardest to talk about and to conceive of: gender fluid. That is: my gender identity shifts. It can shift in small ways during the course of a day. It can shift in larger ways from week to week. And, over the course of years, it can shift dramatically. How the hell do you live that in a world that has two rigid boxes? I'm 45, and still figuring it out.
That is what I plan to go into in part 3.