liv: oil painting of seated nude with her back to the viewer (body)
[personal profile] liv
So I happened to come across a post by [ profile] shweta_narayan where she's trying to find some language for what gender she is [sic; the OP explicitly requests she as a pronoun]. And I can in many ways relate to what she's describing (apart from looking for a word in a non-English language or a concept of gender from a different culture; in as far as I consider myself to come from a cultural and ethnic minority, it's not one that does gender in ways that strike me as particularly different from the mainstream culture I'm also part of.)

There has been lots of work done in trying to separate out different aspects of sex and gender; even separating sex and gender from eachother is a huge step forward. But even among people who are aware that you can't just look at someone's genitals and decide a whole swathe of things about their life, there's a whole range of potential for hurt and confusion. I think it's probably useful to be able to say not just "I'm a woman who is not particularly feminine", but to go further and say, I am a woman in terms of how people read me, but not so much in terms of how I think of myself in my own head.

And to do so without accidentally claiming a trans identity that would be appropriative of others' experiences. [ profile] shweta_narayan says I'm not cisgendered and that seems to fit better in my head than actually saying "I am transgendered". I mean, theoretically they're synonymous, transgendered simply means not cisgendered. But I find I bristle a bit when people tell me I'm transgendered simply because I have interests and personality traits which are regarded as not-feminine. I feel more comfortable with thinking of myself as a female scientist than as a trans or genderqueer individual who has female-assigned genitalia but works as a natural scientist and is better at abstract reasoning than interpersonal stuff. Even though if you asked me whether I think of myself as female in general I would probably hesitate and flail rather than come out with a definite yes.

I have definitely asked myself why, if I consider that I have a weak internal sense of gender, I should spend all this time thinking about the right words to describe exactly what my gender is! I think it's partly that I read [ profile] shweta_narayan's post and smiled to myself a bit. And maybe it's partly that my impression of not having very much internal sense of gender is that what gender identity I do have doesn't fit any of the established categories. I don't feel strongly female, but I most certainly don't feel that I'm male and I'm being coerced by social expectations into living as a woman against my will. I also don't feel that I have several genders, or that I move between different genders at different times; I feel either weakly female or somewhat more strongly... the best word I can pick out of [ profile] shweta_narayan's list is agendered. Even that's kind of a tangle because how can I feel "strongly" about what is essentially the absence of an identity feeling?

The problem is that I am afraid I'm doing harm by even talking about this. The post I've linked isn't so much about happy fun self-discovery, as it is a response to a really painful argument in the previous post. There is so. much. pain in that damn thread.

If I noodle around having lots of ideas about gender and seize on complex descriptions that seem to fit how I feel better than just unqualified "female", then I could be providing ammunition for sexists who make all kinds of generalizations about all women. Eg women are always more emotional than logical, women always want to have children, women are always exclusively attracted to men, women care about shopping and handbags... Perhaps I ought to be making a political point that I'm a woman, and I'm not like that (or any number of other stereotypes), rather than conceding that I'm not really all that female. I sort of hope that one way round that is to make very clear distinctions between gender performance and gender identity (in addition to the already very useful distinction between gender and sex).

But on the other hand, if I insist on a gender identity that requires whole paragraphs to describe, am I making things worse for people who actually are trans*? I definitely know people and have read of many others for whom having an internal identity that mismatches the box the rest of the world wants to shove them into is a source of serious problems and dangers. For me it's pretty much just a curiosity, really, so maybe I should just shut up and stop as it were trying to be cool and different. I also suspect that my feeling of not having much gender identity may come from being in a situation where I can just be who I am and nobody really cares very much what sort of genitals I have. When I was a kid I got into fights with anyone who in any way doubted that I was a girl (which, um, didn't exactly help because girls weren't supposed to respond to insults with physical fighting...) so I must have had some sense of gender identity then. If a lot of people went around trying to tell me that I wasn't really a woman (for example because my birth certificate said I was a male baby [counterfactually], or because I care more about my career in a relatively male-dominated field than about makeup and babies [which is actually the case, I'm just lucky to live in a situation where it doesn't matter]), I might in fact discover that I do have a strong gender identity after all.

This seems to fall straight into the horrible mess where a lot of feminists end up embracing really transphobic ideas. Pretty much everybody, even the most cissexual and cisgendered person ever, feels to some extent uncomfortable with feminine social roles, because society is sexist, duh, and nearly everything that's considered female or feminine is less valued and less powerful than everything that's considered male. And even where female things are equally valued or even more valued, very few people of any gender want to accept absolutely the whole essentialist package because nobody is a "typical" woman in every respect, such a creature doesn't exist. So feminists quite reasonably want to work for a world where it's possible to have a thoroughly female identity and yet still be an individual, and still have access to economic and political power and genuine respect and so on. Which can make it really hard to understand why someone would ever reject the gender category assigned to them, because you believe politically that gender categories don't define who you are.

There seems to be some willingness to concede that if you're actually trans, if you have a strong internal sense and / or a physiological condition such that your sex doesn't match the one assigned based on a cursory glance at your crotch when you were born, you have the right to be who you are. But if you're just in some kind of ill-defined non-traditional gender situation thingy, you should stick to the sex you were assigned at birth in order to help convince the world that gender doesn't have to restrict your life. Or perhaps you should be "out and proud" about it in order to make things easier for other people who are, for want of a better word, non-binary in some way.

I also keep coming back to the liberal bubble problem. I can make a post like this and people may disagree with me, but it's not likely to have any serious social repercussions. Indeed, the most likely source of drama that might show up in response to this is people telling me I'm not sufficiently supportive of people on the trans* spectrum. I'm acutely aware that for many people a post like this would be a provocative "coming out" statement and they'd only desperately hope that it wouldn't lose them friends or their job or their family or even make them the target of violence. I saw a discussion on FB a while back where a person was complaining about transphobic humour, and there was a comment to the effect that the commenter (someone involved in Cambridge Queer circles I think) had never encountered any actual jokes directed at trans people, but was annoyed by straight cis men making sarcastic comments about politically correct language for discussing gender issues. I don't want to minimize that too much; clearly it is harmful and rude for people to be sarcastic about eg people identifying as a complex gender rather than just "being" male or female. But what proportion of genderqueer people move in circles where genderqueer is even a concept that people can make sarcastic jokes about?

So maybe I want to follow [ profile] shweta_narayan's example and say that not only woman, but cissexual woman is a good term for how people read me. Cis is one sort of privilege I benefit from. Being part of circles where most people are pretty accepting of various sorts of gender identity is another. But I'm less sure of: what specific label actually works.
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Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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