Gender - Livre d'Or

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Saturday, 26 August 2006 at 08:39 pm

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misia posted a poll about gender, and that meshed with stuff I've been thinking about the subject triggered by a remark of redbird's about gender and feminism.

This will be rambly. I'll start by quoting my comment to misia about how I define my gender:
I don't get on well with these kinds of questions, not because my gender identity is terribly complicated but because it's really trivial to me. I do understand that some people are massively upset about there only being two options for gender and want to pick something else, people who are strongly identified with being some form of genderqueer (by whatever term), people whose gender identity doesn't match their physical body. I'm not in any of those categories; I just want to pick "don't care".

I'm definitely female and more or less cisgendered. I don't on the whole get mistaken for male (or butch or any of the male-leaning genders) in person, because I have long hair, prominent breasts and hips and that sort of thing. Online I read either way and that's fine by me.

I'm not feminine or womanly or femme, but I'm not masculine or butch or manly either, and androgynous is silly because of the aforementioned physical characteristics. Plus the word implies partaking of both male and female, and I think I'm more neither than both (apart from the physical body). If I'm not allowed female as a gender as opposed to a sex, and I'm not allowed to opt out, then woman, or possibly girl. Geek doesn't feel like a gender to me, and I'm not sure whether I identify as that anyway. I like some male-related gender words, such as bachelor, gentleman (but I suspect that's partly because spinster and lady are sucky words).

If such a thing exists, I'm pretty much an agendered person in a female body. And being not really at all attached to my gender I'm not bothered that I read as female.
Reading the comments on Misia's poll started me thinking: I'm pretty certain nobody has ever checked my karyotype. So how would I feel if I suddenly discovered that I'm XY after all? (Maybe I have some really extreme form of androgen insensitivity...) First, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be bothered to find out, oh, so I'm male after all, huh. Would I start insisting on male pronouns and change my name to a male one? Probably not, because it would mean spending the rest of my life fighting a battle I'm not emotionally invested in. I would be more likely to tell people about it as a kind of curiosity fact. But I honestly don't think it would change how I feel about myself as a person.

In terms of body shape: if I got zapped with the famous gender-switching ray much beloved of spurious thought experiments, of course I would freak out, experiencing such a dramatic violation of the laws of physics and finding myself in a radically different body from the one I expect would do that! But I think I would probably be happy to spend the rest of my life in a male body; I certainly wouldn't go through massive effort and hassle and pain to get my female body back.

Would I choose a different body from mine if I had that option? I might enjoy having the kind of appearance that makes it really hard to tell if one is male or female, but I wouldn't prefer that sufficiently to my definitely female appearance for it to be even a desire, let alone something I would make effort towards. I mean, if I wanted to be androgynous I could cut my hair and wear unisex and figure-hiding clothes, and I have never wanted it enough to try even such a trivial change. (My family often tease me by reminding me that when I was little I declared that I was going to grow a beard when I was older. In some ways, the body of a long-haired, bearded man thin enough to look a bit feminine from a distance feels more like it would match my self-perception than that of a short-haired, flat-chested woman. Dunno why that is.)

So far so navel-gazing. The way this connects to feminism is related to this very trenchant comment on gender presentation by papersky.1 One could argue that my not feeling especially female is because I'm rejecting the stereotypes about what female is supposed to mean. And yes, I do pretty much reject those stereotypes. But I do think there's more to it than that, I don't want to regard myself as agendered because I think women are restricted compared to men.

When I was a kid I felt much as papersky does (though if I can express myself as well as Papersky does by the time I'm 100 I shall be delighted, let alone when I was seven; anyway I would have agreed strongly with her comment if I had seen it then). I was something of a tomboy, but I hated being referred to as such, or even worse, being mistaken for a boy (I had short hair, so it happened a lot). I didn't in the least want to be a boy, I wanted to be a girl who liked climbing trees and playing hockey and football and dealing with conflicts by physical fighting.

Now, though, I don't feel nearly so strongly. I absolutely believe that in principle women should be able to be scientists and be career ambitious and live on their own and express themselves confidently and all sorts of stuff that stupid misogynists think women shouldn't be allowed to do. But I no longer care that I personally should be perceived as a woman when I'm acting in ways sometimes classified as masculine. I'm simply a person doing the things I want to do, and my gender is irrelevant to that. Is it feminist to say, as papersky does, This also is a valid way of being a real woman, or is it feminist to say, do what you like, it doesn't matter what gender you are? I have sympathy for both points of view, but lean more towards the second for myself. The question is, can I take that attitude without undermining people like papersky?

Or am I missing the point altogether? It feels to me like feminism has something to do with this, but also that it is giving a lot of unsatisfactory answers. My usual response is to say, well, I don't care about feminism, I'm just doing what I think is right. But on this kind of issue, I don't want to be actively opposing feminism or harming the people who do feel strongly about their gender in whatever direction.

1] I'm trying to display the comment in my journal style because redbird's original post is interesting too and my layout shows individual comments attached to the appropriate posts, but due to the weird way security works with S2, that might not work for you. So here's a link to the post in question.

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leora: ouroboros
Date:August 28th, 2006 04:11 am (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, August 27th, 2006 09:11 pm (leora's time)

Re: Part 2 of 2

I think I would have been as comfortable, possibly moreso, in a male body, but less happy. Less happy because I want a female body. I want to get pregnant and have kids, and a male body cannot do that.

But I've always had a sense of wrongness about my body. It's gotten better as I've gotten older, but mirrors always look wrong to me. It doesn't match my self-image. I keep trying to figure out what I think I should look like, but it isn't what I do look like.

As a child, I felt very uncomfortable wearing skirts and dresses, because it felt wrong, since I wasn't really a girl. And I wasn't fully convinced that I truly was female until I started menstruating.

Sometimes I've identified as a male who wants to be female trapped inside a female body and grateful.

Of course, a male body would totally mess up my life, since my lothario is a straight male. And I'm not adapted to being male. But when I was younger, I was treated by almost everyone much more like a male than like a female, and fit much better in the geeky male roles. I never fit well in any of the traditional male or female roles. Plus, my mother was very into gender roles, so I always had crappier toys because I was female.

But like Livredor, I mostly feel ungendered. But I think part of that is that none of the traditional stereotypes fit me at all. The traits that I have that are more masculine aren't the ones people think of first when they think of masculine. My feminine traits are closer to what people think of as feminine, but I don't come off as all that feminine in whole, and did so lesso when I was younger. It took me a long time to be comfortable acting or dressing femininely. And I am usually fine with being misidentified as male. On IRC, it happened all the time. And I just went with it. I was rather pleased when someone attached Mr. before my nick as a sign of respect and courtesy. I saw no reason to correct it; it didn't matter. I was helping the person, and my gender was totally unimportant to that interaction.

But sexual relations as a male would totally throw me, because I simply have no experience with it. But then, it took me a while to get used to sex as a female.

Oh, and growing up, it's easier to think male than think female, since almost everything I read or watched assumed a male point of view. Almost everything that dealt with relationships was from the heterosexual male point of view. So, it was weird constantly being told how females are strange, mysterious, unfathomable creatures. Because I was one of those. And yet. The difference in viewpoint really struck me as the weirdest gender thing when I was growing up. Just the constant assumption that I am male and understand the male viewpoint and that the female viewpoint is alien.
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