Gender: social personas vs personal identity

[Originally written c.2014 – & no I have no idea what I had read on the internet that had irked me so]

I’m afraid I’d quite like to make a long-winded ramble/rant.

…I know its been said before, and far more eloquently, but I believe its a point that can’t be made too often and I do keep reading things on the net that seem to miss the point.

Social gender is the convention used to differentiate individuals according to their clothing, demeanour, recreational preferences and role – it is broadly aligned to biological differences but the details are culturally and historically contingent (the simplistic examples being that Ancient Greek men thought trousers were feminine, pink has been considered a masculine colour and a number of societies do not use a binary system).
I believe it is important to recognise that the existence (and mutation) of social gender roles seems to be universal, and that it allows a convenient short-hand that can help distinguish people and teach children about personalities and social roles but also that it can be destructive, restrictive and inaccurate.
By contrast personal identity is the clothing, demeanour, recreational preferences and role adopted at any given time by an individual. It also encompasses the labels that individual applies to themself, including the gender they assign (or disclude or invent)  to/for themself -regardless of their apparent physical or genetic make-up or their adoption of local social customs for their chosen gender [also true for sexual/romantic orientation etc etc]. It also covers the kind of body that person feels is appropriate to them, from something as simple as whether they have tattoos to as fraught as whether they change their genitals and everything it between including weight. Broadly speaking personal identity when it comes to ones actions should not (though often is) be denied by any other individual or society.
[We do make exceptions (in terms of rejecting identity claims) for people complaining of discrimination based on a racial/cultural identity they either have no biological connection to or no evidence of a social connection/commitment to (e.g. adoption by or long-term integration within) and I forsee trouble in terms of biological essentialism in this area for gender… We also tend to make exceptions based on whether actions cause ‘harm’ but deciding what constitutes harm is an especially difficult and contentious topic]

I believe that there is nothing wrong with having  socially normal expectations. The idea of a persona to copy, adopt, adapt, build on, exaggerate and satirise is very valuable for many people.
I do, however, also believe that actually thinking any given individual fits that role is wrong. I do not disbelieve that certain genetic configurations are statistically more likely to be better at certain things (e.g. types of running) than others but statistics make sod all difference to individuals. It may be true that statistically men are physically stronger than women but that doesn’t mean that woman A is therefore weaker than man B or that their physical strengths determine what they enjoy doing. It is especially important that statistical probability and normalised roles are not allowed to dictate what someone can and cannot do; particularly if that role is thrust upon by virtue of their biology and not their choice. Furthermore, not only should we allow/encourage people to explore multiple roles and personas but we should be prepared to not let their apparent biology frame our judgement of them. A biological male in drag might be enjoying the clothes for their own sake, or the sensation of enacting female social persona, or wish to permanently adopt a female social role or wish to have a biologically female body – and we have no way of knowing without talking to that individual and nor should it matter.

And that is the reason all this is important – I have read a few things recently about trans individuals which argue that (for example) because some girls (who biologically present as XX) like traditionally (socially agreed) boyish things it is better to use their energies to encourage all biologically XX  people to acknowledge they might like masculine activities than it is to acknowledge that some people find their sense of their own body does not match with what is physically evident or that the wish to enact a male role neither requires you to want the ‘matching’ biology nor requires you to fulfil one variety of that social role for ever more.
Many traditionally butch lesbians take on a masculine-looking social role without wishing to change their biological sex and may in fact stridently champion their ownership of cunts and that is, and must be acknowledged as, different to adopting a gender neutral stance when raising children which does not equate their interests with their genitalia and it is also different to someone assigned female at birth who wishes to be recognised as a man but may still not want to adopt all the masculine traits society offers.
What I mean is just because we might want to change the way that society views gender  – or that we want roles to be unrestrictive – doesn’t mean we should be dismissive of the fact that they can be useful not just for those who naturally conform but also for those who want to experiment with something outside of their assigned role. We also need to acknowledge that some people have a very strong connection to a particular identity (regardless of biology or own ‘approval’ of that identity) and some people don’t have a strong feelings about it and still others shift in their connections to identity.
If it ain’t your body or body or your identity -shut up &  listen to the actual person.

 

[Addendum July 2017:
On a personal level I have never felt any strong connection to female social roles (some are alien, some I feel actively rejected by and some are ok) and only a mild connection to some male social roles but I am lucky enough that I have little or no dysphoria relating to my biology & am even sometimes happy with my body plus I am financially stable so I am able to wear almost anything and create my own identity as I go along.

Reading back through the above it is clear I was struggling to articulate something about race and about cultural appropriation – there is currently no evidence for “racial dysphoria” and cultural appropriation is a worryingly imperialistic issue but I don’t know that it is always going to be that simple.]

 

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Brief thoughts of an absent blogger

  • One of the pet hates of anyone who lost a parent young “They would have been proud of you”
  • Omigod how is it possible for staring at a small child to take up so much time
  • isn’t it weird how you can love one tiny being so completely and yet so differently to ones lovers
  • i could never never be an accountant
  •   ….. but it bugs me when people dont log receipts properly

Cravings [CN: Self Harm]

[Content Note: Frank and graphic discussion of self harm]

 

Funny how some things never quite leave you.

Its an old addiction but I’ve got it under control… more or less

Its maybe 20 years since I first hurt myself to ease the pain on the inside and the earliest self-imposed scar is over 15 years old

I’d love to tell you that it had been years since I last deliberately hurt myself.
I mean, yes, its been a while since I last actually picked up the razor – maybe even years – but I couldn’t tell you exactly how long that was, maybe its less, a lot less. And perhaps it is at best a couple of months since i punched a wall just to feel the pain and no more since i dragged a kitchen knife over my skin just to feel the sting but its not regular.
Sometimes it really is 6 months or more between the slips. Sometimes I even think its gone away.

It hasn’t.

At best, if I never hurt myself again I will always have these scars – the scars I may one day describe to my child as the marks of a struggle I fought with myself. Or perhaps as a symptom of an illness they know I fight every day.

But what i want is to open the skin and feel the pain. The sharp tear and long ache. The hot sticky mess and the sweet sweet release.
I dream about it, I think about it on the bus. I visualise it in the quiet moments and lust after it in the anguished aeons of despair and I even revel in its soft embrace in moments of happiness.

If you have never felt the pull of addiction I don’t think you can really know how it consumes you – and though this is no heroin it perhaps gives me an inkling of that want and need
It doesn’t rule or ruin my life. I am not a slave to my addiction, choosing it over more important things, battering myself and other people for an ever greater hit.
Most people will never notice my cravings.
But every now and then I give in. Still.
Still I want.
Still it feels like a need.

 

 

.

 

Is it normal…

Still on the topic of gender – Small has female external sex characteristics and as such we have, until Small is old enough to make the decision for themselves, chosen to identify her as female-gendered as well (since the majority of people match gender and sex) so why if She is normally she.. does my brain occsionally absent-mindedly refer to her as He.

On a different parenting note – currently Small sleeps in a moses basket beside me and feeds 2 or 3 times a night; despite sensible precautions and anxiety management inevitably the 1st time I wake after feeding her I panic about where she is, often wondering if I dropped or squashed her but also paranoid she is somewhere else entirely, before remembering putting her down and being able to hear her breathing.

Seriously, someone make small talk with me for more than 5 minutes about something that is not Baby…

Dressing our Daughter in Pink & other modern parenting dilemmas

Back in a time before Baby, I had a lot of opinions about parenting.

One of the things I developed a fairly strong opinion on in the run up to starting a family was gender-neutral parenting. What modern ‘liberal’ free-thinking middle-class woman hasn’t thought about how to give children positive messages about the fluidity of gender and enable them to make informed choices in their life which are  unconstrained by social conceptions of gender even if they are eventually conforming? I am keen to make sure traits and preferences are not gender-coded; that all clothing  and job choices are seen as valid options. I want blue and pink to just be colours, fairies & dinosaurs to be fun. But what if we overdo it, I worry that our little family is not equipped to demonstrate and articulate expressions of traditional femininity  – girly isn’t really our thing…
Then I look at the reality that snuck up on us.
A lot of the clothes we have for baby are second-hand or are gifts from relatives. Financially, it is daft for us to even contemplate not taking the help we have been offered. So pink it is.
Plus it turns out not only do some people just love buying girly stuff, only those with female shaped (and coded) babies been happy to donate clothing and actually it is surprisingly hard to buy things other than in very gendered blue or pink (ie no blue flowers or pink robots or green well anything)
But as I watch relatives and complete strangers flail around desparately trying to gender our child if they cannot see blue or pink cues I realise that this is not a battle that can even be fought just with accessories – perhaps it is more important that Small realises that even when they have to dress to conform for safety or other reasons that doesn’t restrict the way they fee lor their intrinsic worth.

One of my most difficult dilemmas is parent naming.
Small has 2 mummies and a daddy. But should the mummies have different names to her? How should we introduce ourselves? How should I enforce making relatives give Mummy W appropriate recognition? What if neither of the mummies have ever been entirely comfortable with the idea of motherhood? What if Daddy is wrapped up in a very traditonal 2 parent model?
And this is the key area of difficulty what are the boundaries and responsibilities of 3 parents? And how can we make that work for a small human who has her own needs?

Mother’s Day Fear

It is nearly mother’s day here in the UK and I am terrified and miserable.
It would be fair to say that Mother’s day wasn’t a big deal in my family when I was a child so the notion of celebrating it still seems a little odd.

But this will be my first as a mother and I feel unprepared, undeserving and lonely. I feel like a fraud and I don’t know what to do.
I haven’t felt this much dread since and emotional conflict since the first year after my own mother died. The conversations amongst my peers about their preparations that became hushed as I passed coupled with the way that visual cues seemed to compound my sense of uncertainty and loss left me with a knot in my stomach and a feeling of being set apart from the world. Now, althoug it has remained a ‘celebration’ I tend to avoid, the intensity of emotion is back in a way it hasn’t been for so so many years.

Partly I listen to the other girls in my NCT group (my only child-rearing peers) talk about the joys of sharing motherhood with their own mothers and their excitement of having a first mothers day of their own and I feel completely left out.
But more I can barely see myself as a mother.

Technically it seems so ludicrous – how can someone who has carried a child inside of them for months then squeezed it out one of the most sensitive parts of their body and then has nourished and comforted it at all hours of night and day not feel like that child’s mother?

I dont feel like I conform to the expectations of what being a mother is supposed to be and so I’m not a real mother. I don’t feel like my life and priorities suddenly shifted profoundly and I don’t feel like I got new insights or made new connections with others.
When I talked it through with my therapist – yes I’ve been doing weekly CBT (ish) sessions since my little one was about 2 weeks old – we decided that one of my key issues is that I feel that I am going to be judged by everyone else because it seems like there is a stack of rules which I didn’t get, especially for motherhood. And that is probably true. Seeing it that way is comforting but it doesn’t make the ache go away.

Health visitors & Privilege

I’m a new mum.
One of the things that happen to us as we as individuals become defined by having a small child in the UK (aka become parents) is time is reconfigured according to its relationship with the child and especially the merry-go-round of Drs. appointments and visits by the community team. This includes check-ups, immunisations, clinics, weigh-ins and home visits…
Now don’t get me wrong I am grateful for the care and attention offered by the NHS in making sure Small has the best possble start in life but I have some issues with the system partly because of the assumptions it makes and the privileges it affords me.

Unlike many caregivers, I have the luxury of income and a stable roof over my head. More than anything else this prevents me from being categorised as an ‘at risk’ parent.

So our family set-up is unconventional (3 parent queer polyamorous relationship in 2 houses); so my mental health is ‘wobbly’ (as is that of my partners)… in other circumstances I might be deemed unfit but middle-class respectability shields us from that and thus from visits from a social worker and from the threat of Small being taken away.
I get that many people are likely to need extra support to feed and clothe their kids which is supposedly a cocern of this process. Furthermore I am grateful that I have had extra care lavished on my mental health (both in terms of speed of access and number of sessions) because of being a mother but I also see that the system places undue pressure on people.

I am acutely aware that health visitors visits are one of the ways that the state checks whether or not children are being cared for and considers whether they should be removed from their parents.
For example, my beloved wife grew up in a less economically stable home and the fear of not providing appropriate items haunts her – the threat that your child might be taken away because you dont have the new clothes or enough toys is terrifying and real when you are struggling in an area known for its deprivation and yet I grew up with no new clothes but without judgement from social services because my parents owned the house we lived in…
In a similar vein my therapist and I talked about how one might objectively judge being a ‘good enough’ mother and there on the list as used by social workers is ‘adequate gender-appropriate clothing’ …what is gender-appropriate for a month old baby or even a year old child? If someone in more economically deprived circumstances dresses there 2 children in the same clothing despite their different genitalia it might be assumed that they just can’t afford to differentiate between them or even bullying them and therefore to be watched whereas it is more likely that as a middle-class parent if I were to dress my child in neutral or “gender-deviant” clothing it would be assumed that I am merely being ‘non-conventional’ and even “politically correct” and it would be ignored.

Isn’t it amazing how when you do it with the semblance of money and respectability you automatically seem better? I feel very privileged.

Absent without leave

So its been over a year since I last posted – I feel guilty, I do, but I do have an excuse or two.

  1. (chronologically rather than importance-wise) B & I became 2 out of 4 joint leaseholders of a pub; spent a month refurbishing said pub, opened it and set about making it a profitable business  before; falling out with our business partners and thus needing to become more responsible for the project whilst having less time to do so because:
  2. I got pregnant and had a baby

yup. Here it is in  (slightly less) brief:
Jan: Planned for pub & got keys
Feb: Spent 15hrs/day refurbing pub; opened pub
Mar: Ran pub; found out I was pregnant
Apr: Ran pub, prepped for beer fest; felt rubbish
May: Ran pub, saw proto-baby for the 1st time, climbed a mountain with my Dad
Jun: Hols with W, Ran Pub, visited in-laws
Jul: Ran pub, 2nd Scan, publically acknowleged pregnancy
Aug: Ran pub; failed miserably to organise maternity cover but did lots of paperwork
Sept: Ran pub beer fest, hol with B, failed to reconcile difference with business partners
Oct: Ran pub, desparately rearranged staffing, agreed change in role of business partners
Nov: Took maternity leave, went home, had baby
Dec: fed baby, changed baby’s nappy, tried to sleep

Small was born almost exactly 9 months after we opened the pub (probably not a coincidence) and in the meantime I navigated the ups and downs of running a small business whilst also trying to find my footing in the new way our relationships with the each other and the world would work.

W, B & I did not smoothly negotiate the new patterns in my working life, new timetables and new fiscal entanglements; we also did not resolve issues surrounding our desires and responsibilities to the precious life we have been gifted with
W’s parents have not been wholly supportive and she had a breakdown in her mental health in the last months of my pregnancy. Similarly, the failure of our business partners to put the time and energy we expected from them into the pub, coupled with differences of perspective led to conflict and a lot of stress.
And despite the hertache I now have 2 impossible dreams growing in front of me…..
Now not to fail them