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.]



On being a girl (& apologies)

First apologies for my neglect of this blog in favour of other writing engagements.
The Classically-minded or masochistic can read my gradually growing report on the Swords, Sorcery, Sandals, and Space: Fantastika and the Classical World Conference here.  I am also still writing that godsforsaken article and trying to prep a business plan.

What I want to write about today however is the weirdness of being a woman. Not just that inevitable gripe about female hormonal shifts or a pseudo-feminist rant (which isn’t really my forte) – though both of those will turn up. Rather, what I want to try and express is the sense of disconnection I feel from my gender.

To forestall any questions.. I am perfectly content with the genitalia I was born with and at peace with the physical shape of my body. I have thought long and hard about whether or not I want male parts and male hormones (and yes if you gave me the opportunity I’d love to know what it feels like to have and use a penis) but whilst I’d comfortably give up menstruation I’m not sure I’m ready to give up a clitoris and womb. I think that now the conscious decision I made aged 9 that I want to act/dress/be treated as a man but have no actual desire to change my shape holds even more strongly (I’ve learnt to use my body for fun and quite frankly don’t want to re-learn that stuff).

I also want to point out that my problem is more fundamental than a desire not to be stereotypically ‘feminine’ – Its not just about not wearing make-up very often or the fact I don’t like shoe-shopping or gossiping and waxing or whatever girly girls do with their time. Though let’s be honest that type of femininity is a complete mystery to me. [I’d love to tell you I totally respect women for whom that works but whilst I defend their right to do it, I struggle to have any understanding of it.. sorry].
On the other hand I would be lying if I said it wasn’t, to a certain extent, about all the things that inaccessible to me as a woman.. certain monastic libraries and gentlemen’s clubs are pretty high on my lists of cool places to go.

Really though, I struggle with being female because I feel like someone made up a set of rules about how to do it but didn’t give them to me. Some of that I can recognise as social conditioning  – though knowing it to be true does not automatically lessen the sense that one should conform – but some of it feels like being wired differently (even when it might also be social conditioning).
The social and cultural role of a woman isn’t just about material expressions of femininity (like looks and the way you dress) but shows up in the expectation that you are more empathetic and emotional and less aggressive and competitive than men, that you are shy/reserved but form large strong friendship groups amongst your peers, that you will have an instinctive skill with children but that your brain is less analytical… There are even social rules about how to be a lesbian and the way relationships should work. More capable people than me have drawn huge lists of traits, behaviour patterns and pathologies – some patently ridiculous and some undeniably statistically evident.
It feels weird and insidious. Research into how men and women’s brains differ creeps me out, advertising sucks and role models are hard to come by.

The good news is of course that I am personally lucky enough not only to choose to ignore most expectations thrust upon me but also to recognise them as unnecessary. What that doesn’t help with is the process of decoding the behaviour of other women. I can read body language on a basic level (Thankyou Desmond Morris’ Manwatching & Drama lessons) but there seem to be more subtle aspects of people’s behaviour that are based on social understanding of gender roles and I don’t get it.
So where is the manual girls? Is it because I didn’t read Cosmo or watch enough chick flicks? Or does everyone feel like this and not mention it because they are too busy acting out the roles they heard about?