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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I am not an Activist

I am not and never have been the person who goes to the rallies, I do not use my position of privilege to offer a platform for minority voices.
I have never started a petition or lobbied parliament. I don’t even blog about my politics very often.
I have to put my energy into being me and I don’t have the strength to do more but I have nothing but respect for the energy people put into that kind of fight (even when I don’t necessarily agree with their aims) and I am well aware that people with less resources than me, less physical and emotional stability than me try to make the world a better place and offer themselves up for causes I believe passionately in and a part of me is ashamed of my inactivity even as I know I can’t do it.

I am also not a person who shares much in the way of links to blog posts and petitions and political rants. The two are very much related.
Since I am not involved in the fight I do not know the path that it has taken to that step and whether that course of action is the right/better/only way forward. Since I am not involved in the fight I don’t want my voice to drown out the voices of those who are.
And most selfishly of all I don’t want to be that person – the kind of person who jumps on bandwagons without understanding all the issues, the kind of person who nags people to be do-gooders with the press of a button without standing up there doing it, the kind of person who thinks liking a page on facebook is all the effort that they need to put in.
I choose to try and lead by example in my sensitivity to other people’s needs and rights and I hope that my comparative silence means that people will take a moment to stop and listen when I feel I must speak out.

10 Years

The Handfasting

Alone, awesome, complete within Herself, the Goddess, She whose name cannot be spoken, floated in the abyss of the outer darkness, before the beginning of all things. And as She looked into the curved mirror of black space, She saw by her own light her radiant reflection, and fell in love with it. She drew it forth by the power that was in Her and made love to Herself. Her ecstasy burst forth in the single song of all that is, was, or ever shall be, and with the song came motion, waves that poured outward and became all the spheres and circles of the worlds All began in love; all seeks to return to love. Love is the law, the teacher of wisdom, and the great Revealer of mysteries.

[Mr. C.] We have come here today on the sacred feast of change and new beginning to celebrate the great immutable of love. We shall witness the union of W and Koll.  This rite celebrates their love and commitment.

[W] I promise to treat you with loving respect to cherish you as my dearest friend and truest companion. I promise to keep you safe and hold you in my arms. I promise to remedy my own mistakes but not to dwell on them, to try to readily forgive both you and myself. I promise to defend and support you and to accept your love and support. I will walk beside you on our path, but I will not try to choose for you, nor ask you to make my decisions for me. I vow to communicate even my inmost self to you and grow in trust and love, from this day forth. Finally, I promise to let our love inform all my actions so that it may be a joy to all who meet us.

[Koll] I promise to take you as my best friend and as my lover, to be yours and to keep you in my heart and soul through whatever we may yet live through, to support you and protect you since we are one. I promise to learn to have faith in myself and to not falter in my trust of you and I promise to listen and to give so that together we can be strong. Lastly I vow to live every day in consciousness of this gift and to remember and thank-you for our love.

(A blessing is given – in the form of prayers and whisky)

[Mr. C] I will now wind the ribbon around your joined hands to symbolize your union.
Once for the Maiden, once for the Mother, and once for the Crone

[Each partner says in turn:] The light of the Goddess within me recognizes and loves the Goddess within you.

[Mr. C] May you hold your mutual well-being foremost in your hearts and minds. You are now wedded in the sight of the Gods, and those gathered here who represent your community until Lughnasadh when if the Gods are willing and you have the desire to do so you will renew this vow. You may kiss to seal your pledge.

The Scene

It doesn’t matter if its queer/poly/kink, music/literature/geek alcoholica or Academia there is always a scene. That is – a place to see and be seen.

When I was 17, living far from the metropolis and alienated, I dreamt fondly of that opportunity. My experience before university was limited to the local gay club (deserted and not a little seedy) and a trip to see Rocky Horror in the theatre (we dressed up- the locals assumed we were hookers). I had high hopes. University was going to be the place where I’d be able to explore my sexual identity, hook up with men and women without the need for conventional relationship structures and find out what turned me on even if it was unusual; I was going to meet other people who liked learning for learnings sake, read Pratchett and Herodotus, watched Buffy and Euripides; I was going to go to folk clubs and metal nights….I was going to meet new people and learn new and exciting things.

Needless to say I was disappointed.
Not only were the majority of people I met as closed-minded or more than the people I’d known before but the spaces weren’t as diverse and experimental as I’d hoped. It turns out that even in places supposedly filled with people ‘like me’ are not in fact for me. Now that is not to say I didn’t meet new people who introduced me to new ideas and taught me things I had never imagined but it wasn’t on ‘the scene’.

The point is not that these places don’t exist and that some people don’t both enjoy them and learn from them – its that I am fundamentally unsuited to them and not only feel alienated but also find them stifling.
It is a symptom of their role in bringing together people with similar tastes or interests that they consequently often exclude people and ideas that are marginal to that interest and can be downright hostile to certain viewpoints – such activity fosters the sense of belonging. But I would rather begin with the idea that since we are sharing a space there is already an agreed overlap and therefore it is the sense of difference that is interesting. Whilst it is nice to hear my views and preferences validated by other people’s expression of them, I am interested in discovering the new.
In general, I am quickly mystified by the jargon, the pre-existing networks and drive towards finding a partner. In turn though I am just as confused by the non-stop criticisms of those spaces and networks by the people who are in the midst of them. I don’t understand how the rules are created, why some people are naturally central to group dynamics or what people gain from this form of social inclusion?

Will someone please explain to me how and why these things work? And how to get what I want from such gatherings without upsetting people?

Genetics and Connections – Kids Part 4

Biology….
Its a formidable enemy.

How do I reconcile the fact that no matter how much I love W we can’t create a child with the fact that I want any child I have to be hers?
The truth in my heart that tells me her love is stronger than any biology cannot silence the fear that the connection won’t be right.
I don’t think there is any way for a couple unable to conceive to express to those for whom it happens naturally the frustration and disappointment that sheer passion and love alone is not enough to create life – and yet I am reassured that whatever decision we make it is genuine, thoughtful, mutual and truly loving in a way other families never quite grasp.

This is of course more complicated because I would choose to conceive with B if possible and create a wider and more complex family through our intimacy. But of course I am terrified of the potential jealousy that raises – I don’t believe biology trumps upbringing but of course if it didn’t matter why would I choose to conceive naturally at all?

The answer I think lies first in a fear that I would fail to bond with something not of my own flesh (see part 5) but also that I think that, beyond the fact that W could not harm any child ever, there is a true grace in her that would see something created out of love as genuinely worth cultivating. Also practically speaking sex is cheaper than IVF and she finds pregnancy hot..
As for B, how prepared is he to allow his flesh and blood to be adopted and raised by W (the law doesn’t allow for 3 parents – & I am not prepared for W to only be registered as a guardian)? Well, surprisingly ready – not only because he has agreed to give up legal claim, with the caveat not just of access but of input and hopefully honesty but also because I am constantly (and unwittingly) reminded of the respect he has for W’s approaches. I forsee arguments and uncertainty but I think that ultimately he would feel his connection is guaranteed by me in a way that cannot be sanctioned by biology or law.

It is strange but reassuring to feel so emotional about a simple biological possibility..

Pets are Child Substitutes: Kids – Part 2

Apparently popular wisdom tells us that the human drive to have a child is so great that all those doomed to be childless make do with animals.
Unsatisfied single women become Crazy cat ladies (this sometimes happens to effeminate single men too) Gay male couples are also assigned cats and for some reason chickens, lesbians of course have dogs and bachelors have something that will attract their desired sexual partner.

As a bisexual woman about to adopt a dog I of course take exception to this stereotype…

On the one hand I have seen in many people (and recognise in myself) the desire to lavish attention and affection  on a creature somehow both beholden to you and unconditionally accepting of you – I have indeed seen too many cases of people abusing that love and trust and/or deluding themselves about the extent of its return.
But on the other I would argue that the companionship of an animal and its role in one’s life are so utterly different to that of a child who will (one hopes) grow to live without you and outlive you that the two are incomparable. I cannot imagine how the desire for one could ever be fulfilled by having the other… fairly sure I can’t take a child for walks, bury my face its fur, complain to it without a word of complaint in return, sleep with it curled at my feet; nor teach my dog to read or listen to it tell me stories.

I will however note some similarities about dogs and babies – they both require you to rearrange your house and buy special equipment in anticipation of their arrival and subsequent mess creation and breakages, they both expect you to keep anti-social hours and limit your holiday plans, they both cost you more than you can ever plan for, eat you out of house and home and demand unending love.
As you might guess we have been busily removing low-level clutter and breakables, stocking up on cleaning products, blankets and food and otherwise getting ready for the arrival of our rescue dog this weekend!

Why Church and State should be separate in the issue of marriage.

According to a number of religious groups calling the union of a same-sex couple marriage under law fundamentally undermines the institution of marriage..

….So in light of the recurrent hissy-fits thrown by various religious leaders, politicians and feminists alike (albeit for radically different reasons -usually), I propose the government of the UK abolishes the term marriage entirely and institutes new terminology:-

  • a word meaning relationship sanctioned and solemnised by a religious organisation,
  • a word meaning relationship recognised and protected by the state; and
  • a word for all other fucking arrangements

Christians may have matrimonia, Jews nissuin, Muslims Nikah etc. or choose some other word that denotes the change in status (as befits their traditions and language – which lets be honest I’m not an expert on). Civil ceremonies can have partnership. Then anyone who confused marriage and parenthood or got antsy about the role of a person in their domestic partnership because it was called marriage could be fined for whining about a word that has been outlawed and told to mind his own bloody business.

What I mean is that the key issue that I see within the debate is a complete failure of separate parties to comprehend the values attached to a word by the opposing side. Realistically I understand that if your idea of relationships involves following the strictures of your religious leaders seeing others do it differently is threatening to your situation because it suggests that either you are wrong or that they completely fail to respect you or simply that they are risking their immortal soul (insert equivalent here) by not following your guidelines. Similarly if you are a hard-line liberal suggesting that there is a right way to do relationships fundamentally threatens someone’s freedom and putting a label pre-owned by religious institutions on it might suggest ownership or restrictions and degredation of women – ideas that might seem horrific to people whose religious ideals are being judged.

It therefore seems clear that there should be provision for separate commitments. All religions can therefore be treated equally – each of them can be recognised as offering a form of union with its own rules and privileges within the community but none of them automatically conferring state rights. Then a civil union can be sought with or without religious involvement with exactly the same rights and responsibilities invoked no matter who is concerned.
Would it really destroy the Christian church if instead of sanctifying and legalising a marriage in one go the state’s involvement was done before or after as the individuals saw fit? They could go about their affairs, choosing who entered the sacrament and keeping that sacrament ‘holy’, and the choice of the state to protect and equalise (for example) next-of-kin rights or tax benefits between gay or straight couples would not be tantamount to forcing the Church to change their position.

I realise that the key issue is emotive – some gay couples want the ability to call their union marriage, just as some couples (gay and straight) hate the word and want recognition regardless. Similarly certain religious groups feel the word belongs to them.
Hence my proposal is that if you can’t play nicely and share then none of you can have it.

Marriage is outlawed.

Edited to add: I am by no means anti-marriage and am in many respects deeply happy with my civil-partnership. See Here. I am however deeply frustrated by a debate that appears to focus on an attachment on the idea that one word will change the way people form relationships – well sod it!