In last week's post I talked about the ways in which I came to have a rudimentary understanding of the world of transsexuality, but my journey through sex and gender certainly didn't end there, nor can I imagine it ending in my lifetime. It seemed that not long after I was able to put my head around transitioning from one discrete sex to another, there were suddenly new options to understand. There were transgender folks who didn't necessarily feel the need to transition their sex to transition their gender, or to transgress gender entirely. There were folks who were genderqueer, whatever that was. There was the fabulous Kate Bornstein, writing "I know I'm not a Man...and I've come to the conclusion that I'm probably not a woman, either. The trouble is' we're living in a world that insists we be one or the other."
Aside #1 - I've chatted with Kate on Twitter, met her in person, seen her perform in a theater, seen her perform in a book store, and shared a wildly cool dinner with her and some other lovely Twitterati and assorted geeks. Additionally, she once saved my ass whilst stranded in Manhattan waiting for a call time and directed me to some cool museums. Her fabulosity has been confirmed, reconfirmed by independent lab analysis, notarized and announced publicly, here and many other places as well. So huzzah to her books, lectures and performances that have given so many the reassurance that they weren't alone and the bravery to transition.
Aside #2 - Yep, all quotes from books and names of books/films are going to link you directly to buying said items from Giovanni's Room which you should run, not walk, to do. They are the oldest independently owned queer bookstore on the east coast and recently had to replace a structural wall to the tune of $50,000 so they need your support more than ever. Please shop there for Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Michaelmas, any Pagan holidays whose names I haven't learned yet because I've been lazy, and pretty much any holiday, rainy day or Tuesday that you can think of. Do it!
Back to our regularly scheduled blog: Here are a short list of things that helped me leap from "Yes, there are two genders/sexes and sometimes people are born in the wrong one" to "There are many sexes in nature, although all but the predominant two are considered pathologies in most cultures. There are as many genders as there are people, it's all a social construct, and people are WAY TO FREAKING UPTIGHT about deviating from the predominant two in almost every culture I'm aware of."
1. Watching more of those programs on Discovery Health, I discovered intersexed people. They'd pretty much all had surgery performed on them at an age long before they could consent of even express what sex or gender they felt like they might be, and were none to pleased about it. My initial thought was "they ought to wait until at least puberty and then let them pick one, with of course "one" being one of two options. It was a process of years and bits of information here and there before I realized that some people might be more than fine with living as a third, fourth, or fifth sex beyond M or F.
2. I saw a documentary on Kinsey. A lot of science focuses on either/or, mainly because it's easier to teach than "maybe," "nuance," or "depending on fetal conditions, resource availability, or diet," etc. We learned Mendelian genetics in high school. Peas were smooth or wrinkled, yellow or green, dwarf or tall, in a regular predictable pattern. We didn't learn about genetic aspects with multiple gene influences, gene expression inhibited by environmental factors, etc. We certainly didn't examine sex and gender: an almost unintelligible ballet of infinite genetic, hormonal, environmental and societal influences. So yeah, Kinsey. He looked at some insects and saw thousands of iterations of variation on one attribute and thought, hmm, maybe nature is not so often down with either/or. I can dig it.
3. Yet another Discovery Health special. This one included a FTM trans guy who was at that point pre-transition and performing as a drag king. However, unlike every other Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, butch cowboy/mechanic/miscellaneous male archetype drag king that I've ever seen, this dude was, a huge, flaming QUEEN. Now there's gender confusion, or at least it was confusing at the time. I could handle changing your sex, and being queer myself I understood people who were gay after transition. (It still astounds me how many people vaguely get both gay & trans but then say "but if you're going to sleep with women, why not stay a guy?! But of course, sex and sexual attraction of nothing to do with one another.) Alright, so I've got all that, but a person born female who wants to become a feminine gay man, lisping and swishing in a boa? That was a big leap. I'd already disconnected penises and vaginas from man and woman and already realized there were other options for genitalia anyway, but now to disconnect masculinity from man and femininity from woman? It was a big pill to swallow, which if you've ever met my inconsistently moderately butch, mostly flitting self, is deliciously ironic.
4. I read GENDERqUEER, an anthology edited by Joan Nestle, Clare Howell and Riki Wilchins. You should read it to. It is full of great stories, trans history, and ideas that will so liberate you from so many "shoulds" and "ought to bes" that I'm sure it's terrifying and fabulous and just will send gooesbumps right up and down your spine. Go read it! After, of course, you've bought it from Giovanni's Room! ;D
That's one blog for me, one brief summation of my losing the idea of binary gender for you. If I left something out or you having something to add, a question, something you'd like me to address with regard to gender - please leave it is a comment and I'd be happy to respond in next week's post! Until then, happy TransTuesday!