Saturday 16 July 2016

Guest Post: Gender - That Thing We Made Up by C.M. Golding

Someone on twitter recently said that in fifty years we’re going to look back at binary concepts of gender and shake our heads at how silly we were. Well, I’ve been doing that for a while now and I’d be delighted if more folks would join me but I also get, to a degree, why that’s hard. The biggest reason it can be tough to understand is that we constantly conflate gender and sex. Sex is a medical, physical, biological state that has to do with hormones and genitals. Gender is a completely made up set of rules about what it means to be “feminine” or “masculine.” And it’s that made-up part so very many people refuse to accept.

A recent poll of people under the age of 25 in the UK conducted by The Guardian had nearly half say they didn’t care about labelling their sexuality, which is for many inseparable from gender identity because when you boil down gender politics what people seem to be really obsessed with are genitalia and what gets done with it - as though the physical act of sex is all there is to a human being and, as stated before, not seeing that sex does not equal gender.

As a young girl I was often called a tomboy and as a teen a number of people suspected I was a lesbian. Was it because I seemed interested in girls? Nope. It was because I never minded getting dirty, rarely wore skirts, and wasn’t into makeup. It never really bothered me that people thought I was homesexual, but it should have. Not because that’s a bad thing to be but because their reasons were incredibly gendered and sexist. As I got older, people asked less because I was involved in long-term cis relationships. But I was still often asked why I didn’t wear makeup or dress “nicer,” which is code for skirts. And I was told that if I wanted to be happy and also demonstrate my adulthood, I should start being more feminine. To which I rolled my eyes and bought some more jeans.

I started more deeply questioning society’s obsession with gender and sexuality when I was pregnant for the first time and virtually every person’s initial question was - is it a boy or girl? I asked around and every parent I knew had the same experience. Not only that, but if you said you weren’t finding out or you were but were not telling, people got offended, even angry. A friend who kept it quiet had an older relative aggressively pursue her to reveal her fetus’ sex because otherwise she’d “have no idea what present to get.” Blue or pink still dominate infant clothing choices. I had a woman scold me for putting my infant son in purple because she’d assumed he was a she - as though a mistake like that matters at all.

How can you explain to someone whose ideas of gender are rooted in a binary system that’s man-made and completely subjective? First, find a 13-year-old and explain to them why a flimsy, colored piece of paper with the number 20 inked onto it has value and can be exchanged for goods. The answer is that a long time ago a bunch of guys agreed to have papers represent their debts because it was easier to carry around than gold. Everyone went along with it because when men in power make those kinds of choices the rest of us are just stuck with it. This is my new go-to when discussing gender fluidity with people. I explain to them that the binary idea of male and female is a social construct just like money and it’s just as paper thin.

I believe and have personally experienced with myself and my two boys, who like fairy wings just as much a trucks, that gender is just this thing we made up to explain and separate humans based on physical differences. We did it because our brains like to be able to put things in boxes. We think men are all testosterone and women all estrogen when in reality we all have both of those hormones to varying degrees. Eddie Izzard recently said, in an interview with The Times, that he’s transgendered because he’s got some female genetics and he likes high heels. Well, I’m not trans but I imagine I’ve got some above average testosterone and I hate heeled shoes. Very few of us really fit completely comfortably in the man-box and woman-box; so why do we insist, when others make their own boxes, that they can’t or shouldn’t? Fear is no justification for hatred. In the dark, we look for the light - reach out and find a way.

Bottom line, and here I know Eddie agrees, let’s just all be free and equal people and what other people do with what may or may not be in their pants can be their business.

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No judgment, no hate, because it is already tough enough being a girl.